Thursday, September 9, 2010

Cauldron of Chaos, PART 3

The original Black Caudlron given to Patty Peraza by Joe Hale
When they started having screenings for the public at the studio theater to gather their reactions to our rough cut film, I remembered the window at the end of the hallway where Walt would sometimes stand looking out over his studio while checking people's reaction as they left a screening. There are some great shots of him at that window as the afternoon light creeped through the panes and threw his shadow on the wall behind. I knew that the "un-dead" section would most likely be revolting to some in the audience who would not expect to see a bunch of rotted corpses slowly fermenting and in full gorious, I mean glorious color in a Disney animated feature.

I had that section timed so I knew when it would come on screen after the picture began. I brought along a few of my closest cronies to enjoy my hunch. We stood in the back of the theater until the film began, then left quietly and snuck up to the third floor. There had been sightings of "suits" on the third floor so we had to be on the look out for anyone wearing a tie. As we slowly approached the zombie, er... zero hour, we looked to the theater below. Right on cue, the doors opened and a mom was angrily leaving with her two wailing children in tow. She was followed by another, and soon there was a sizable exodus of crying kids and upset parents fleeing from the theater. You couldn't hear what they were saying but I doubt it was along the lines of, "If only they could have held longer on the decayed flesh dripping off that cute zombie's face.  I can't wait to go out and buy some happy meals of those incredibly entertaining undead fellows." By this time a security guard had been making rounds and gave us the stink eye so we hopped back downstairs to our domiciles chuckling all the way. Afterwards as the directors and producer met, they didn't need to read the ARI cards to admit that particular problem and the un-dead sections were quickly cut down and in some cases cut out completely. Unfortunately those simple cuts could not repair the rips in the  fabric of the storyline or magically make the film the fantasy epic it should have been.

Most of the effects were still handrawn
Cauldron included some terrific visuals by its stellar effects animation staff who really went above and beyond to create their hand drawn magic. Animator Don Paul even shot live action of dry ice mists coming out of the cauldron for placement directly into the film for dramatic impact while Ted Keirsey, Mark Dindal, Jeff Howard, Patty Peraza and many many other FX wizards created amazing imagery  across "bedsheets" of wide screen animation paper. There were however some new tricks coming out of the Disney hat. Some of the new advances made by Disney during this film included the first computer animation done by Disney that was released to the public.

Along with a few others, I had left Cauldron to join Producer Berni Mattenson on his project, "Basil of Baker Street." I was inspired by Miyazaki's 's "Castle Calliostro" and wanted to do computer graphics inside Big Ben which was definitely not written into the story. I sketched out some pastels to try and sell the idea and was rewarded with John Musker and Roy Disney's support.  I gathered a couple of guys from WED and we got right on it. Don Griffith told Joe Hale about the computer imagery I was exploring and he came down and likewise got excited at the possibilities. Joe had a varied background at Disney that also included effects and he had proven his abilities time and again on films like "Black Hole" and "Watcher in the Woods". He commandeered my little crew and used them to creat a row boat, a floating orb of light and some flying witch props for Cauldron. So officially "Basil" was the first Disney animated feature to use computer graphics but "Cauldron" was the first to be released showing it.  Yeah, get it right you gol- dern film historians!  A new process was also developed during Cauldron called APT which was meant to replace Xerography at the studio. Dave Spencer would go on to receive an technical merit Aademy Award for the process however it never did take the place of Xerox as foretold. Computers would eventually provide that little change.

I recently spoke with Producer Joe Hale and asked him for his recollections about "Cauldron." Joe's long Disney experience included being Ollie Johnston's assistant on "Peter Pan" working on Smee and later with Woolie while on "Lady and the Tramp,"  and Ward Kimball on "Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom." It was on "Sleeping Beauty" that Joe moved over into the Layout department and under Don Griffith's mentoring. Joe had originally been doing story development on Cauldron working closely with Vance Gerry and Mel Shaw.  When asked by Ron Miller to take on the role of Producer, he turned it down not wanting to step on toes or have to deal with the mounting politics in the studio. Of course he did eventually take on that mantle when frustration rose within the crew and someone had to step up to the responsibility.  Later after the new management team came on board, he faced yet another level of frustration. "When Katzenberg first screened the film (Cauldron) he told us to cut it by 10 minutes.  Roy Disney and I got together and found some scenes we could get rid of that didn't affect the story that much." When they ran it agin for Jeffrey and the film finished he asked Roy, "Is that 10 minutes?" When Roy replied that no it was only around 6 minutes.  Jeffrey stated, "I said 10 minutes!" 

Joe continued, "Eventually he (Jeffrey) cut out about 12 minutes which really hurt the picture. " I'll jump back in and add that It's always an expensive and intensely muddled action when editing an animated feature after it is in full color. Those steps were always meant to be edited while in the storyboard stage or at least before animation. I'd rather see a story or layout guy do a hand full of drawings and test the flow on a leica reel than an animator slave over a hundred pages of sweat only to see it cut out of the picture. Going all the way into final color and then making those decisions is just ludicrous. Of course even the classic films have their "soup eating sequences" so it is not unheard of to edit after animation, just an unfortunate screwup when it does occur. Joe received an early copy of the new DVD release of "Cauldron" yesterday and he and his lovely wife Bev informed me that the image is sharp, bright and colorful.  They also briefed me that they included about 8 minutes or so of previously unseen footage, mainly of the Faire Folk sequence that was cut before the film was released.  This will now be included as part of the bonus features so we can better imagine what Joe Hale, Ron Miller and their team may have had in mind for this feature.

Ron Miller and Roy Disney in happier times
Speaking of Ron Miller, Joe and I were both disappointed that so called "film historians" tend to sweep much of his innovative accomplishments under the rug or just give credit to Eisner's regime albeit they also produced some great results. I wonder how many readers realize that Miller's rein was responsible for the creation of  The Disney Channel, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, actual construction of Walt's dream of EPCOT, funded Disney's FIRST Broadway show, gave Tim Burton his break as well as many of the future wonderkids of animation, acquired "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and put it into development, Tokyo Disneyland, initiated Disney's first attempts at computer animation with projects like "Tron", started the Touchstone label for films HE produced like "Splash" and many more achievements. 


When Disney became the target of corporate raiders like Saul Steinberg, certain shareholders criticized Miller's leadership even though he had done wonders since becoming president of Walt Disney Productions just recently in 1980 and then CEO in 1983. Unfortunately just as Miller was truly waking the Sleeping Beauty, he was ousted. Keep in mind that I'm not saying he was perfect or that he was Walt but then again has anyone truly filled that void? I am saying that he was trying to do a good job with the company and I believe that for the most part he did exactly that. Not to take anything away from Eisner and what his troupe accomplished but they certainly reaped many rewards from the foundation set by Miller's team. 


Thank goodness Michael Eisner rewarded Roy Disney's support with control of Disney animation when other new management staff originally wanted nothing to do with that division and some would just as soon see it shut down and weren't shy about letting that be known.  Ironically in 2004, and by now fed up with Michael Eisner's leadership, Roy would spearhead the "Save Disney" rally which led to the ouster of Eisner a year later. I can only guess at the wonders we might have have witnessed if Ron and Roy could have remained united and taken Disney into the future together. 

Our Invite to the Cauldron Wrap Party
As always, the wrap parties were a joyous time when hurt feelings had had enough time to mellow and sometimes even heal completely and we were able to reflect on the accomplishments of everyone involved. I was glad to see Ron Miller's name still attached to the credits as executive Producer although I'm certain the film didn't exactly mirror his hopes and dreams.

On a warm Monday night, July 1, 1985, Disney Studios threw a fantastic wrap party at Chasens and the food and music were first class as usual for this kind of an event. Chasen's had been one of the trendier spots in Hollywood dating back to the Golden Age of the thirties. Sadly that classy icon of yesteryear closed its doors in 1995 and now has a grocery store with a drop or two of chili to mark the spot. Of course we still have the film, "The Black Cauldron" and the Disney feature Animation department is even now working on new releases, despite the rumors that it would close its hallowed doors. It may have been uprooted and moved to new addresses, but it's still around thank goodness and only just recently finished their latest effort "The Princess and the Frog" as a commitment to keeping quality 2D animation alive and kicking.

Producer Joe Hale and animator Patty Peraza
at the Black Cauldron Wrap Party
Looking back I guess I'll always wish  Cauldron could have been better and if it sounds like I've been knocking it, I really don't mean to, just chalk it up to personal disappointment. There had been so much hype for this particular project it was difficult to imagine anything less than a new masterpiece on the scale of the afore mentioned, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs". I was really yearning to see our generation create something epic and awe inspiring for today's audiences but that quest was made even more difficult through the many unusual and unforeseen obstacles we endured during its development. Joe and his crew actually accomplished quite a feat when you realize what they had to contend with while creating this film. Black Cauldron was our 25th Full-Length Animated Feature and I guess I just wanted to be a part of another icon that would draw lines of folks wanting to experience the magic of a new Disney classic.

While researching this story, I met some wonderful folks who consider Cauldron among their favorite Disney films and if I learned nothing else, time has taught me that there are other points of views beside mine as to what makes a good film. However while it may not have been the classic some of us had hoped for  it nevertheless has gained a very appreciative audience for its endeavor and I'm sure that with the further re-release on DVD it will only brew into more fans.  What was also gained on this project was the nurturing of the multitude of  talent we had with the further training we all received in Story, Direction, Layout, Animation, and BG Painting.

The grand Disney experiment called "The Black Cauldron" that we all faced together was definitely worth the effort in the long run. The intense sometimes painful labors and likewise sparkling discoveries we made while working on this feature made us all a bit more ready when we soon tried our hands on new animated undertakings like "Basil of Baker Street." That delightful Victoria era film in turn eventually made it possible to go on and make what would someday be hailed as the beginning of the Disney renaissance, a fantasy fish tale or perhaps  fish tail called "The Little Mermaid."

34 comments:

  1. Good stuff, Mike.
    It's nice to see someone write about BC without just dumping on it. Though I knew quite a few of the stories you mentioned you, obviously, had more of an insider's seat from the beginning than I did.

    There were definitely problems with BC (especially story-wise), but considering the where it came from I think they made great leaps in pulling the source material together. They just didn't go far enough in many ways.
    In my opinion it still has one of the best action sequences I've seen in an American 2D film - the Henwen/Gwythaint chase.

    And I'm still pretty proud of my little contributions to BC...

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  2. Hi Steve,

    Thanks, means a lot coming from a fellow Disneyite who also served in the trenches. That chase was really well done as were many sections. There were scenes of really great character animation along with the support of some lush backgrounds through much of the film.

    Yes it's easy to "dump on" Cauldron and I know that in the end it has to stand on it's own, but I wanted some of the folks out there that are so quick to dismiss it to understand some of the things we were going through while working on it. You should be proud of your work, it was and still is dynamic.

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  3. So is this the end of the Cauldron saga? I was really enjoying your chapters Mike and recalling a bit here and there that I also remember. It was a fabulous time wasn't it even though there was so much chaos?

    -Tish

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  4. Thanks, Mike. I learned a lot on that film and got to stretch my muscles quite a bit

    It's also nice that you gave credit to some of the "lesser knowns" like Mike Hodgson. It's a shame that the "Art of" books weren't in vgue at the time. There was beautiful work done for that film and much by a very green crew.

    Keep up the good blogging...

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  5. Hi Mike. Thanks for the article. The Black Cauldron is one of my favorite Disney features. Actually it was my first Disney film in a movie theater in Brazil.

    I would like to ask you to list the major scenes cut out of the movie. I once heard about a full-color prologue with Horned King and his henchmen burning down a village. Years ago I did read an article stating that all the cut scenes over the years we could count almost like 1 hour of footage. Could you tell what do you remember?

    There is a trailer in Youtube with a cut scene from the "undead" (look at 1:25)
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VfD9xhw1-TQ

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  6. Hi Celbi. Thank you for your comments.

    Yes there were multiple openings that were conceptualized by different people. I worked with Don Griffith (Great Art Director) and Vance Gerry (an outstanding storyman and artist) on one version that showed the Horned King and his gang burning down a village. Sweeping flames were used as transitions between scenes of destruction. We wanted a contrast to the peace and quiet of Taran's farm life.

    Also worked on a dark version of faire folk that was kind of cool but gave the Horned King and the Witches too much competition by being creepy (which made sense why they cut that version) along with a bright glowing version that looked like the fairies came off a cereal box. Talk about night and day concepts, lol. I think they kept the glowing faire folk.

    I want to also add that we had a very talented layout staff along with story department that created a tremendous amount of beautiful art. There was a lot of work to be shared and cut into the film as well as cut out.

