I’ve noticed a good way to tell if I have really disliked a Disney film is by how long it takes for me to summon the motivation to persevere and watch the next film. It’s been a good month or two since I’ve sat in front of the TV with notepad and pen in hand, so suffice to say, “The Fox and The Hound” didn’t really do it for me. Instead, the film brought out all my tendencies of avoidance, to protect me from more arduous “frolicking-animals-that feel sad-and/or-die” experiences. I even wrote about a fictional trip to Disneyland to put off watching another film, for Christ sakes. And yet, as inevitable as Disney premature parental mortality and equally as painful, I drag myself back to the armchair with no remaining excuses but with much beer in hand, to embark on another journey through the Disney back catalogue. We’ve reached 1985, and we’re in the middle of the “great Disney depression”, full of titles that even some big Disney fans won’t waste their time on, and suffice to say, films I’ve never even heard of. There are even negative reviews and box-office flops (such as the film I’m reviewing today), which is something of a rarity it seems…
Kerry has informed me that this film “doesn’t feel very Disney-ish”. What I find funny here, is that she tells me this as if this is a bad thing… I’m not sure what she expects my response to be?
“Really? This film isn’t very Disney-ish? Well this is a most upsetting turn of events! Surely it must be a least somewhat Disney-ish otherwise what hope is there for the film? If it’s not at least a little Disney-ish how do you expect me to get my fix of nauseating ballads, frolicking animals and their shiny orphan tears? Why are you wasting my time here? I WANT DISNEY DAMMIT!”
But before I start whooping with elation however, I have another, extremely disturbing thought… What if this film introduces me to a style even more unbearable that the standard type of Disney feature? Not possible I conclude…
The film starts by stating: “There was once a king who was such a prick, even the Gods were scared shitless of him. So, they chucked him into some molten iron. But as you would expect when you chuck an evil king into molten Iron, his demonic spirit was captured into the form of a great black cauldron, which would mean in the future, some other bad dude would be able to summon a load of deathless warriors from it, and wreak some serious shit upon the world. Tut. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?” I admit, I’m paraphrasing slightly here. But the point is this: That is the stupidest plot introduction I think I’ve ever heard. It’s so tenuous and stupid, I feel like I may be about to sit down and watch a particularly bleak episode of ‘Saved by the Bell: The New Class’.
We switch to some woods, and there’s a squirrel. Are we going to have five minutes of filler involving watching it frolic with all his woodland friends? No, we aren’t. Wow. Kerry’s right, this really isn’t like Disney at all! We now go to a house with an old dude, a young dude and a cat. The old dude, Dallben (the first of many daft names in this film that my spellcheck is going have a hissy fit about) is the guardian of Taran who looks after a pig called Hen Wen. They talk about many a boring thing that doesn’t hold my attention. However, I find my focus is channelled again when I hear this:
Eventually however, my brain processes that he doesn’t say ‘cat urine’. In fact, he says:
‘Cat You’re in’ does sound a lot like ‘cat urine’ though.
Dallben feeds the cat. Next Taran feeds the pig. This is all exciting stuff. You know what this film needs to really spice it up? An extended pig washing scene. Fortunately, as luck would have it, we are now treated to an extended pig washing scene. This is how you use a films run-time wisely. Oh, and by the way, the Pig is magical and can create visions of the future in water. Thought I should put it out there just in case you hadn’t already assumed Hen Wen possessed this trait… Anyway, Hen Wen is spazzing out about something so she must be seeing something pretty horrible in the water bucket. Probably involves a barbeque and apple sauce.
Dallben and Taran take the Pig to a big water trough so they can find out what’s wrong. Dallben sees a vision of the Horned King in the water. I see a giant squirrel humping a Dragon.
Apparently, the Horned King (stupid name) wants to kidnap Hen Wen and make her show him where the black cauldron is. So Taran must take the pig into hiding. Ok, we are now way past ‘Saved by the Bell: The New Class’ levels of tenuous stupidity now. We are quickly approaching ‘Malibu Ca’ levels of dumb now. If you’ve never heard of ‘Malibu Ca’, feel free to remain living under your rock of fine taste.
Scene change. We now see a dark castle. This must be where the “baddie” lives because only baddies live in dark spooky castles. It’s a classic home for an antagonist that requires no thought whatsoever. I would love to have seen what was going through the minds of those at chez-Disney at times with this film…
“Right George, as you know I wanted you and your team to make the Horned King a complex and multifaceted adversary, with psychological depth, reasoning and purpose.”
“I think you’ll be very happy boss”
“Good! So, what have you done to convey this then?”
“We’ve made him look like a skeleton!”
“Is that it?!”
