Just for fun, I decided to
compile a list of the earliest movies I could remember seeing in
a theater, and when.
The Care Bears Movie
This was probably the first movie I was ever taken to. I remember two things about the experience: one, that the villain was a green face coming out of a book's page, and that the bears defeated her by simply closing the book. Two, the poster for Santa Claus: The Movie I saw as my mother was carrying me out of the theater.
1986 -- An American Tail
Harry and the Hendersons
Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
"Project X" is about Matthew Broderick trying to save some chimpanzees from a testing lab. Regarding Snow White, it wasn't until 1994 that you could buy a video copy; before then, Disney would re-issue it on the big screen once every seven years.
July 1988 -- Who Framed Roger Rabbit
June 1989 -- Honey I Shrunk The Kids
December 1989 -- Prancer
January 1990 -- ?????
April 1990 -- Jetsons: The Movie
May 1990 -- Dick Tracy
June 1990 -- Never Ending Story II
November 1990 -- The Rescuers Down Under
December 1990 (and again the following month) -- Home Alone
So what was that question mark about? That's what we came to discuss. Infamously, The Care Bears Movie beat out Disney's The Black Cauldron when both were issued out in the summer of 1985. At that point I would have been too young to take the "dark themes" of Black Cauldron, so....like the rest of America, we went with bears created by a greeting card company.
Let's explain why Black Cauldron exists. When an industry feels it isn't being taken seriously by culture, it also feels it has something to prove, and usually overcompensates in a superficial manner. Instead of making their stories BETTER, they go for image and make themselves "darker and grittier." The comic book industry was waist deep in this sort of thing by the time I started reading books. The world was governed by Boomers who scoffed at comics, pigeonholing an entire medium as "for kids," and in turn, comics turned their superheroes into villains, had them swear and bleed and beat each other up, all in the name of "TAKE ME SERIOUSLY AAAAAAAAHHHH."
Disney was in the same boat during the early 80s, and though they couldn't go as far as comic books were going, this period is called their "Dark Era" for a reason. In an effort to appear edgier, they churned out moody PG-rated films one after another: The Black Hole, The Watcher In The Woods, Something Wicked This Way Comes. BLAM, POW, Disney isn't just for kids anymore! This trend reached its zenith with 1985 and the rollout of both The Black Cauldron and Return To Oz. This was the company that Eisner and Katzenberg inherited, and Katz in particular was aghast at what they were doing.
He wasn't paying attention to Return To Oz, but he sure had a problem with The Black Cauldron. It's well known by now that the version of the film that was released was cut down significantly from what the animators intended. They wanted slimy skeletons to graphically rip the flesh from people's faces. They wanted to scar kids for life; they wanted those little Underoos WET. Katz had the opposite attitude and, in the end, trimmed over ten minutes out of The Black Cauldron, removing all that naughty gore.
What remains isn't good, and it's doubful the restoration of the censored content would make it any better. Gory or not, The Black Cauldron would still feel like the act of desperation that it was, a bad imitation of classic Disney movies with a "modern" layer of grime and depression to prove its worth to a cynical audience. Not only is it one of Disney's biggest failures, it kinda belongs in that hole of shame. But all that being said, I can't help it...the original cut of The Black Cauldron has been my biggest forbidden curiosity of the entire Disney Vault for a long time. I'm not alone either.
That's the biggest mystery surrounding this film. But there's another.
After The Black Cauldron had proven itself to be a financial turkey, Disney did everything to bury its existence. They were just starting to enter the VHS market at this time, but while the film that came before it (The Fox And The Hound) and the film that came after it (The Great Mouse Detective) would both receive heavily promoted clamshells, Black Cauldron would remain curiously absent all the way until 1998, when the rest of the library had been exhausted. You had to go to Japan to find acknowledgement of the movie in a theme park. And you defnitely, DEFNITELY would never see it play in a theater again....
This is the movie I wound up seeing in January of 1990. And I did NOT get the title wrong. Except for "Gouldron."
Snow White was on a seven-year timer. Pinocchio's hiatuses were longer. You would only get Fantasia once a decade. But BLACK friggin' CAULDRON got a reissue in 1990, a mere five years after its premiere. And I can prove it. I WAS THERE.
And if I hadn't written it down, I might have never known I was there. In a testament to how memorable this movie is, I remember nothing about that screening. I don't remember Gurgi, I don't remember Hen Wen, I don't even remember the cauldron. All I remember is my general reaction to the thing. I thought I was watching something brand new, and I thought Disney was trying to rip off The Legend Of Zelda.
