The Black Cauldron nearly killed Disney animation, taking so long to make that its true budget is incalculable, appearing to startled reviews in 1985, and taking in only $21m at the box office. Drew Taylor charts how the disaster lumbered on for more than a decade, splitting the company generationally and coming to manifest its unwillingness to move on from the past.
The man in charge (famously) quit:
On September 13, 1979, [Don] Bluth's 41st birthday, while he was supposed to be on vacation, Bluth returned to the lot with confederates and fellow Disney animators James Pomeroy and Gary Goldman and left with 14 animators and administrators to start their own animation company. At the time that was almost half of the staff of the anemic Walt Disney Animation operation.
The early computer graphics were both a vast waste of money and so rudimentary you wonder why they bothered:
"It was printed out and we had to take the print-outs and tape them onto animation paper to create the animation," Bossert said. "And those went through the traditional ink-and-paint process, transferring them to cels and all of that."
And the decision to use 70mm film ultimately resulted in Disney outsourcing cel-painting to Seoul, such was the incredible volume of work to be done.
"It was kind of a disaster. We had to ship these huge boxes of cels, in huge wooden crates, to Korea and back again and shoot them in Los Angeles."
And finally a new generation of executives were so shocked by how gothic and weird the movie was, they wanted to… Disneyfy it. Until they were told how expensive it would be to do further animation work, that is. So the movie ended up full of crude edits instead.
It made a choppy movie even choppier and forced the movie's release date to get pushed back once again, from December 1984 to summer 1985. Katzenberg also made some personnel changes. "He let the whole leadership and management of the movie go," Deja said.
One of the first movies I remember seeing as a youngster. If you haven't seen it, be warned, because while it looks cool it truly is a formless shambles with problems that go way past animation and go down to the fundamental difficulty of honoring novels in screenplays. The story is just not there, because so much time is filled with setup for things that are never explored, are ultimately cut, or simply don't matter. It's on Disney+, though, if you want to see a Disney film that combined the standard talking animal show with stuff like this:
They make Funko Pops of Black Cauldron now, obviously.