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  7. I just watch Waking Sleeping Beauty last night so this whole era is fresh in my mind. Looking forward to your next series. I must admit I have often overlooked Cauldron. Perhaps it's time to go back and re-visit it. I always see a ton of BC animation drawings for sale super cheap on eBay. Someone could be making a wise investment by snapping them up if it were to gain a bigger following after the re-release.

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  8. Hi Daniel. I agree with Steve Gordon above (one of the talented animators from the film) that it doesn't always get the credit it deserves and most critics just can't wait to as he put it, "dump on it."

    The entire staff included many of the future "stars" of Disney Feature animation and they produced a lot of very good work.

    On a different note, since you mentioned it, "Sleeping Beauty" is one of my all time favorite Disney animated films based more on the artwork than the story. A piece of trivia, Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" included the first use of the new process of xeroxed cels in a full length animated feature film. Did you notice the scene?

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  9. Great stuff and fascinating article! Thanks so much for sharing. The Black Cauldron is unfairly treated. It's not a bad movie at all and it's a perfect representation of that 80's style of fantasy. Considering the hurdles you had to overcome during production, I think you all should be proud.

    I also love that you gave some much needed recognition to Ron Miller. People so often paint him to have been incompetent and it's nice to hear a different opinion from someone who actually worked with him.

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  10. I really enjoyed this series, it's fun and unbiased, and revealed a lot more to me about that time period in WDFA history.

    I've only seen BC once, I remember very little of it, just the sidekick character and that chase sequence. I'll have to check it out on Tuesday.

    I hope you keep posting more stories from your experience at WDFA.
    Thank you!

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  11. Hello Andy. You bring up a great point about the "80's fantasy era". One of the most popular pastimes at that time was a medieval sword & sorcery venue called "Dungeons and Dragons" and of course one of the most popular game was "Dargon's Lair," along with films from "Excaliber" to "Conan."

    Agree completely too concerning Ron Miller which is why I included a few of his accomplishments. Thank you for writing.

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  12. History is written by the victors, and you've changed my mind a good bit on Ron Miller. I'd always thought of him as a man out of his league heading Disney, somewhat unfortunately put in that position by Walt's favoritism and the pervasive "what would Walt do" attitude of the 70s. But he certainly did accomplish a great many things as you recount.

    I've always seen BC's weakness being in its storytelling and even character development; never in its art or animation. I saw it in 1985 and had great hopes for it, but advance word had already been out that it wasn't living up to the hype. I'm afraid I had to agree ... this wasn't the Disney revival we had been hoping for. But it was understandable that the story suffered due to all the delays, changes in management, fighting over monies, and even the fate of the Animation Dept itself. What I had heard at the time was that if BC failed at the box office, it was likely the end of Disney Animation completely. Luckily, by 1985 Roy Disney was in control, so that was NEVER a real possibility!

    Thanks a great deal for your insider's view!

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  13. It was great reading your memories on BC, Mike. Personally, I really enjoy the movie. Disney's darker films are SO underrated, just like The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

    As a devoted Disney figurines collector, I've always been curious as why there seem to be little to no commercial products of BC. I suppose it's due to the fact the movie wasn't greatly recieved decades ago, but still, don't you have any memories of hearing any plans on further commercializing the movie cut down back then?

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  14. Hello THomas. Obviously we can't all be part of the semi-historical episodes we write about, for instance if I wanted to write about Washington crossing the Delaware. There would be no one to interview and I would be basing my report on previous writings hopefully by eye witnesses who were recorded accurately and paintings rather than photographs for visual information. I base my blog on transcripts of cassette recordings I've made while interviewing people, a diary I used to keep while at Disney Animation and various notes and messages I saved over the years.

    What bothers me about a few of the current Disney "film-historians" is their willingness to include so much of their personal opinion presented as factual information. Some go further to attempt to create a feeling that they were there at the studio and were somehow a part of the events when they were in reality not.

    I'm glad to be able to present some positive remarks about a time and people that many only write about within a negative slant. Ron had a bullseye on his back simply by being Walt's son-in-law, but I believe he did a good job overall. I understand some will disagree with that statement but I base my statement on story meetings and concept meetings I had with him and the actual deeds he accomplished while in charge.

    Thanks for your thoughts, i really appreciate them.

