Review: Wolf Children: Ame and Yuki

While in the middle of a class at University, a young student named Hana comes across a man who regularly sneaks into her classes. The man, named Ookami, is mysterious, but kind natured and so Hana starts falling in love with him. The two start dating for some time, but there is a secret Ookami reveals to Hana that is quite startling; he is a Wolf man, the last descendant of the Japanese wolf. Because of Hana’s love, this detail is no bother to her, and later on in life Hana and Ookami have two wolf children, Yuki and Ame. Unfortunately, one night Ookami goes out and hunts for food, and dies, leaving Hana with the two children, who, because of the lack of knowledge of caring for wolves, is constantly struggling to find out how to care for them. Because of crowded city and fears that her children would get taken away, Hana decides to move to a peaceful rural village, where Yuki and Ame can roam freely where no one would suspect them otherwise. However, even the rural lives, as well as having Yuki and Ame grow up lead to new problems that even Hana cannot avoid. Continue reading

Old Review: Titan AE

The year is 3028 AD; human beings on Earth have perfected space travel. It would allow them to live in space and explore new worlds. However, after discovering this achievement, an alien race known as the Drej attack the human race and completely destroys Earth, possibly in fear of what the human race could do against them. Cale Tucker and his father are two of the few human survivors; however they leave on different ships because Cale’s father, Sam Tucker, runs the main ship called Titan, and doesn’t want it in the hands of the Drej. Fifteen years after the Earth was destroyed, the human race is decreasing in population, and a human Space Captain Korso of the spaceship Valkyrie ask for Cale’s help in retrieving the Titan, as it holds a secret to helping the human race. However, the Drej is after Cale and the Titan as it is still determined to completely destroy the human race, so Cale and Korso are now in a race against the Drej with the help of human pilot Akima, first mate Preed, science expert Gune and weapons expert Stith, to save what could save the entire human race from extinction. Continue reading

Old Review: A Bug’s Life

All the insects have a specific roll in the world, and on Ant Colony all the ants have a basic job that repeats year by year. In the spring, when the food is fully grown and ripe, the ants harvest. The harvest gets eaten by the grasshoppers and then the ants collect more harvest for themselves to take care of themselves through autumn and winter. This has been the order of life for many years for the ants of the colony and as long as nothing went wrong, the ants have been perfectly fine.

This year the eldest princess of the colony, Princess Atta, is currently in training to become the new Queen, and being her first year leading the colony, she’s ultimately nervous about any slip ups to occur, and it doesn’t help that she has to deal with a very accident prone ant, Flik. Flik is very individualistic, and likes to help improve the colony through the inventing of new tools and developing new ideas, although this usually gets him into trouble. His troubles reach a new high when he accidently knocks over the year’s harvest, causing the grasshoppers to break through. The leader of the grasshoppers, simply named Hopper, gives the ants until the middle of autumn to collect up double the amount of food. All looks troubling and Flik is about to be punished until he brings up an idea, he will leave the colony and hire a group of strong bugs to help fight off the grasshoppers. Princess Atta and the others agree to this in the hopes that he would never return, however he actually brings back a group of bugs that agree to help, the only problem is that they aren’t warrior bugs, but retired circus bugs who got new work after losing their jobs at a circus.

Despite this unlucky situation, Flik, Atta, the circus bugs and all the ants have to choose whether to fight off the grasshoppers, or hope that they collect enough food to make sure they don’t reach a dire fate.

In 1994, during the production of Toy Story, a group of the creative staff including John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton and Joe Ranft discussed future project ideas. The idea for A Bug’s Life began as doing Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper, but later changed to a loose adaptation on Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Seven Samurai. Disney originally had ideas of creating a film based around ants called Army Ants back in 1988, but despite the idea never materialised, it did influence them to green-light Pixar’s next major project. Pixar worked hard on this project in the hopes that it wouldn’t bomb for two reasons; one was the fear that they would lose reputation from releasing a film that wasn’t as good as its previous hit, and that a new rival studio Dreamworks was releasing their own film about ants. While Antz was pitched afterwards, it was scheduled to be released earlier than A Bug’s Life by one month. Fortunately, while Dreamworks won the battle, Pixar won the war as their film earned a higher profit.

Without comparing it to Pixar’s later films, A Bug’s Life has very good animation and it has stood the test of time. While some points are very cheap and cartoonish, most of it is very smooth, detailed and most of the movements and characteristics of all the characters in this movie feel quite accurate to their real life insect counterparts, yet they also have some freedom to show expressions. However when you compare it to Pixar’s more recent film, the animation is far inferior but for its time as Pixar’s second movie it stands on it’s on. The environments are bright and the characters have a more rounded design, so it’s really suited for younger viewers and it has a mostly engaging atmosphere. With almost every Pixar film, each had at least one technical achievement to show how cutting edge Pixar was. The technical achievement in this film was large crowd scenes, which was so advanced at the time that they made a team of over 50 animators specifically to pull it off, and while they look clever, the characters themselves lack any major variety, making it hard to tell if there are duplicates or not.

The orchestral pieces are pretty simple and memorable, with an interesting amount of brass accompaniment. They mainly suit the positive and light-hearted feel of the movie, and get dark and tense whenever the grasshoppers go on screen. However this isn’t a musical score worth listening to on its own, since it’s mainly generic and isn’t as effective as the visual cues. Contrary to ones expectation from Pixar movies, I think the main theme “The Time of Your Life” performed by Randy Newman is the soundtrack’s Achilles heel. I love “You’ve got a friend in me” for its lovely melody, memorable lyrics and a touching message in the song, but this one doesn’t really have much of that. It is a nice song but it is a very weak song.

The voice acting is mostly generic, they sound like typical characters seen several other times, but they do keep the likability in their respective roles to make them tolerable. The only ones I think go beyond tolerable to enjoyable would be Kevin Spacey as Hopper and the late Joe Ranft as Heimlich, Kevin Spacey makes Hopper a really effective villain, as his deep and serious tone of voice always makes him threatening, even when he has a positive mood, and despite Heimlich practically being an overweight German stereotype, Ranft acts like he doesn’t care that his character is a stereotype, and his incredibly silly performance makes him hilarious to listen to. The other casts are like I said earlier, generic. They are tolerable and the actors do give a level of likability to the characters, but all they have are generic personality traits, such as Flik being a klutz, Princess Atta being contentious, Dot being cute etcetera.

The story itself is ok, it’s a light hearted action comedy loosely based on Seven Samurai, and you would expect some emphasis on the word loosely. However, as a Pixar movie, I have always felt since a kid that A Bug’s Life was their weakest film until the release of Cars. First of all, the warrior/circus bugs are mostly dull for the most part. Most of them practically act as just one joke for the entirety of the movie, with little character development and other humour. For example, one of the circus bugs is Francis, a male Ladybug who hates being referred to as female, but because of the type of insect he is, he always is, and that’s it. All he does in the film outside of rescuing one of the ants is based around this one ladybug joke. The rest of them almost have the same problem, I say almost because Heimlich the caterpillar as a small piece of outside joke character development. The other problem is that some of the plot feels dragged down because of some of the characters, such as the circus owner PT Flea, who I hate because all he ever does is make the plot longer by revealing the warrior bugs for who they are, and you end up waiting for the moment the bugs come to their senses and go back to the colony. At the end of the film I was happy, as there were enjoyable moments, it has a colourful design and a good humour, but it’s not as good as most of Pixar’s more recent movies.

If Cars is Pixar’s weakest film, A Bug’s Life would be second place, and if Cars 2 is a real disappointment then Bug’s life would be third. It is a nice movie, it has its moments, it might have some nostalgic value to it and it definitely holds out with what other animated studios have produced even 13 years on, but it is clichéd and has characters which aren’t really broad enough to remain interesting. However, if you have good childhood memories of this, or are interested in Pixar’s past, it’s worth a watch.

A Bug’s Life is available from Walt Disney. The film’s original influence, the Aesop’s Fable “The Ant and the Grasshopper” is available in many forms such as books, audio and animation. The other influence for the story of the movie, Seven Samurai, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is available from Criterion and the British Film Institute, and while I don’t want to go on a last minute tangent but if you love anime and Japanese films, you need to see this film!

Old Review: Antz

At an anthill in Central Park, New York, is where a young worker ant named Z-4195, or Z for short, is going to have his simple life changed. He works a mundane worker ant lifestyle, helping construct a tunnel to find food for the whole colony. After falling in love with the Princess of his colony, named Bala, after meeting her in pure luck at a local bar, he takes the place of his best friend Weaver and joins the army in an effort to see her again, as they head off to fight a war. Thanks to his cowardice, he ends up becoming the only survivor of brutal battle against an army of termites, and is celebrated as a hero. Unbeknownst to Z, Bala or any of the worker ants, the battle was a plan set up by a corrupt royal General Mandible, who wants to eliminate the worker ants and the loyal soldier ants so he can form a strong enough army to take over the whole colony from the royal family. After a troubled reuniting, Z and Bala escape their oppressed lifestyles to try and find Insectopia, where food is of an unlimited supply, but with the rest of the colony in danger because of a rogue General, Z has to help his friends and workers if they all want to live a free and happy life.

Let me introduce you to a man named Jeffery Katzenburg, he began his success with the Star Trek revival at Paramount before becoming CEO of Disney after Michael Eisner purchased the company in 1984. While he was one of the leading men behind the Disney Renaissance that brought Disney back to dominating the western animation industry, he was known for his controversial decisions that almost hurt the company. In 1994 he wanted the position of company president, which Michael Eisner refused, this eventually lead him to resign from Disney and form Dreamworks with Steven Spielberg and David Gaffen in the same year. He decided to create Antz as the company’s first feature film, and based it on a film pitch by Tim Johnson, who is credited for the story. However, this angered Pixar, who pitched and began development on their second feature A Bug’s Life a few months before Katzenburg began work on it. Katzenburg offered to push the film back to March 1999, as long as A Bug’s Life was also pushed back so it wouldn’t be released with Dreamwork’s other film, Prince of Egypt, but since Pixar refused, the film was released on October 1998, more than a month before Bug’s Life.

The animation is very professionally made, but hasn’t aged that well. Granted this was the first ever Dreamworks animated feature, and for its time it is pretty good, especially the subtle emotions and large crowd scenes, but watching it nowadays the flaws are more noticeable. All the characters move robotically at times and lip movements feel a little off during dialogue scenes. The films worst visual part is its colour scheme; it’s mostly full of browns, greens and reds, and for its atmosphere, surroundings and character designs it does make it realistic, but for the kind of film this is, it is really dull. The character designs really surprise me, almost every character is either a worker and or a soldier ant that has the same colour and body structure, and yet except in the scenes with really large crowds and distance shots, there are almost no duplicate character designs, and each visible character in each scene is different in some way.

The soundtrack includes some pop tracks and generic orchestral pieces, so there isn’t really anything memorable. It normally plays through the action and comedic moments, and while it isn’t one of John Powell’s best soundtracks, it is very listenable and it doesn’t drive away from the visuals and the story.

The cast is a bit of an odd bunch overall, some of them do an alright job like Christopher Walken, Danny Glover and Sylvester Stallone, who make Cutter, Barbatus and Weaver really likeable, especially Danny Glover since Barbatus only appears for less than ten minutes of the whole movie. The majority of the cast is basically listenable at best; they definitely suit their roles as characters such as Gene Hackman as a war focused muscle-headed General Mandible and Sharon Stone as the free-minded yet still upper classed princess, but don’t really give anything impressive. I know that since it’s a kid’s animated film I shouldn’t give high expectations in the quality of acting, but I don’t think they really try to make these characters anything truly likeable or memorable. There is one exception to this, but for the wrong reasons, and that is Woody Allen as Z. I understand that he’s meant to be the odd one out, but he becomes really annoying, really quick. I think it’s mainly due to the fact that Woody Allen sounds like he reads the script and then improvises around it, so every time he talked, he says so much in one dialogue session I wanted him to shut up.

If it wasn’t for Prince of Egypt or Shrek, I’d amazed that Dreamworks survived after this movie. It isn’t bad, but it isn’t really that interesting or worthwhile after an initial viewing. This is mainly due the film’s direction of the plot, and exactly what the plot is. According to Wikipedia, Antz is loosely based on a 1930s novel called Brave New World, a story that explores the ideas of genetics to form societies, as well as the ideas of genetics to class people from birth into lifestyles, which in a way is demonstrated in the film with newborn larvae being decided on either being soldier ants or worker ants, and given training regimes to build them to be suitable for that task, and all of them except being insignificant except the main protagonists. This is also somewhat portrayed with one of the morals of the movie being choosing your own path, and while it would make an interesting movie, this is not greatly developed, probably because it’s a light hearted kid’s film. Instead it focuses more on the more predictable and generic plotlines, which include an upper class -lower class romance, trying to find a better world, and the evil guy wanting to take over the world. In the end, it becomes a really dull film with almost no reasons to re-watch it.

For this film, it’s not the question of why would you watch it, it’s why would you want to watch it more than once, besides reviewing it. While it may be interesting to see where Dreamworks started off, but it has a generic storyline that isn’t really interesting, with a generic soundtrack and a barely memorable cast. Since nowadays it’s well known as Dreamworks first attempted at taking elements from Pixar for their own story, this is probably one of a many knock-offs that’s worth skipping for the original.

Antz is available from Dreamworks Pictures. If you a curious about the loose source material of this film, the novel Brave New World by Aldous Huxley was originally published by Chatto and Windus, and has since been reprinted by multiple publishers including Vintage Classics and Amazon.

Old Review: Freddie as FRO7

Young Frederick is a frog that works as a Secret Agent under the codename F.R.O.7. He was once a human and a Prince of a Magical land until his evil aunt sorceress named Messina transforms him to the amphibian being in an attempt to take over the kingdom. He has been called in to investigate a mysterious case, where some of Britain’s most historical and recognisable buildings and monuments have vanished. With the help of his friends, including Nessie of Loch Ness herself, who helped the little frog get away from Messina as a child, Freddie has to search the nation to find the culprits, and bring back England to what it was.

This film was meant to be the next big hit for British animation; it was written and directed by Jon Acevski who based it on bedtime stories he told to his son back in the 1970s, whose favourite toy was a frog. Having an $80 million budget, it was produced by an independent company “Hollywood Road Films” and was heavily marketed in the UK, being advertised on major TV networks and newspapers, with a sequel titled “Freddie Goes to Washington” already early in production before the film’s release. The reason why almost no one knows about this film nowadays, even in the UK, was that it was very poorly reviewed and a major financial bomb after its 1992 release. It only grossed $1.19 million at the box office, making it the lowest grossing animated film until the release of Promenade Pictures’ Ten Commandments and Fathom Studio’s Delgo. Despite a re-released edit in 1995 to try and gain more money from the film, the financial failure caused Hollywood Road Films to close down and the sequel project to be scrapped.

For its time, the animation is professional but nothing groundbreaking. A few of the effects are ok, and the amount of detail is pretty evident in some scenes, especially the animation of the water, which at the time was almost impossible to get to a near realistic level, but most of it looks really dull and don’t really hold up in comparison to earlier animated films. The character designs are ok, most of them emphasise certain stereotypes of British culture, and Freddie’s secret agent look really shows his suave and intelligent personality. The villains’ character designs however are very dull and uninspired.

The music is no better, just the simple orchestral scores that only really appear in the villain scenes with Messina but most of the time, I forgot that there was music playing in the background. There are also musical numbers which at the time when Disney was making a comeback for itself was common, but in this film they don’t work and it’s an example of why I hate needless musical numbers and songs. The film doesn’t transition to them very well, they don’t really add to the story aside from adding a few minutes to the running time and they are poorly sung by the main cast who I doubt have had previous experience with music. The sound editing is alright until near the finally where the music clashes with the dialogue and sound effects so much that it becomes distracting, and some of the tracks don’t really match with the scenes they are in, such as the final fight between Freddie and Messina that occurs while a Boy George pop song plays in the background. The voice acting is really disappointing, since it has some good British actors in its cast, such as Ben Kingsley, Jenny Agutter, Brian Blessed and Nigel Hawthorne, and yet they sound really lousy throughout. Despite Ben Kingsley being one of my favourite actors from England, it really hurts me always hearing him trying to speak in a bad French accent throughout the majority of the film.

When I first saw the video at a local car boot, I thought the idea of a frog secret agent was unique and a fun throwback to the James Bond style films. But it’s easy to see why it didn’t do well beside the poor music and acting performances in this film, the story is a mess. The first 15 minutes of this film is mainly the back story which is set entirely in a renaissance-esque fantasy world, and then it transitions to a 1950s setting despite no description of the amount of time passed, and while there are elements that could be classed as an homage to the secret agent/detective style storytelling, it is hastily mixed in with fantasy elements mixed in a modern setting, almost like the film cannot decide between a magical fantasy action-adventure or a child friendly James Bond parody. Most of the characters barely get development outside of Freddie and Messina, even for kid film standards, making it hard to care or sympathise with any of the characters, and some of the suspense and action can gets repetitive making the film very boring near the end. I do give credit to the villains and how they are portrayed as a legitimate threat with how powerful and dark Messina’s magic is, the size of her accomplice El Supremo’s army, and how vigorous their plan is, however they are very one-dimensional to the point where it can simply be described as them “trying to take over the world” because “they are evil”.

It’s sad to see a promising concept get ruined like this, although the fact that it was a major financial bomb probably suits as a fitting punishment. If they made this like a family friendly homage to secret agent flicks then this might’ve had a better following, maybe as it is now, it’s better to let this film stay in obscurity.

Freddie as F.R.O.7 was available from Starvision, Miramax and Universal, but is out of print. There has never been a DVD release, at least not officially. There was a re-edit in 1995 for the US release which trimmed down and included narration from James Earl Jones, but that’s also out of print. There is no known physical work of its sequel Freddie Goes to Washington.

Old Review: Titanic: The Legend Goes On

It is the year 1912 and in Southampton, Britain’s greatest vessel known as the RMS Titanic is awaiting passengers so it can sail them to New York. Among the passengers include Angelica, a lower class girl who works as a servant to her step mother and sisters, and hopes of searching for her parents. Another passenger is William, an upper class business man, travelling with his nanny to build up his company in America. Both man and woman fall in love, but not everyone approves of them being together because of their social class, but with the help of a group of animals travelling with them, they might be together, but one can only hope that will be true as the great Atlantic cruiser is about to meet with disaster.

In 1997, James Cameron’s multimillion dollar romantic epic, Titanic, was released to eager film goers. The film eventually won many awards including the Best Picture Academy Award and becoming the highest grossing film of all time, a record held by the film for over 10 years. Not long after its release, a group of small animation production teams in Italy attempted to cash in on the blockbuster by making their own animated films. As far as it is known, there were only three films in this category that had a proper release, and one of them was this one, written and directed by Camillio Teti. Not much is known from it as information on its production only remain as rumours and its release information is so vague and limited that people actually wondered if the film even existed. From what I gathered, it was a low-budget production done by a small team of Italian animators called Titanic Cartoons, and were forced to draw characters in the likes to Disney and Don Bluth characters so they can attract children and marketed it in some countries as simply “Titanic” in the hopes that people would mistake it for the real thing. While IMDB shows it had a supposed theatrical release in Germany in July 2001, it mainly had a limited DVD release in Europe. The film didn’t really have any recognition until the Nostalgia Critic from ThatGuywiththeGlasses.com, reviewed the film on March 24th 2009.

To put it simply, the animation is awful and incredibly lazy. Believe me, almost every corner cutting trick is pulled in this film to make it seem longer: reusing animation, repeating scenes, speeding up and slowing down the video, random CGI, among others. The character designs look really weird, as their outlines look really shaky and almost every person’s lips look really thick, like they are always pouted. I normally try to find good points in a film so they can balance against the bad points, but for animation alone I can’t find any good points at all. I can’t even say the animation is consistent, as some points the character designs change randomly and some scenes have a glaringly noticeable change in the art design, which is more shaded than normal.

What surprised me the first time I saw this film was that it began with a beautifully done piano piece, that’s simple but melodramatic and very well recorded. It’s one of a few moments where the music is really effective to its scene and it’s probably the only thing in this film that is anywhere close to good, so to give credit where it’s due, some of the music is really good. However that doesn’t help this film in any way, not only because of how bad the other factors of the film overweigh this point, but because it’s only some of the time. The rest of the music ranges from really bland to terrible, as the rest of the compositions aren’t memorable or really engaging, and the songs in this film sound awful and poorly written, with the exception of the song “Never Let Me Go”, but since it’s an uninspired copy of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On” it’s not worth listening to. One song people seem to remember is Party Time, where a dog suddenly appears in street clothes and raps while on the Titanic, and I wish I made that up. The sound editing in the later part of the film is really bad, and it’s really confusing.

The voice acting is very dull, but that isn’t very surprising since the cast is full of small time voice actors, in fact the biggest actor in the cast is Gregory Snegoff, who was a VA in quite a few anime dubs, but is mostly recognised as the English voice of Scott Bernard in Tastsunoko’s Robotech franchise, so if you understood that then you would be interested in his performance, if he wasn’t the rapping dog. Most of the other cast portray themselves as generic stereotypes, and they don’t really put much effort into their performances, and none are really memorable. It’s like they aren’t taking this film seriously, however with the quality of the film and its dialogue, I don’t think any effort would save this film.

