So if you’ve seen-
Okay, but maybe if you listen-
Look, all I’m asking-
OKAY! Enough! Geez!
(Sigh…) Look, I’m sure a rocked a boat, ruffled a feather, even caused a pearl or two to be clutched earlier this year when I suggested Song of the South should be remade. It is, historically speaking, a controversial movie that could use a new sense of attention to it. And now, the glowing perspective of live action remakes has lost its illustrious sheen, even though all the ones we’ve seen so far have been critical and commercial successes. Most people just seem burnt out over all these live action remakes, with recent announcements of Pinocchio and Lilo and Stitch garnering more eye rolls than cheers.
But now I’m suggesting a notion that sounds pretty stupid: after all these remakes of Disney’s most beloved animated stories, why not try to remake one of their most infamous box office disasters of all time-
WOULD YOU JUST LET ME- (deep breath…). Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?
The Black Cauldron began as a book series, The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander. The five-book series was picked up in the early seventies and went through numerous rewrites to adapt as a Disney story. The movie came at a time of great turmoil, when Walt’s staff were getting old, retiring, and holding fast to the old ways of doing things, almost completely uncompromising, as if terrified to betray their deceased boss. At the same time, an influx of new trainees from CalArts were making their way into the Buena Vista Street studio, upsetting the status quo. These “kids”: John Lasseter, Glen Keane, Andreas Deja, Mark Henn, John Musker, Ron Clements, Don Bluth, and many, many more, would become legends in their own time, but in their early days, things were not so sunny.
Disney executives were starting to swap out, with people like Card Walker and Ron Miller leaving in favor for young whippersnappers like Michael Eisner, Frank Wells, and Jeffrey Katzenberg. Around that time, with The Black Cauldron, over a decade into production and millions over budget, a poll was sent out, and the company was dismayed to find that most teens wouldn’t have been caught dead at a Disney movie. They were “kid’s stuff”. Childish. And that had to be fixed. But weirdly enough, when Katzenberg saw what had been completed by that point, he was horrified, since the movie involved the “Cauldron Borne” to attack the Horned King’s goons, their bodies decaying graphically, another’s throat getting cut, and even rumors that supposedly Eilonwy was shown topless.
When Katzenberg brought the film to be edited, he faced a complete backlash, particularly from director Joe Hale, since animated films traditionally don’t get edited. After some disagreement, Katzenberg edited about 12 minutes of the final film, causing some of the film’s jarring plot holes and soundtrack jumps. Still, the movie had cost far more than it was worth by this point, and the final product was released on July 25th, 1985. The film lost about $22.7 million (about half of its budget), and to pour salt over the wound, was beat out by The Care Bears Movie.
Despite the occasional pin at the parks or home video rerelease, Disney has all but excised the film from its memory, save for a Tokyo Disneyland attraction, Cinderella Castle Mystery Tour, that ran from 1986 to 2006. To this day, it still has a minor cult following, mostly because it’s just too unique to not have one, and it was the very first animated Disney film to get the PG rating.
Now why in the Walt Disney World am I suggesting The Black Cauldron get remade if it did so poorly? And the answer I can give is…why not?
Now, conventional wisdom says why bother. If it did so badly then, surely no one would want to go see it now. It had its proverbial shot. It didn’t work, so stick a fork in it, it’s done, move on. But I don’t think it’s that cut and dry. In fact, I think because it bombed as bad as it did, it deserves a second chance. And the best way I can prove that is by highlighting one of the greatest movies of all time:
This film came out in 1939, and we all still watch it, quote it, sing its songs, and homage it. But because it’s just so darn iconic and beloved, countless others have tried to bank off its familiarity. And Disney…has done this, too. Twice.
And while a few might recall the former as a beloved, but intense experience, the latter, I think I heard one or two positive reviews, I think? In any case, neither came anywhere near the phenomenon the original begat. And I get why the studio feels compelled to build on its legacy, but why would anyone watch Mila Kunis shrieking in terrible green prosthetics when Margaret Hamilton owns it? Why watch Fairuza Balk hang out with a couch, a copper robot, and a Jack o’lantern when we can watch Judy Garland cavort with the scarecrow, Tin man, and the Lion? Even MGM, who made the film back then and can actually use the stars’ likenesses and various other details, tried to cash in on this by incorporating…Tom and friggin’ Jerry into it!