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  15. Hello Luciano. I'm glad you enjoyed "Back Cauldron." It does seem relegated to the back shelf of Disney classics and not entirely, in my view, without reason. However as I said everyone is entitled to their own opinion and if you enjoy it, I'm very happy to hear that.

    I was speaking with Frank and Ollie one morning after Patty and I had seen a double feature of "Ichabod Crane and Toad" in an art theater in Pasadena over the weekend. When I mentioned how much the audience and we both loved the films, Frank told me all about the behind the scenes fights, sections that were cut, etc. while Ollie chuckled. In short, many times those who work on a film have a pre-conceived opinion about the film based on what they experienced both good and bad during its creation. What was and what could have been and what became.

    I really enjoy watching a film or show I've worked on with an audience who had nothing to do with the production as you get a more objective view. I also can laugh again along with them as they enjoy bits of business I may have seen hundreds of times over 3 or 4 years but forgot how to appreciate it as I had the first dozen times I saw it on the moviola.

    As you mentioned, merchandising of the film was not very big as I don't think that division knew quite how to package Black Cauldron. Also and this may just me, but I don't think all of the final character designs were as appealing as they could have been and not as marketable partly because of that along with lackluster box office receipts. McDonald's declined to create a Happy Meal for the film's original opening and the few beanie babies and music boxes based on Cauldron came at a later re-release.

    Thanks for writing and I hope you'll enjoy the new DVD version.

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  16. Hi Segun. Please forgive me in taken so long to get back to you. I actually wrote a response to you earlier then neglected to post it properly. I better watch which buttons I hit next time. I'm very gratified that you liked this series and even happier that you wrote to tell me.



    Sometimes the sidekicks can be the more memorable characters in these large casts. You are probably thinking of the Creeper, who was the Horned king's lacky or maybe the furry forest friend Gurgie. It just wouldn't be Hook without luvable Smee, or Ursulla without freaky Flotsam and Jetsam so hurray for the sidekicks!

    

I'll keep posting as long as you and others keep reading them. Thanks.

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  17. While "The Black Cauldron" was in production, I remember reading that Jonathan Winters would be providing a voice, and then I never heard his name mentioned again. Do you know whether he actually recorded any dialogue for the film? If so, did his role perhaps get cut with the fairy folk scenes?

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  18. Hi Mike Peraza. Great article about the Black Cauldron. While this movie is not by any means perfect, it is perhaps, I feel, one of the most underrated Disney movies that Disney has put out. A lot of talent was put into this movie, and it seems unfair that Disney has tried to keep this movie a secret over the years. I strongly feel like this movie had a lot of potential to be one of the greatest movies to come from the studios. While the task may have been a bit large for some to handle, I don't at all feel like the results were bad. I recently purchased the newly released DVD, and it is absolutely fantastic.

    One thing that has always fascinated me was all of this talk about the deleted scenes that were cut shortly before the film's release to theaters. The cuts that many talk about are the ones with the cauldron born, or 'un-dead' as you call them. I have two questions regarding these scenes, and I am hoping you are the one that can help me with all of this.

    Firstly, do you recall what exactly was cut out during this sequence? I ask because there has been so much speculation and rumors to what was cut out that it's impossible to draw a concrete solution. The cuts are quite evident as the musical score is interrupted at one point (You can hear the end trail of a cymbal). It is very distinct to those who have heard the original sequence by Elmer Bernstein (fantastic music, by the way!). An animation cel of one of the scenes (one you seem to mention) was auctioned on eBay some time ago, and it has only raised more questions from fans and others who wish to know. Perhaps you recognize it?

    http://img255.imageshack.us/img255/3622/blackcauldroncutscenevu0.jpg

    Sorry if the quality isn't that good.

    Finally, do you have any idea what happened to this deleted footage? While I enjoyed the alternate Fair Folk sequence we got, I was really hoping I could see a lot of the stuff that Katzenberg cut out, specifically the cauldron born scenes. Again, many speculate that either Katzenberg threw the footage out, or if they are somewhere in the Disney Vault somewhere.

    I have never been able to find an official source to the answers of these questions. If you could provide any detail to these, you will seriously make my week.

    Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, as well as giving all of us Black Cauldron fans a deeper insight to this movie.

    P.S. Sorry if this got a bit lengthy.

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  19. Another illuminating series Mike. At the time of the movie's release I was a little kid in Wales just discovering Disney animation. To see a story based on the myths & legends of my country brought to life like this was magic & instilled in me a life-long fascination with animation. Really fascinating to read all this behind the scenes info now I'm working in the industry.

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  20. Hi Jeff. I'll check into this but I believe Jonathan Winters may have been up for the voice of King Eiddileg. Winters is one of those amazing talents who can do many dialects and create hilarious improv. The part of the Fairfolk leader eventually went to Arthur Malet.

    You would be surprised to learn of some of the people who tested for various Disney animated movies over the years. Thanks for wrting.

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  21. Hi Chris,

    I'm glad you relished the additional Fair Folk sequence included in the bonus sequence but I have to say that I believe the extended gory Cauldron born scenes were cut out for a good reason, they just looked bad. They were not only on the more grotesque side visually but animated through and into slow holds along with color models that were realistically and unimaginatively stark as opposed to more inventive lighting and color. I would have liked to seen more shadows of the undead coming to life and then intercut some shocking but sparsely lit creatures that would crawl in and out of shadows. I wish they had played on the horrified reactions to the undead from their "victims" rather than linger on the creatures themselves.

    Sometimes an evil force can be hidden partly fro the audience and have a much greater impact in my opinion. A good example of this would be the monster from Ridley Scott's "Alien" classic which was seen only in snippets here and there but had an enormous chilling effect on the audience. If it had been held in sharp brightly lit rooms, it wouldn't have had the same effect.

    Hey I'm flattered to get your "lengthy" letter. It just shows me that you enjoyed the article and acred enough to write in with questions and comments. Thanks.

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  22. Hello Matt. You are very kind to say that so I will grab that compliment and hold on tight, lol. It's high praise to hear comments like yours, coming from one who grew up in Wales with tales such as these. Again I have to say that the Cauldron crew was extremely talented and was striving to create something special but to do so during those times especially was not easy.

    It's a shame we can't tackle the "Chronicles of Prydain" all over again with what has been learned and developed since those days. Thanks again for writing.

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  23. Hi Jeff:

    Jonathon Winters did record the dialogue for King Eiddieg, and it was cut into the work reel. I made the decision not to use him because his voice was too recognizable.

    It always bothers me when I can recognize the voice of an animated character. I feel it conflicts with the believability of the character. Management wanted me to use big stars for the voices of the Witches such as Bette Davis or Lauren Bacall. As you know, I did not use a star, but, rather, I found three ladies whose voices suited the characters.

    I have a copy of the work reel of the second half of the picture where many of the cuts were made. It's too bad that it cannot be seen by fans of TBC.

    Joe Hale, Producer TBC

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  24. Hiya Joe. I knew you'd get on here sooner or later. I remembered Winters doing something with that voice but I knew the final wasn't him and just figured I was wrong. Thanks, I'm not going bonkers, yet anyway.

    Yep, I know what you mean about the celebrity voices and understand management's push to use them (in their minds) to help drive a box office. I also do get annoyed when I see that celebrity in my mind instead of the character on the screen while they're speaking.

    I wonder how Phil Harris and Louie Prima were accepted by the adults when Jungle Book originally came out. For me, I didn't really know the big band years or older Radio/TV shows back then (I'm a fan now though! ) and so they were Baloo and King Louie to me but older folks would have been reminded of their real personalities I would think. I would also imagine that later generations would be even further removed from their actual backgrounds than me and would just see them as those two characters.

    Cliff Edwards (Ukelele Ike ) was insanely popular in the late 20s into the mid 30s but most Disney fans will probably only recognize the voice as belonging to Jiminy Cricket these days. I guess I can see a bit of both sides although I agree with you that it can really bother me when employing a big star name on a picture. The voice just has to fit the character first and foremost. Hopefully it will be accepted as that character throughout the story.

    Hey Joe, maybe you can put out a "Director's Cut" of the movie based on your work reel copy. I'll bet Disney won't mind, then again I'm not a betting man. Take care my friend. Patty says hi too.

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  25. Mike,
    Thank you very much for this insight.

    I remember when I saw first drawings of horned king before the film came out, they totally blew my mind (I was 11), I felt that that the horned king was coolest villain I had ever seen, and he is still in my top ten. The film itself didn't let me down, I went to see it twice and my sketchbook at school was filled with endless pictures of horned king, dragons, creeper, cauldron born and Gurgi (whom I really liked too). I only wished there had been more of the cauldron born in the film - little did I know the had been cut.