For the good points, despite how terrible it is as an animated film, Titanic: The Legend Goes On isn’t the worst Titanic film in comparison to the other two animated Titanic films, but we can save them for another review. The film does have some recognition of how bad the Titanic disaster was, such as panicking passengers, the dramatic atmosphere, and they do imply that people died, but since this is a kid’s film so Camillio Teti toned down the dramatic elements, and make it predictable that there would be a good ending. Other than that it feels like a poor man’s version of James Cameron’s Titanic, all the way down to a locket being one of the plot points of the film, the only real unique twist, beside the almost pointless side plot involving a group of would be jewel thieves, is that the genders of the main protagonists in the romance are swapped from poor man and rich woman to poor woman and rich man. What it adds to make it different from the much bigger Titanic film is simply weak and overused child humour, with cartoon animals, slapstick and really goofy moments, and there are much better films that do that.

If there was any reason you should see this film, it should be to see how awful it is. It is much better off as a teaching tool on how not to make an animated film, or animation in general. It’s even hard to view it as a film that’s entertaining because it’s so bad, what it calls entertainment has been done better in several other films, it could’ve been entertaining if the production team tried to make its own film, instead of trying to cash in on something. The only good things I can say is that I like some of the music and out of all the other Titanic films, it could’ve been worse.

Titanic: The Legend Goes On, is available from Third Millennium Distributions. Since it had a very limited release, DVD copies are hard to find, however it was rereleased on film collection DVDs from Prism Leisure that are sold at newsagents and can be found very cheap if you can find them. Camilio Teti still works in animation, although the last film he’s done, “Yo-Rhad, un Amico dallo Spazio” (Yo-Rhad: A Friend from Space), was released back in 2006, and hasn’t been aired outside Italy, and there’s no English language version as far as I know.

Old Review: The Black Cauldron

Taran is a young boy who dreams of being a great warrior and hero, but achieving that dream isn’t easy when in reality you are an assistant pig-keeper for an enchanter. Taran is sick of this life, especially since there is a war going in the world of Prydain, and the enchanter, Dallben, insists he doesn’t find and make sure he takes care of the pig, named Hen Wen. Dallben later shows Taran the importance of Hen Wen, as it can produce visions of the future, and knows the secret location of the Black Cauldron, a Cauldron created by the gods to seal the most evil magic, and allows the power to resurrect an undefeatable undead army. The visions show that the evil Horned King seeks the Black Cauldron, and knows Hen Wen’s powers, so Dallben tells Taran to take Hen Wen away to the hidden village so he cannot be found. Unfortunately Hen Wen, and later Taran are later captured by the Horned King’s soldiers. Now it is up to Taran, the beautiful Princess Eilonwy, the eccentric Bard Fflam and the loyal furry creature Gurgi, to prevent the Black Cauldron from getting into the wrong hands, as the fate of the entire world depends on this group to avoid the Horned King from bringing on a major terror to the lands.

Even for Disney Standards, The Black Cauldron had a shaky development history. The total production time was 12 years, although Disney acquired the rights to the original novel years before production began, however only five of those years was the actual production. Some of Disney’s oldest animators such as Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston as well as some of the animators that left to form their own companies such as Don Bluth worked on parts of the film, and Tim Burton worked as one of the concept artists. The reason for the lengthy production time mainly was due to both the changes in management at Disney and other, more thorough, productions going on at the same time such as The Rescuers and The Fox and the Hound. Since Disney still wanted to maintain their reputation of being a family friendly film production studio, edits had to be made to the film to avoid it getting a PG-13 rating due to its dark and graphic scenes. The film eventually got a suitable edit that was worthy of a PG rating, the first for a Disney animated film, and released it on July 24th 1985, however it bombed at the box office, earning $21 million out of the $25 million production cost.

