Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Original "Black Cauldron": Can It Happen?

This has always been an unfortunate happening in Disney animation history, one that Kevin T. Rodriguez of Examiner brilliantly summed up as a "sore spot" for animation fans in his fantastic article, Top 10 Reasons Criterion Should Get Animated. Animation fans know the story: Jeffrey Katzenberg, new to the Disney company, viewed The Black Cauldron and told the crew to cut ten minutes of the film. He eventually edited out more footage when the crew didn't meet his demands ("I said ten minutes!"), resulting in the removal of 12 minutes in total.

A good chunk of the footage, in question, centered around the film's climax: The Cauldron-Born sequence. The Horned King finally obtains the deadly weapon and uses it to bring life to the skeletons laying around his creepy castle, and form his army of the dead. With that, the skeletons are to bring terror to the land of Prydain. The noticeable edits can heard in the scene where the Horned King's henchmen see something green and misty in the water. One of the henchmen pokes it with a spear and then all of a sudden, a skeleton appears! But then... We cut to two of the henchmen behind the man who pokes the green thing, as that happens, the score skips! Then we see another one looming towards the screen, then three skeletons jumping out of the water and attack the two henchmen offscreen. Then we cut to Taran, Eilonwy and Fflewdurr Fflam, watching in horror. Very, very noticeable.

Over the years, we've seen and heard some different things about the cuts made to this film. Cels of a man melting have appeared, and people who worked at Disney at the time shed some light on what happened. Michael Peraza also offered animation fans an excellent three-part recollection of the film's production history, briefly commenting on a screening that went over disastrously. The original 1985 home video release of Pinocchio also includes an exclusive trailer that has a deleted shot (at approximately 1:05) of the third skeleton that pops out after the henchman pokes the water. The trailer also gives the henchman who ties Fflewdurr up a name, Moose. Did he have a bigger role? Did he have scenes that were cut? Also, Peraza did confirm that the original version of the film exists, and the crew considering using the negative for the film's first VHS release in 1998, but this unfortunately did not happen.

What was cut from the film would take a while to pick apart, since so many sources show so many things from DisneyWar (which mentions Roy E. Disney being disturbed by a shot of a flying creature, presumably a Gwythaint, graphically clutching a boy with his talons and flying away) to interviews with folks who worked on the film. Jeffrey Katzenberg certainly defended his actions whenever he was asked about the film, as he felt that the film should've been for children even though Disney was clearly making this film for the teenage and adult audience.

The last home media release of The Black Cauldron occurred on September 14, 2010 for the film's 25th anniversary. It had a better transfer and a deleted musical number with the Faire Folk. Anything new? No, sadly, except a game or something. No documentary or featurette about the making of the film, or any of the deleted sequences. It was probably just something Disney had to get off their chest, since a better quality version of the film had already been available on DVD in France.

Whenever this film will come to Blu-ray, we don't know. I'm going to say 2015, for the film's 30th anniversary. It's also very possible that it might show up next year, since The Great Mouse Detective is hitting Blu-ray next month, as the previous DVD came out two years ago. Will the Blu-ray of this film come with what we want? Probably not, given Disney's attitude towards animated titles that don't sell as well as their others.

What would make a great Black Cauldron Blu-ray? For starters, the full uncut version. If the original exists on a negative, they can restore this for the Blu-ray release. Second of all, a great Black Cauldron Blu-ray would keep the great bonus features from the first DVD release: The art gallery and the original theatrical trailer. They could also include the trailer from the Pinocchio videocassette, and some TV spots if any of them still exist.

Of course we all know why Disney wouldn't give us the uncut version, since they don't want to offend family audiences. The original version of The Black Cauldron was to have content that was more unsuitable for children than anything seen in the other films, so releasing that would be a no-no for Disney, unless...

They release it as a collector's title, much like a Walt Disney Treasures set. Last year, Warner Bros. released the excellent Tom & Jerry: Golden Collection Volume I, which contained all of the original, unaltered versions of the classic Tom & Jerry shorts that had some jokes in them that aren't acceptable in this day and age. This set came with a warning on both the packaging and the beginning of the disc, one you can't skip, one that explains why the cartoons have that content in them. Perhaps Disney can do this with The Black Cauldron, since the title isn't exactly a "favorite" amongst family audiences or most people other than fans and Disney lovers like myself who want the title just to own it.

Picture this, the uncut version of The Black Cauldron on Blu-ray and DVD, opening with a message that says something like this: "Disney intended to make this animated feature film for the teenage and adult audiences only, aiming for content that would've possibly gotten it a PG-13 rating. The more graphic scenes were edited out of the film, making for a film that was more suitable for family audiences. The version of the film contained on this disc is the original version that the studio set out to make. IT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR YOUNGER AUDIENCES."

If Disney can't find archive footage for a behind-the-scenes featurette, they could at least provide the entire story via production notes and also reveal things we don't know of the film's production history. More on the early work done for the film in 1970s before it took off. There's a lot of things they could do for a behind-the-scenes feature.

A lot of us don't want the eventual Blu-ray release of this film to be a hack-job. The recent The Rescuers Blu-ray is really lacking in bonus materials, as is the Blu-ray of The Fox and the Hound and the DVD release that preceded it. As I've said in my previous article, the not-so-successful Disney films deserve more attention and care for the home video releases. Each Disney film has a cool production history behind it, why hide that? Disney wasn't afraid of explaining production complications on other DVD and Blu-ray releases of their classics, though they did tend to brush over them from time to time, sugarcoating things. A Black Cauldron behind-the-scenes documentary would be nice, one that has no problem criticizing the decisions made at the time.

That's my ideal Black Cauldron Blu-ray. What would you like to see on the next home media release of this film?


  1. i would love all that is listed, plus perhaps a cast & crew interview... a commentary from voice actors/actresses, animators, directors, etc...

  2. I have never seen this film, but I did play the Apple IIGS game a lot back in the day. I'd be more inclined to buy the Blu-ray if they tried to reconstruct the pre-Katzenberg cut. I was hoping the restorations of "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" and "The Happiest Millionaire" would lead to more mea-culpa recuts, but so far nothing else.

    Anchor Bay tried to restore the original version of "The Watcher in the Woods," but Michael Eisner put every obstacle he could in their way.

  3. I started a campaign to get Disney to release The Black Cauldron fully uncut. If you want, please sign these petitions: