"THE BLACK CAULDRON," a kettle full of make-believe from the fairytale factory of the Magic Kingdom, is the first of a promised new inventory of Disney cartoon classics. Created by a new generation of animators in the studio's tradition, it has the dazzling look, if not the rich detail, of a classic like "Pinocchio."
It's the first feature-length cartoon shot in 70 mm since "Sleeping Beauty" in 1959, and one of the few films recorded in surround sound. Sadly there are no songs -- to whistle, to wish on, to last a lifetime. And that's a shame, though producer Joe Hale argues that songs and "the cute things they used to do" get in the way of contemporary pacing.
But such criticisms are hardly worth voicing when you think about how little there is for wee ones these days. The success of the innocuous "Care Bears" demonstrated the demand for savory kid stuff, just as the failure of Disney's frightening "Return to Oz" showed that parents were no longer going to put up with kids diving into their laps and then staying up till 4 a.m. with nightmares.
"Cauldron" fits the bill. Interestingly, it is the first-ever Disney cartoon rated PG, which says more about modern parents than about this charming children's film.
As any child psychologist will tell you, almost without being asked, Disney has made some of the scariest kiddie movies of all time. We all cried for Bambi's mother. And today, no doubt, "Snow White" and "Bambi" would get a PG for their intensity.
Traditionally Disney has taught kids to face fear and sorrow, and also to cheer truth, justice, bunnies and motherhood. That's what the fables are for, really. But parents today apparently do not want their children to grieve too soon or to be afraid of anything more alarming than a shortage of Smurfiness. And so "The Black Cauldron," unlike Disney's early classics, lacks the intensity and the very inspiration that comes from telling a tale with fearless vision.
Still, "Cauldron" is a noble project, directed by Disney veterans and performed by superb actors like John Hurt and Freddie Jones. It is a carefully wrought and thoroughly enjoyable film based on the "Chronicles of Prydain" by Lloyd Alexander, the American Tolkien.
A young swineherd becomes a hero on his quest for the magical cauldron. He is joined by a princess, a minstrel and a forest furball, along with an oracular piggie named Hen Wen. Meanwhile the evil Horned King tries to snatch the spellbound stewpot. Three witches, an assortment of frogs, a googly-eyed troll named Creeper and a pond full of pixies also populate this Disney landscape suffused as of yore with glow worms and sunbeams.
The 12 years of toil were worth the trouble. It may not boil, but Disney's made "The Black Cauldron" bubble.
THE BLACK CAULDRON (PG) -- At area theaters.