“Not just a skeleton. A green skeleton!”
“God damnit George! I want depth of character! Where does he live?”
“A dark spooky castle”
“Of course he does”
“But not just a dark spooky castle. We did that psychology thing you said about to show the viewer just how bad the mind of the man is!”
“Oh? How have you done that?”
“We stuck some pictures of skeletons faces by the front door!”
“Ok… Erm… and what’s inside the castle?”
“Well we had a long discussion about the décor inside the castle and after several hours we think we cracked it!”
“And what did you decide?”
“ Well we figured that skeletons are evil and we haven’t used many skeletons in Disney yet so when someone suggested a sofa, I suggested a skeleton, when someone suggested a suit of armor, I said “that’s great, but you know whats more evil? A skeleton!” and it sort of snowballed from there.”
“George, how long have you worked here?”
“You used to come up with brilliance like Donkey Slave children and drunk elephants and now you’re resorting to a skeleton…”
“A green Skeleton!”
“… a green skeleton in a skeleton decorated castle that is full of yet more skeletons…. I won’t lie to you, I’m not sure this is really going to be a success… what other film ideas do we have at the moment?
“Another Rescuers film. But in Australia!”
“…OK keep going with the stupid skeleton. A sequel to The Rescuers?! We’re not THAT desperate!”
Seriously though, that skeleton king thing is so fucking two dimensional though. Even for Disney. And this is from the company that created Princes that could go an entire film without so much as a discernible facial expression. He talks about raising an undead army from the cauldron. What a shocker. Just one of these days, one of these films will curveball me, and the grand scheme of the sinister dude in the creepy castle will be the planning of a charity dinner followed by a raffle.
Back with Taran and the dipshit has managed to lose the pig. You had one job. So, he tries to lure her back with an apple. But what he lures isn’t a pig. Instead he’s lured a….. a….. um…… ok, what the hell is that?
Seriously. What is it?!!! Kill it with fire! I’m sure the Disney wiki page will clear this up…
“a strange creature named Gurgi, who likes apples.”
Not really the answer I was looking for. Maybe Wikipedia can help?
“he is described as being a cross between man and beast”
Hmmm, still not satisfied. If they said a cross between Boris Johnson and Shih Tzu, then we might be getting somewhere. Based on everything I’ve seen so far, I’m forced to conclude that this planet they’re on is really fucked up and the best outcome for this creepy world of skeleton kings, human-cum-cauldrons (I’m not implying the name of some weird bukkake film here), pigs emotionally scarred from their powers of precognition and Boris Johnson / Shih Tzu hybrids, would be an apocalyptic fireball that blows them out of existence.
Boris Shih Tzu first tries to steal said apple, but when an enraged Taran forces him to return it, he cheekily takes a bite before giving it back. It turns out apple theft is a serious no-no in Taran’s world. For the first time in a Disney film, I’m also taken aback by how BAD the voice acting is. Taran sounds like he’s reading from a script and more concerned with annunciating correctly than actually conveying emotion.
Hen Wen gets kidnapped by dragons. Nothing surprises me anymore. Taran is going to go and rescue her. But Boris Shih Tzu wants to make friends with Taran first. But we must remember that Boris committed the heinous act of taking an apple from him, which I’m guessing we are all supposed to consider as equally ghastly and unforgivable as Taran does. “You’re no friend of mine!” he ferociously tells him in that wooden, read off a page kind of way that I’m now becoming numb to.
Taran reaches the Horned Kings castle, sneaks in and discovers all the Kings henchmen having a debauchery laden party. The problem here is that is, although in reality the debauchery would be worthy of a Roman Emperors stag-do, Disney are somewhat hampered by the “family friendly” restrictions placed on them. Instead of scantily clad prostitutes, orgies and perhaps even a cheeky spot of buggery, the henchmen instead just feast on chicken. Oh, and watch a rotund lady flashes her undergarments whilst table dancing… I’d like to say I’m joking with that last part, and that Disney of course would not include something like that in one of its presentations. But…
Yeah. Sexy. Still, it’s not exactly Debauchery though is it? But if that’s what tickles their pickles, then who am I to judge?
There’s this weird green goblin thingy that appears to be the Horned Kings bitch. It brings out Hen Wen and tries to force her to tell the future by looking at the water. Taran appears but the Horned King threatens to kill the pig unless she does what he asks. He sees a black cauldron in the water but then Taran kicks the same water over The Horned King, causing an acid like burning effect on his skin for some strange reason before he can find out where this cauldron is, and Taran and his weirdly gifted pig make a run for it. Taran is captured but the pig escapes by falling from a great height into the moat. This should kill a pig. But obviously in this case it won’t. This film is stupid.
