With The Black Cauldron, animation at Disney had officially hit rock bottom. “That film was supposed to be our ‘Snow White.’ But we just weren’t ready for it,” Ron Clements reportedly said at the time. But a behind-the-scenes tale of struggle that would ultimately bear triumph was brewing at Walt’s beloved company. And it’s important to recognize this film, not for what it wasn’t, but for what it represented for the studio at the time.
Based on Lloyd Alexander’s award-winning teen lit series The Chronicles of Prydain, the events of the film follow a young assistant pig keeper named Taran, his oracular pig named Hen Wen and a powerful cauldron that could raise a dead army for an evil king. Disney optioned the rights to the whole series in 1971, but the studio’s intense aversion to sequels meant it would try to do all of Prydain’s five volumes justice in just 80 minutes.
The film took seven years to complete, largely because chief executive Ron Miller (Walt’s son-in-law) didn’t feel his new Cal Arts recruits (including the likes of John Lasseter and Tim Burton) were up to the epic challenge. In some ways, Miller was right, but it was the whole company that turned out not to be ready for a film of such scale, and there was still much strife to come before the magic returned to Disney feature animation.