    One of the things I have really wanted to see most in my life has been the uncut version of BC. Even though I believe that the cut scenes may not have been as satisfactory as you might have liked, the cuts made in the final film are just bit too visible. (And I don't mind the grotesque, I felt the cels on sale at ebay were awesome).

    Not that I was only interested of the film because of the undead characters, I loved the dungeons & dragons feel of the film and was so sad to see that we never got anything like that on western animation again, save perhaps for dragons lair laser disc game from don bluth.

    Also, the animation from that disney era somehow looks more alive and interesting than most of the modern animated films - this is just my personal opinion - but TBC and NIMH are my favourite films when it comes to animation itself. It could be just nostalgia playing, I don't know.

    Joe, if you read this, and if you dont mind me asking questions about the work reel, would you kindly drop me a line at webmaster [at] lopunpera.fi ..? :)

    And Mike Peraza, thank you again for all this info!

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  26. Hi Mike and miha.rinne

    Mike, I loved your series of articles on TBC, and it is very satisfying for me to hear from its fans.

    I doubt that I could get permission from Disney to put a copy of the B/W work reel on DVD, as much as I would love to do it. It would show how a picture is created from story sketch to completion.

    I talked with Roy E. Disney about restoring the cuts when I learned that it would be put on VCR tape. As I am sure that you know, the original version would be on the master negative, as the master negative is never cut. It's the "inner negative" that is cut. So all that is needed, would be to to make another "inner negative" from the master and all the cuts would be restored. Roy did not want to go to that expense for the release of the tape.

    My biggesst challenge, originally, was editg the story down to 80 minutes, without the titles, in order to keep the cost down.

    If any ome wants to contact me, they can do so though Mike.

    Joe Hale, Producer, TBC

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  27. Thanks, I really enjoyed this article, and the comments. I always had a soft spot for BC, and I'm glad to read more about it's history. I remember some clips shown on Dutch TV when I was a teenager (the dragons chasing Henwen, and the army of the dead), and I loved it! The only thing was, I could never find out what film it was. For some reason (I wasn't the brightest kid in Holland) I didn't think that the BC movie posters had anything to do with the clips I had seen. I just didn't believe that a Disney movie could be this ...cool. Years later I watched the video, and I finally saw the whole thing. Well, I loved it. The characters and FX and whole adventure feel ... I'm sure it's flawed in places, and I gather it was a tough process getting the film made. But I always wished there were more animated films like BC or NIMH. At least they were different, and exciting and magical. Don't get me wrong, I also love the romantic musical -type Disney movies from the 90's and the 3D comedies we get now. But every now and then, when I watch yet another wisecracking fairytale caricature, raccoon, or penguin or whatever, I secretly wish that a dragon flies into shot, roasts him, and starts a whole new adventure ;)

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  28. Thank you Joe, always a pleasure talking with you and Bev. Apparently Black Cauldron still has many fans and a lot of the credit goes to you. Next time you get to Burbank, feel free to drop in. Take care.

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  29. Hi Arjan. It's always gratifying to know there are folks out there who like something you worked on and I'm very pleased to hear that you are a big fan of Black Cauldron. A lot of good people worked for years on that film and as disappointed as some of us were in the final released version, to find out the huge fan base that exists for this feature has quite a therapeutic effect.

    Thank you.

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  30. Wow, so much learned in so little time, I myself regret that I was never aware of TBC until it was re-released on VHS, but I was still a baby at the time. I must admit though that of Disneys long history, I have found TBC amongst my favorites, in part for the mystery that surrounded the picture, and for its darker tone and superb animation. The news of the cut scenes most certainly has sparked my interest, much as the initial rumors I had heard of Disney studios trying to bury this film for years. Should a chance ever arise, I will have to make an effort to view the uncut version of the movie, it sounds like it would be a memorable experience well worth the effort, at least for me. Anyways, I would like to thank you for the insight you offered into the process of making the film, at least of your own memories. I'm currently working on what will hopefully become my first feature length film, so I am finding the more personal recollections of greater value that the psuedo personal literature often put out.

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    1. I'm glad you enjoyed the post and wish you the very best on your goal of making your own feature film. Obviously as you read in my post concerning "The Black Cauldron" it's not a simple quest even for Disney Studios.