But even if some studio finds a way reinvigorate this age-old classic, it won’t ever erase the original. It may lead to countless debates as to which one is superior, as if art like cinema can be objectively quantified, but the 1939 movie will always have a place in our hearts.
And speaking of clumsy segues, those remakes, huh?
Now, I’ve seen most of them, and I dislike most of them, with only 2016’s The Jungle Book being one I liked. Heck, bring it up to most Disney fans (like you, I’m sure), and most will be be done with it. No more, they cry out. Disney’s ruining my childhood! They’re being greedy by just redoing the same movie I loved! Just leave them alone! I don’t want to see Will Smith try to reinvent Robin Williams’ Genie! I want Mulan to be a musical! Et cetera, et cetera…
But if people react so strongly to the popular, renowned movies that made Disney a household name, what do they have to lose if they try to draw interest on a movie few really know about? I mean, Disney, ya got it right first time around. Kudos. Now try again with this one, instead.
Hollywood execs like truisms. They’ll tend to blame success or failure on audiences and trends rather than bad decisions or behind the scenes issues. If pitched the idea of remaking The Black Cauldron, they’ll wave it away, saying things like, “No one wants to see it”, or “Fantasy films are played out”, or “it already failed, why even bother if audiences didn’t want to see it the first time around?”. What they often forget is the movie had a lot of good things going for it, truly. But there were just numerous missteps along the way that made it turn out as bad it did. Not that they’ll admit it. But more importantly, some of the remakes, like Beauty and the Beast, for example, are doing something fascinating, if a bit misguided: they’re patching up plot holes and trying to essentially improve the original. The irony here is, as Cogsworth says:
And The Black Cauldron is, in fact, broken. But its salvageable bits are worth digging up and exploring again: the mythology, the enchanted sword, the atmosphere, the characters (with some tweaking), and especially the Horned King, who looks and talks like one of the coolest, scariest bad guys Disney ever created. The movie’s parts are greater than its sum, in a way. And with those bits, and going back to the original source, a much better movie could be constructed. After all, if so any creative liberties can be taken to make the movie work, why not take advantage of that kind of flexibility?
Then there is the discussion to be had concerning the other truism executives might throw up: that the fantasy genre doesn’t sell anymore. Believe it or not, that claim held some water at one point. With the exception of the occasional fairy tale, movies that took place in fantasy realms were seen as box office poison, mostly because this niche genre couldn’t portray fantasy creatures in live action without looking hokey. Prosthetics, costumes, and special effect could only go so far. But then in 2001, that changed. Dramatically.
Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings franchise took the world by storm and empowered fantasy fans to revel in what was once a believed toxic genre. And even if you believe that the franchise has been bled dry after the hopelessly boring The Hobbit trilogy, one of the hottest shows on HBO eight years running was a fantasy-based series, Game of Thrones. Clearly, a genre doesn’t just die because “audiences don’t like it”. Time and again, movies prove if a singular movie is done well, it can set forth its own trend and challenge the pathetic Hollywood truisms.
And as much as I wanted to see this movie redone as a Disney animated feature, I can’t forget I’m here to suggest it be adapted into a live action film. I want to see Taran’s sword glow. I want to see the domain of the adorable Fair Folk. I want to see Hen Wen’s visions reimagined grander and more spellbinding than ever. I want to see the Cauldron Borne really embody their true terror. And I want to see the true horror the Horned King come to life as he terrorizes his minion, Creeper.
I honestly doubt any of this will come to pass, if I’m being real here. Of course Disney won’t remake The Black Cauldron into a live action summer release. but hopefully I’ve spurred a fun thought experiment. But it makes me wonder, what lesser-known Disney animated feature would YOU want to see if it could be remade into the next big live action feature? The Fox and the Hound? The Emperor’s New Groove? Atlantis: the Lost Empire? Brother Bear? Let me know!
Now leave me to my crunchings and munchings.