For Your Consideration: Disney Story Origin Podcast – The Black Cauldron

By Dann Todd: After a year-long sabbatical motivated by personal health concerns, mystery/thriller author Paul J. Hale is back with episode 10a of The Disney Story Origins Podcast.

In this most recent episode, Paul focuses on Disney’s The Black Cauldron movie. As has been the case with his past podcast episodes, Paul presents a thoroughly researched comparison between the source material and Disney’s movie. His purpose is not to criticize the choices of Disney filmmakers. Instead, his focus is on illustrating the differences between the source material and the movie. His analysis ends up having the movie illuminate the source material and the source material illuminate the movie. As is his habit, Paul includes a complete bibliography at the page for this podcast that formed the basis of his research.

One interesting sidelight on the movie is that Jeffrey Katzenberg, then a new studio chairman with Disney, feared that the original version of the movie was headed for a PG-13 rating from the MPAA. That concern was after the movie’s director and editor had already removed material to avoid a suspected R rating. Mr. Katzenberg then attempted to personally undertake the process of editing the movie to remove the offending material.

The source material for The Black Cauldron was Lloyd Alexander’s series The Chronicles of Prydain. The movie uses material from books 1 and 2 of the series; The Book of Three and The Black Cauldron.

Lloyd Alexander won the Newbery Medal for the fifth and final installment of the Prydain series, The High King, in 1969. He received the World Fantasy Award – Lifetime Achievement in 2003.

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11 thoughts on “For Your Consideration: Disney Story Origin Podcast – The Black Cauldron

  1. The thing I remember about the movie was a traveling shot that must have required a lot of drawing. I was really impressed, though when I saw it again some time later, it had lost its impact (which is the picture in a nutshell—heroes battling an ultimate evil who is never seen doing anything harmful to anyone, if memory serves: Darth Toothless).

  2. Well, the room where he’s giving his dark lord speech to a tower full of mouldering corpses strongly implied he did some pretty horrible stuff at one point. I thought that was one of the better creepy villain moments in Disney in general, and a remnant from the “We’re going to make this true to the book and earn ourselves a high MPAA rating”. (Much of the rest of the movie is a sore disappointment compared to what it could have been).

    (Doesn’t he also throw our hero in prison AND reanimate those same corpses? I’d think both count as harm.)

  3. The Black Cauldron has always been a favourite classic Disney movie of mine, probably because when it came out, I was exactly at the age where regular Disney movies became boring and edgier animated fare like Mrs. Brisby and the Secret of NIMH or The Black Cauldron or The Dark Crystal (all personal favourites BTW) was exciting rather than scary.

    I’ve never read the books. In fact, I didn’t even know there were books until years later, because they were not available where I lived.

  4. Ah, I read the Chronicles of Prydain books so many times when I was a kid but I didn’t know there was a movie.

  5. @rob_matic

    Do you recommend the books?

    I have nieces and nephews that seem to be in that age range. And I might take a crack at the first one if it isn’t too YA oriented. I’m a little reluctant to plunk down US$22 for the series in Kindle format.


  6. I wasn’t a very discerning reader at that age so I would hesitate to say without having read them since. I must have enjoyed the stories at least.

  7. I reread the first two recently, and enjoyed them. They are a little dated, but mostly that is surface – underneath the surface we discover a number of traditional tropes being subverted. They are for sure, to use my dated terms, juveniles. No sex or sexual violence, but there are hints of romance, and we see the young characters working to grow up over the course of the books.

    There are no non-white characters that I recall, and no obvious LGBT characters, either, but there are girls and women with agency, and adulthood and nobility is portrayed as requiring more than being the best fighter (or magician).

    The 3rd through 5th I have not read recently, but I think my description here would cover them all. I liked them a lot as a teen.

  8. I cannot for the life of me remember how well the Prydain books read, but there are several other Lloyd Alexander books I still think are quite good like the Westmark Trilogy, the First Two Lives of Lucas-Kasha and Time Cat. He was one of my go to authors from stories he wrote for Cricket Magazine.

  9. The Prydain Chronicles are terrific. Much, much, much better than the Disney movie.

    There are no non-white characters that I recall, and no obvious LGBT characters, either, but there are girls and women with agency, and adulthood and nobility is portrayed as requiring more than being the best fighter (or magician).

    This is true. Prydain is a fictionalized medieval Wales, and while I’m sure there were people of color in actual Wales (as well as people in England who didn’t think the Welsh were entirely white or human), none of that comes up in the books. All the humans in it are locals, though there are multiple non-human races, and people from Faerie (though not named as such).

    There’s no hint of LGBTQ content, there’s a fair amount of female agency (on both the heroes’ side and the villains’) and yeah, a pretty strong message that heroism isn’t about glory, a message that only deepens as the series goes on.

    There’s one scene I remember with a threat of sexual violence, but it’s written in such a way that it’d breeze right past a kid too young to understand the implications.

  10. I was fortunate in having read the Prydain Chronicles long before I encountered the medieval Welsh legends they were cobbled together from. It allowed me to enjoy Alexander’s stories for what they were rather than throwing them against the wall at what he’d done to the original characters. (For the record? Arawn was not “evil” and Gwydion was very very far from a noble hero.) In fact, I always figured I read various Mabinogi adaptations in exactly the right order for appreciating each: Alexander > Walton > original Mabinogi.

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