Another thing I don't remember are any ads for the movie appearing, or any promotion before or after its re-opening. How did my mom even know it was there? I DO know she wanted to see The Little Mermaid badly, but I repeatedly refused because it was a "girl movie." It was still in theaters at the same time this was, and Bla.....er, Taran and the Magic Cauldron could've been picked as a compromise. Why didn't I find it weird that two Disney animated films were playing at the same time, with one getting no attention whatsoever? Why didn't I find it double-weird that Taran and the Magic Cauldron never showed up on VHS, had no Happy Meal tie-ins, and was never talked about or discussed by anyone afterward?
Google is no help whatsoever. Barely anyone even knows about this reissue other than those who witnessed it personally. All I can find are random comments along the lines of "Uh, did The Black Cauldron show up in theaters in the 90s or am I crazy?" But once I started reading those comments, things started getting freakier.
Everyone who could remember something called "Taran and the Magic Cauldron" cited a different date for its release. 1989, 1990 and 1991 were all mentioned as years. Well, I could correct these people; I knew for a FACT that I saw it on January 13, 1990 -- I wrote it down. I would need proof beyond that, so I started searching theater showtime scans on Google Newspapers. Unfortunately I couldn't access my own hometown paper, The Oregonian, because the scans end at December 31, 1987....which is asinine as I KNOW there is microfilm for many years beyond that at Central Library downtown. I shouldn't have to make the trip. Why did they stop scanning there?
I kept reading. There was, briefly, a rumor that the "Magic Cauldron" version was cut further down to achieve a G rating, but the discovery of a movie poster on eBay silenced that rumor, because it clearly said "PG." But by far the most interesting take on this mysterious movie was found at the blog Kyle Loves Animation, where the writer expresses similar bewilderment to mine, and digs up some things I hadn't seen before. Most interestingly, he'd found a showtime listing for my state. But it was down in Eugene, and it was being shown in March.
This changed everything. I had searched many papers on the date of January 13, and turned up nothing. I was beginning to think, for whatever reason, Disney was screening a renamed Black Cauldron in Portland and nowhere else. I had searched that Eugene paper too -- nothing in January. It turns out it was playing somewhere else in Oregon on a completely different month. Taran and the Magic Cauldron played in Eugene for approximately two weeks, then disappeared. I could assume the same runtime happened in Portland in January.
Okay....why was it hopping around the country like this? Oh, no, wait....not just the country. THE WORLD.
This is a recording of a TV spot for Taran and the Magic Cauldron (so I guess they do exist). It was recorded in Portugal. It was playing for two weeks somewhere in Portugal? Not only that, the recording's date is March 1989. This means by the time Taran and the Magic Cauldron reached Portland, it had been playing randomly in movie theaters all over Earth for almost a year.
Why different locations at different times, instead of playing everywhere at once? More perplexingly....Why was a blacklisted film that Disney was trying to bury zipping around from city to city, barely announcing its presence before disappearing somewhere else? WHAT WAS GOING ON?
But it gets stranger than that! Kyle actually dug up merch. For Taran and the Magic Cauldron.
WHY IS THERE MERCH FOR THIS?? HOW CAN THIS POSSIBLY EXIST?? This nomadic movie didn't give you half a chance to see it before it caught a flight to somewhere else! The film was barely there! It was barely there the first time!
I had one lead left....and I knew what I was going to be doing the next few hours. I caught a ride downtown and entered Central Library. I marched up the marble steps and asked to see the microfilm. They pulled out January 1990 and threaded it through. And I began searching.
And above that, I found a blurb above the ad that didn't answer all the questions, but settled some of them:
So there you have it. The Black Cauldron was definitely playing in Portland during January of 1990, trying to pass under an assumed name, as some kind of Hail Mary to save it from complete disgrace. It did not work, the new name did not improve sales, and now the reissue is even more obscure than the first was.
This movie is just full of surprises, innit?
UPDATE: Here is some more information shared by readers after this article was published:
Pacman000 says part of the reason this reappeared was because of contractual obligations.
Pedro Benoliel says the name of the movie in Portugal was always "Taran And The Magic Cauldron," and it also shared this name in Brazil. The reissue borrowed the Brazilian name.
Finally, Kyle himself says the period in which the reissue was distributed around America was three to four months.
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