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  31. I can't believe how much I've just learnt about one of my all time favorite Disney films. Even though I didnt watch it as a child it has become such a big part of my adolescence from the books to the movie to everything! one thing i do wish that they did was not cut such vital parts of the books. If you've read the books you know that there is pretty much no similarity. I wish that someone would buy the rights to make five live-action adaptations or even disney remake it, and pull a LOTR type thing. I hope in the near future they release Cauldron on Blu-Ray with the uncut version, i'd love to see all the scary scenes and the small links they put from the books in it (like with the deleted fairfolk scene they said the sword belonged to King Gwydion,). or even a Collectors edition if they dont necessarily want to release that content to the full public. I'm sorry to bother you with all my banter, i just have so much passion for that forgotten piece of Disney! And so many ideas to help make them more known!

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  32. Hi Emma,

    It's alway a difficult decision when attempting to translate a book into a film. For one thing it almost always requires a bit of condensing to fit into an hour and a half o so unless it's a very thin book. Many time characters are combined with others whom are deemed to serve the same basic role within the framework of the story or if considered superfluous are dropped completely.

    I am also a fan of the books and deeply missed characters we did not include. It was a brave undertaking for Disney at the time and obviously these many years later "The Black Cauldron" has definitely developed a solid and appreciative fan base with people such as yourself. If the studio does one day release a true collector's edition of this film it will certainly be in response to the fans.

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  33. Mike - just found your blog searching for Cauldron stuff & devoured your posts in all subjects! As a long time animation & park enthusiast I'm so glad you shared this information with us! Your artwork is stunning, I particularly love the retro poster work & the moving Henson tributes. I grew up loving Duck Tales, Talespin & Rescue Rangers so it was great to read about these.

    As a proud Welshman, and rooter for the underdog, I've always had a soft spot for Black Cauldron. Personally I find some of the animation, effects & backgrounds to be of an exceedingly high standard, especially compared to some output of that era. The darker subject matter, fantasy style & lack of songs were definitely reasons I enjoyed the film in my youth.

    I disagree somewhat that the characterisation was weak, though clearly not as developed as the novels. I find Hen Win, the Bauble & Gurgi to be very expressive & less annoying than many 80s sidekicks. I especially think Eilonwy is a very well rounded character, showing more intelligence, independence & strength of character than earlier Princesses, characteristics which Disney only really started to explore with Ariel, Belle & Jasmine, & didn't really "match" until Anna & Elsa last year IMHO.

    I'm particularly interested in how you mentioned the departing of Don Bluth, Gary Goldman & John Pomeroy. I personally studied traditional animation with Don for a period of 2 years via regular web seminars & live lessons, & we often chatted about the period in which they left & developed Banjo & Nimh. Don is a great inspiration to me but I still I laughed out-loud at the mockup poster with them as criminals, it must have been a tumultuous period (though when working on Banjo as starving artists in a garage I think they thought of themselves as upholding standards & quality, not exactly outlaws!) I note you say that you worked for Don at some point, I would be interested to know on what projects? I'm sure I don't need to tell you, but Don continues to be one of the biggest Disney fans in the world. Many of his extended family still work for Disney, & he is always very enthusiastic in following the development & release of their animated output. In fact, he was training myself & other indie film-makers in traditional animation in the hope that we would (as he did) develop our own traditional projects, keep the art-form going, & maybe spur Disney back into seeing it as a viable medium. I hope one day I'm in the position to do this!

    In my time with Don, the Black Cauldron was only ever raised twice. He was tactful but dismissed the film. I understand, but this is a shame, as I personally feel that the darker subject matter, epic sprawling fantasy layouts & wide shots, the ambitious hand drawn effects, realistic characters & lack of traditional "cutesifying" or songs actually make the film feel similar in style to Secret of Nimh, American Tail & The Land Before Time (Tail had songs, but they were darker in nature). Ironically, as Don's later films became more traditional Disney fare, they became less successful, & Disney seemed to learn from production values of Bluth's films & pushed for excellence with the Princess based Renaissance - Mermaid, Beast, Aladdin. The success of these films then in turn perhaps inspired Don's team towards Anastasia (especially as they already spent years developing their own Beauty & the Beast).

    Just a few thoughts, feel free to disagree! Many thanks again for all the wonderful artwork & memories that you have shared!

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