“Always Left With No Munchings and Crunchings.”

I was inspired to create and complete the 2016 Disney Princess Challenge last year when I watched and reviewed Sleeping Beauty. The only problem was that by taking Briar Rose out of the mix, I had inadvertently left myself with only eleven official Disney Princesses when I needed twelve.

I briefly considered picking Alice or Wendy Darling, but ultimately decided to go with an actual princess instead, in this case, Princess Eilonwy. Eilonwy is from The Black Cauldron, an 80’s flop that Disney has tried very, very hard to bury in the bottom of the Disney Vault. That alone might have been enough to spark my interest, but there’s also the fact that The Black Cauldron is the second book in The Prydain Chronicles, which was actually the first epic fantasy series that I ever read. (And a series that I enjoyed, until I heartlessly dumped it for my one true junior high love, The Belgariad.) Originally, I wasn’t so interested in the movie, but lately I’ve been wondering how it compared, so I decided to check it out.

cover1

In retrospect, I may have made the wrong choice.

DISCLAIMER:

You will find SPOILERS in this review for both the film and the novel, as I’m going to spend a considerable amount of time comparing the two. Like, I’m not even gonna lie: that’s probably going to make up the majority of this review. There will also be spoilers for The Book of Three, which is the first book in The Prydain Chronicles.

SUMMARY:

Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper, is generally unsatisfied with his life, dreaming of being a big hero and fighting wars and such. Hen-Wen is no normal pig, however: she is an oracular pig, and Taran finally gets his chance at heroism when Hen-Wen has a vision of the dreaded Black Cauldron, an instrument of evil that can raise the dead. Taran must keep Hen-Wen safe and out of the hands of the Horned King, who hopes to use the Cauldron to create an undead army.

NOTES:

1. The primary reason I shouldn’t have chosen The Black Cauldron for this challenge–other than the fact that it’s just not particularly good–is that Disney Princess movies, by definition, generally center around a princess, whereas the MC of this story is Taran, a farm boy. I’d figured, however, that Eilonwy was such a vivid and pivotal part of the books that, surely, she would have enough personality to make up for the fact that, technically, this wasn’t her story. After all, the earliest Disney Princesses barely had any agency (and in some cases, even screen time), so Eilonwy could only be a step in the right direction. Right?

eilonwy1

Wrong. Very much wrong. THIS IS NOT MY EILONWY.

My Eilonwy is headstrong and intelligent and babbles a lot and can do magic and is just generally awesome. I loved her as a kid. And sure, it’s possible that I’m just remembering her through rose-tinted nostalgia glasses, but in my memory, she was very much an actual character, not just some love interest fluttering about uselessly in the background. To give a small representation of her character, here are a few passages plucked from The Book of Three:

“Don’t you see I’m locked up in here?”
“Of course I do,” said Eilonwy. “What would be the point of having someone in a dungeon if they weren’t locked up? Really, Taran of Caer Dallben, you surprise me with some of your remarks. I don’t mean to hurt your feelings by asking, but is Assistant Pig-Keeper the kind of work that calls for a great deal of intelligence?”

“I meant to come back sooner,” Eilonwy said. “But Achren caught me talking to you. She started to give me a whipping. I bit her.”

“I must leave this evil place,” Taran cried. “I am impatient to be gone from here. Spiral Castle has brought me only grief; I have no wish to see it again.”
“What has it brought the rest of us?” Eilonwy asked. “You make it sound as though we were just sitting around having a splendid time while you moan and take on.”

See? Eilonwy’s the best.

By contrast, here are some things she says in the movie:

“Oh, what a pity. I was so hoping for someone who could help me escape.”

“Oh, such a dreary place!”

“Taran, do something!”

When Taran gets imprisoned in a dungeon, Eilonwy is the only reason he escapes, which, thankfully, she brings up after he starts congratulating himself on their survival and insisting she knows nothing about swords because she’s a girl. However, it’s also the only scene where she sticks up for herself or otherwise shows any real semblance of personality. (Not to mention she ends up running away from this fight in tears instead of just laughing him off for being stupid.) Mostly, Eilonwy’s just dull, and has an annoying tendency to scream a lot. It’s disappointing.