The animation is hit-and-miss, which I know is an odd opinion to make for the animation of a Disney film but that is literally what the visuals look like on an overall level. There are some really neat effects used to show the magic and fantasy elements of the film, the lighting for its time is brilliant, even in comparison to modern animated films like The Secret of Kells. However in some scenes the animation looks dull and uninspired, some of the character designs are bland and expressions feel limited. The character design of Taran looks like the most generic teenage male protagonist I’ve seen ever in an animated film, and while the Horned King looks dark and sinister; his design is really simple and hard to appreciate since you can’t see much of him over the angles and lighting in the scenes until near the end. It’s watchable, it feels like a dark and engaging experience some of the time, but it isn’t Disney’s best work, pre-renaissance or not.

The music is simple and generic orchestra, which even in a pre-Renaissance Disney film is unusual since there is usually well done musical numbers or highly memorable and creative soundtracks. It’s refreshing to see a Disney film that doesn’t have songs or musical numbers, especially in this one because I believe the film wouldn’t be taken as seriously overall if there were songs in it, but most of the music is kept mainly in the background, and none of it has a memorable feel that other Disney films have. While this maybe a criticism to something Disney normally does great in their original films, music, on the other hand it allows the audience to take the film seriously and focuses on the characters and stories, something that I find most American produced animated films these days fail to do.

The voice acting for the most part is nothing special with a few exceptions. It’s very listenable and most of the actors do a good effort at making these likable characters, and I give credit to the actors good attempts at pronouncing Welsh sounding words and names, however they don’t give a long lasting impression on the viewer. This is with the exception of John Byner as Gurgi and John Hurt as the Horned King, with Byner’s Smeagol-like goblin voice along with his happy personality actually making Gurgi really adorable, while John Hurt makes the Horned King really dark and frightful with such a cold and mystifying voice. One minor issue with the voice casting is that Grant Bardsley sounds like his voice broke partway through the film, as sounds more adult later in the film, and it sounds so sudden that I wouldn’t call it a storytelling effect.

This is a really dark and engaging film, and I think it’s a great attempt by Disney at making a captivating film. There are no musical numbers that break the mood, the comedic moments blend in well with the dark moments and the relationship that occurs between Taran and Princess Eilonwy is made more realistically progressing instead of sporadically romantic. The Horned King is a really underrated villain, since he dark and mysterious, his personality and motives are more subtle and John Hurt really shows how dark this person is. Despite all that, it still bombed at the box office and while Disney still rereleases it as one of their classics, no one really mentions it and Disney doesn’t present it as much as their other classics. Therefore, one question arises, what went wrong? Well two major problems arise with this film, and it’s only going to be a problem depending on who the viewer is. The first one is an obvious one; it’s a loose adaptation on the book. I don’t normally bring up comparisons to a story’s original form because it’s what you expect in an adaptation, it’s a kid’s film, Walt Disney Animation, despite how many dark moments appear in their films, don’t like their films having an adult rating, and you can’t expect several pages of descriptive narrative to fit into an 80 minute film, so it should be treated as its own film. However, people who would’ve read the book would noticed how toned down it is, and what scenes are missing, so it might put them off, as it clearly did for critics at the time. Another problem is that, while I like this film for the stuff explained at the beginning of this paragraph, it causes the film to lack any special charm that is found in several other Disney films. Disney Animated films all have a special formula that makes Disney special, and it only seems to work whenever Disney makes the film. But with Black Cauldron, that formula isn’t there, and the film shows. Most of the characters, despite how charming or fearful they are, they seem dull in comparison to Disney’s other great protagonists and antagonists, and the more sombre or joyous moments feel really underplayed in comparison to other Disney films. It’s these two reasons which make it difficult for the film itself to stand on its own two legs, which is why I feel it failed back then to grab an audience, but now that it’s more accessible it should be possible for it to find its true appraisal.

I believe that if you really want to enjoy this film, you have to be in the right mind and heart. If you expect to find a good old Disney adventure or a faithful adaptation to what is possibly a great fantasy film, you may be disappointed, but if you want a dark and atmospheric fantasy film you might find something to enjoy in this little underground classic.

The Black Cauldron is available from Walt Disney. The original novels by Lloyd Alexander, chronologically titled “The Book of Three”, “The Black Cauldron”, “The Castle of Llyr”, “Taran Wanderer” and “The High King”, collectively titled The Chronicles of Prydain, is available from Henry Holt with a collective box set to be released on October 2011 by Square Fish. A collection of short stories collectively titled The Foundling and Other Tales of Prydrain which are set before the original stories in the same universe and were also written by Lloyd Alexander, are available by Holt, Rhinehart and Winston and Puffin Books.