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Take a Risk, Disney—Remake 'The Black Cauldron'


It’s remake season in the Disney house, and there seems to be no end in sight.

Disney has been re-making its animated classics into live-action films since the 1990s — 1994’s The Jungle Book and 1996’s 101 Dalmatians kicking things off— but it wasn’t until Tim Burton’s 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland raked in more than a billion dollars at the worldwide box office that this never-ending craze officially began.

How did we get here? How are we getting not one, not two, but three live-action remakes of animated Disney films in the span of only four months? Dumbo, now in theaters, followed by Aladdin in May, and The Lion King in July. It almost seems like the decision makers at Disney have been going down the list of animated films and just checking off and green-lighting every single one.

It’s easy to see how we got here actually, because in looking back at the last decade of these live-action remakes, there’s no doubt at all about their profitability. 2014’s Malificent — 758 million. 2015’s Cinderella — 544 million. 2016’s The Jungle Book — 966 million. 2017’s Beauty and the Beast — 1.26 billion.

Wow. It’s kind of hard to argue with exorbitant figures like that. Sure, not everything has been a runaway success. Alice Through the Looking Glass, the 2016 sequel to Alice in Wonderland, was a box office disappointment, earning only 300 million on a budget of 170 million (not including marketing costs). And Pete’s Dragon and Christopher Robin did only so-so business.

But for the most part, these live-action remakes are money in the bank.

There’s the familiar titles. There’s the adults who want to revisit their nostalgia. There’s the adults who want to introduce their own children to these amazing stories. In the old days, Disney would just re-issue their animated classics once every seven years, but that practice has long faded.

Now it’s about remaking every last one of their animated films into live-action films that may or may not be good or memorable. In some ways they don’t have to be memorable. As long as they bring viewers the warm feelings of how they felt when they were younger watching the animated versions, the work of the filmmakers is practically done. They’ve succeeded. Another billion dollars in the bank.

And after Aladdin and The Lion King, Disney is in no way slowing down. Still to come in the next few years? Lady and the Tramp, Malificent 2, and Mulan are all in post-production. Cruella and Pinocchio are both in pre-production. And currently in development are The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Lilo & Stitch, and The Little Mermaid.

But there’s one animated film Disney made in the 1980s they are likely never to touch. Never to be re-made in a million years, even though it most definitely should. Tim Burton has now made for the studio two live-action remakes — Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo.

You know what else Tim Burton should direct a remake of?

1985’s The Black Cauldron

This title might mean nothing to you. Maybe you’ve never even heard of it. Maybe you saw it way back in the day and have no memory of it.

But maybe you’re like me, and you think it’s probably the most underrated Disney animated feature of all time.

The film opened on July 24, 1985 to mostly mixed and negative reactions, as well as dismal box office. The 1980s were a trying time in the Disney animation factory. After Walt Disney died in 1966, they definitely struggled between, say, 1970’s The Aristocats and 1988’s Oliver and Company. Some of the films made in these two decades were popular, successful, and have aged well. Probably Robin Hood and The Rescuers have had the most longevity.

But there definitely wasn’t the enthusiasm, the prolific nature, to the studio’s animated output back then. 1977’s The Rescuers was followed four years later by 1981’s The Fox and the Hound, and then four years after that came The Black Cauldron.

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Let’s just say if there’s any animated film Disney made that the studio wanted to bury completely and move on, it was this film. There were problems from the start, including the development phase that took more than a decade, and various directors and animators abandoning the project at different points in time.

When the film was finally screened for a test audience, basically all Hell broke loose. Kids in the theater reportedly fled the theater screaming during the “cauldron born” finale due to its intensity, and thus then Disney studio chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg did the unthinkable by ordering major cuts from the film before its summer release. When objections were made to his order, Katzenberg had the film brought to an editing bay… and he attempted to make the edits himself!

The Black Cauldron was a film that just couldn’t catch a break. Even though it had tremendous source material — Lloyd Alexander’s five-volume series is still beloved today — the film just never came together as the studio hoped, and upon its release in July of 1985, it quickly crashed and burned. Made for a reported 44 million dollars, the most everat that time for a Disney animated feature, the film only brought in about 21 million at the box office. It was so poorly received it almost killed Disney animation — think about that for a minute — and the studio never even released The Black Cauldron to home video for more than a decade.

So yes, in some regard, it seems more likely for Disney to remake pretty much anythingelsein their canon than The Black Cauldron. The Great Mouse Detective. Brother Bear. Home on the Range. Treasure Planet. Any one of their Pixar movies.

I could go on and on. Not every Disney animated film has been successful, but despite the negativity surrounding The Black Cauldron’s development, production, and release, there’s one thing about this film that makes it worth remaking into a big live-action Disney movie today.

It’s f***ing awesome.

I was too young to see this film went it was first released. I hadn’t even celebrated my first birthday yet. But I did catch it when I was a teenager and a total Disney enthusiast around the time of its DVD release, and I was immediately taken by its suspense, colorful characters, sense of adventure, and truly fantastic horror imagery.

Just imagine what could be done with this story in live-action format these days. The kind of amazing special effects and visual splendor that could be implemented. The film wouldn’t have to necessarily be Game of Thrones, it could still be a PG-13 Disney movie, but if some talented screenwriters and a visionary director could turn to both the 1980s animated film and the series of novels for source material, there’s no telling what kind of masterpiece could be made for today’s audiences.

Sure, The Black Cauldron doesn’t have the name recognition of the other Disney titles currently being re-made. And sure, this one probably wouldn’t touch the billion-dollar-mark even if it did turn out to be a great film.

But I believe in a world where Lady and the Tramp, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and Lilo & Stitch are being remade into live-action movies, someone at Disney should take a chance on The Black Cauldron. There’s so much that could be done with it. So much to explore on a narrative level.

Imagine what Tim Burton could do with a film like this. And who knows — maybe he would even show some interest! Back before he was the Tim Burton, back before he had directed a single feature film, he reportedly submitted visual character artwork to the animation team for the animated film in the early 1980s and was so sad that his work was rejected that he abandoned animation entirely to move into live-action film-making.

Burton may have been rejected back then, but he certainly wouldn’t be rejected now. And if he at one point took part in many weeks and months of designing characters for the animated film, he clearly has a fascination with this story and this world.

Are you listening, Disney? Come on, take a chance. Dumbo is what it is, but imagine a new live-action The Black Cauldron with Tim Burton at the helm. It could be something truly magical. And horrifying. And spectacular.

And so totally awesome.


Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on April 27, 2019:

They probably will get around to it. The Dumbo remake is a little dark and creepy. I did not like the commercials so i did not watch it.

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