2. Taran, meanwhile, appears to have remained something of an annoying little bastard.

t3

Don’t let this picture fool you. You’ll want to kick him straight in the jewels.

He actually doesn’t whine quite as much as I remembered (I have always associated Taran from the earliest books as a “but I was going to Toshe Station to pick up some power converters!” kind of guy), but he’s still a sexist little shit who can’t even watch after a pig properly. He gets to go through something of an arc, I suppose, gaining a better understanding of what being a hero really is, but it’s not a particularly well-developed arc, and ultimately I’m pretty bored with him, too.

As far as Eilonwy and Taran’s romance goes . . . well, I’ve seen worse. Of course, I’ve also seen better, as their relationship basically boils down to “well, I’m a guy and you’re a girl, so . . . .” Still, at least Taran isn’t another Disney Creeper. It’s the little things you’re thankful for.

3. And then there’s Gurgi:

g1

In the novel, Gurgi is described thusly: He could not be sure whether it {Gurgi} was animal or human. He decided it was both. Its hair was so matted and covered with leaves that it looked like an owl’s nest in need of housecleaning. It had long, skinny, woolly arms, and a pair of feet as flexible and grimy as its hands.

You may notice that this description does not quite match the picture above it, as Disney apparently interpreted that passage to mean “adorable puppy-like thing.” Bizarrely, this will not stop anyone from treating Gurgi like he’s some grotesque swamp creature: Fflewddur Fflam, for instance, is clearly intimidated by little Gurgi crawling all over him and demanding his harp; he offers said harp in terror, saying, “I’m sure you’ve murdered for less.” Please, Fflewddur. You’re basically dealing with a talking Havanese puppy. (Although I will admit that the talking itself might be a bit disturbing, since Gurgi sounds almost exactly like Gollum from LOTR. It’s totally weird. Once you hear it, you can’t stop hearing it. This has to be where Andy Serkis got his inspiration; it just has to be.)

Gurgi may look nothing like I imagined, but he’s still probably the best part of the whole movie. As such, Taran’s obviously a total jerk to him. Admittedly, Gurgi doesn’t start with the best of impressions, considering that he steals an apple and then defiantly takes a bite before returning it. (It’s hysterical, and easily my favorite part of the whole movie.) But Taran gives this poor little dude shit about being a coward for basically the whole film when, really, Gurgi just opts out of going to the Castle of Doom with Taran after knowing the guy for approximately six seconds. I’d call that a fairly reasonable decision, myself. Like, okay, here you are, hanging out in your forest, and some hero-wannabe that you met a few minutes ago is like, “Come with me on this probable suicide mission to save my pig?” Yeah, thanks but no thanks, buddy. Not how I’m choosing to spend my Friday.

At the end of the movie, Gurgi redeems himself of his supposed cowardice by jumping into the Black Cauldron, which destroys it. Normally, such a redemptive sacrifice play ends in permanent death, especially if the character in question isn’t the primary hero, but luckily for Gurgi, he’s in a Disney film. So he survives.

4. In the novel, Gurgi isn’t the one who jumps in the Black Cauldron. That would be this other dude, Ellidyr, who’s a total asshat and an obvious redemptive death just waiting to him. Somewhat predictably, Ellidyr isn’t fortunate enough to earn himself a Disney Death, which, good riddance. He’s kind of the Boromir of the group, but way more annoying.

I’m not particularly bothered by Ellidyr’s exclusion. I’m mostly only bringing it up because this adaptation cuts a lot of other important characters, which is the kind of thing that will happen when you try to adapt two books into one movie. The Black Cauldron might be the second book in The Prydain Chronicles, but half of this movie’s plot (Hen-Wen going missing, Taran trying trying to find her, the introduction of Gurgi and Eilonwy) are all from the first book, The Book of Three. I guess I understand taking out Coll (a farmer and mentor, who’s revealed to be a former warrior), but cutting Prince Gwydion is like . . . well. Gwydion’s like a weird mix of Aragorn and Gandalf, so not including him just feels deeply bizarre.

5. The witches Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch did make the final cut!

witches1

Unfortunately, they’re bullshit.

It’s hard to describe Orddu, Orwen, and Orgoch from the books. They’re witches or enchantresses, but they’re also clearly much, much more than that. Personally, they always kind of reminded me of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who from A Wrinkle In Time, only they turn more people into animals, and they’re considerably more fluid in their sense of self. They often swap identities with one another (nobody wants to be Orgoch) and they can appear as either hags or maidens. They say things like “You’re a pretty little duck. Would you give me your hair once you’ve done with it?” and “You can’t for a moment imagine I’d do all I said. Goodness, no, I wouldn’t dream of stepping on you. I couldn’t stand the squashiness.”

In the movie, unfortunately, they’re just kind of there. They aren’t particularly witty or interesting, and there’s no real sense of identity play. Worse, Disney looked at Orwen and thought, “Hey, why don’t we give her this huge and totally random infatuation with Fflewddur, because nothing is as funny as a fat woman wanting to sex up a dude, amirite?”

orwen

I am beyond tired of this trope.

The enchantresses are also the ones responsible for bringing Gurgi back to life and may or may not be some kind of sky goddesses? I don’t know, I give up.

6. I’m fond of The Prydain Chronicles (particularly the first two books, which I reread the most as a kid), but–perhaps unsurprisingly for a series written in the 1960’s–they do feel a bit stereotypical in regards to epic fantasy conventions. (Like a farm boy hero? Wow, I’m shocked by this bold choice in protagonists.) But there are some surprisingly weird elements in this story, too, like seriously: who comes up with a pig that can foretell the future? (Well, I guess the answer to that is the Welsh Triads, which were the basis for much of The Prydain Chronicles. Fun fact: if you base your story on Welsh mythology, you will get some readers who–despite the pronunciation guide you provide–will still apparently grow up saying the names of their favorite characters incorrectly. Which is unfortunate, because I actually like how I say ‘Eilonwy.’ Although I am amused by the fact that I managed to mess up ‘Taran’ but got ‘Fflewddur’ correct.)

My point is that a movie with an oracular pig and a magical princess and an undead army and a trio of witches who swap identities like clothes could be really strange and exciting and awesome, but isn’t. The Black Cauldron isn’t terrible (well, other than the witches), but all in all, it’s fairly dull. Even in the current age, Disney seems like a poor choice for the material, which is too bad because apparently they’re considering trying their hand at it again. I’d watch the hell out of this story, though, if it was adapted by someone else instead, perhaps Studio Ghibli? Or, if you prefer live-action, Matthew Vaughn circa 2007?

7. Finally, this movie cuts characters left and right from the original story, but they do give us a brand new and subtly named character: Creeper, the Horned King’s sidekick!

creeper2

Yeah, he’s kind of obnoxious. The villains are pretty much a giant fail in this movie, which is strange considering how cool the majority of Disney villains are. They’re usually the best part of the movie! Here, unfortunately, the Horned King is just sort of there, and Creeper is like a more annoying and less avian version of Iago. Some of the animation is pretty creepy and might have scared me as a little kid, but overall the villains, sadly, have no real flavor.

That’s pretty true of the whole movie, unfortunately.

CONCLUSIONS:

Meh. It’s not the worst thing I’ve ever seen. It’s just so generic and full of untapped potential.

MVP:

John Byner (Gurgi)

TENTATIVE GRADE:

C

MORAL:

If your only mission is to keep your oracular pig out of the hands of the bad guys who would use her to locate an evil artifact that would allow them to raise a freaking army of the undead . . . you know, maybe you should try actually keeping your eyes on the pig?

Advertisements
This entry was posted in SLIGHTLY LESS EPIC REVIEWS and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “Always Left With No Munchings and Crunchings.”

  1. plunderpuss says:

    I think you should have done Jim Hawkins from Treasure Planet and in your review, just photoshopped a dress onto the screenshots. (What, if Disney isn’t going to bother to make female characters actual people, you might as well take characters who are people and just turn them into women.)

    • I would not have been opposed to that, but I’ve never actually seen Treasure Planet (or, well, any version of Treasure Island, actually) and I have a tendency to forget the movie exists. And I don’t have Photoshop. Other than that, though. I like the way you think. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s