Taran is now in the castle dungeons when a girl appears with her pet orange ball of light… Apparently this is a magic bauble, but like many things in this film, we are not expected to ask too many questions about what, why’s, where’s and how’s, nor should we expect any answers. Her name is Princess Eilonwy. *sigh*. Please, could the next character please, please, please have a nice normal name that I can remember how to spell and that my spell-checker won’t get all angry-red-liney about?! Eilonwy was captured because the king thought the pet light could guide him to the cauldron. He’s fucking obsessed with this cauldron, isn’t he? Everything comes back to the bloody cauldron. Just like Maleficent was obsessed with Aurora and Cruella was obsessed with a puppy skin coat, Disney villains are one-track minded to an unhealthy level! If he put this amount of focus into the charity dinner and raffle, think just how much money he could raise.
I really don’t like Eilonwy. Not only is she cursed by another abysmally wooden voice actor, she sounds annoying and condescending. I think what annoys me the most about her though is her response to Taran telling her that he has a magical pig. Let’s play a game of guess Eilonwy’s response to being told that the boy she’s just met has a magical pig. Pick from the following:
- “Excuse me?!! What the fuck did you just say?!!!”
- “No, you don’t. That is obviously a lie.”
- “Is that a euphemism? Eugh… are you hitting on me?”
- “Is that a euphemism? Because if your pig does do its best magic when its near water, you should know that my pigpen is very, very wet….”
- Ok I think I’m going to go now. It’s one thing having a pet ball of light but this is just too fucked up..!”
If you said any of those things, then you’re wrong! But if you said option 4 then you and I shall be friends. The answer is in fact this:
Interesting. A magical pig is interesting. Not so interesting that its worth dwelling on though, or worthy of follow up questions. I wonder what would actually be worthy of a “wow!” or a “holy fucking shit!” in her world if a magical pig is merely “interesting”? I don’t like her.
Anyway, they don’t seem to be imprisoned very well as they start to wonder the lower confines of the castle without difficulty. They follow Eilonwys pet light, which leads them to a sword, which Taran takes. Then they find a prisoner, who is a minstrel (which is a medieval musical entertainer. Thank you dictionary) that is cursed so that every time he lies, a string on his harp snaps. Weird. Speaking of weird, I now need to find out if I will get my wish of the next character not having a weird name. Maybe Alan or David or Martin will do nicely? His name is Fflewddur Fflam…………. You know what, fuck this shit. I’m calling him Fred.
With the help of the sword Taran, Eilonwy and Fred manage to escape the castle, although Fred’s pants get ripped around the buttock area in the process. Once free, Eilonwy sews up the tear, to which a grateful Fred states that he would write a song about it to show thanks. Eilonwy says he should write a song about their heroic escape instead. Fuck that! I want to hear the ‘sewing up the pants song!’
Eilonwy (Ok, I’m seriously fed up of spelling her name wrong and having to correct it, so from now on I’m going to call her Ethel) and Taran (I’ve remembered his name but I don’t like it so fuck it, I’m going to call him Tim) have a really pointless argument where Tim gets all cocky about getting them out of the castle alive, resulting in Ethel losing her shit and walking off crying. Boris Shih Tzu then reappears and tries to take Fred’s hat. Fred asks Tim if he’s friends with Boris Shih Tzu. But still reeling for the despicable apple theft, as well as the fact Boris wouldn’t go to a demented skeletons castle with him, Tim aggressively states “HE’S NO FRIEND OF MINE! HE’S A THIEF AND A COWARD!” He doesn’t forgive easily that Tim…
Ethel on the other hand really likes Boris Shih Tzu. And Boris knows where the Pig is, so he agrees to take them to wherever the hell Hen Wen is. But as usual, things go up shit creek when they’re sucked into the underworld. We’ve all had that happen at some time or another.
At this ridiculous juncture, I’ve just about had enough with this film. When it turns out this underworld is full of what look like “The Great Gazoo’s” from The Flintstones, that can take them to Morva, the land where the Cauldon is, I throw my notes down in despair. This is so crap.
And so, they visit Morva, where the cauldron is being kept by three witches. They trade it for Tim’s sword. There’s just one problem. There’s always just one problem in Disney films. And of late, these problems have become more and more tenuous and bizarre. It turns out the cauldron cannot be destroyed, but its powers can be diminished by someone jumping into it, which unfortunately, involves giving one’s life in the process. Bugger. Boris initially offered to chuck himself into the cauldron until he discovered it will result in death. Fair enough. I don’t like the fact that Boris is repeatedly portrayed as a coward for not wanting to risk his life by going to a really bad dudes castle because some kid he just met wanted him to, and for not being the one to give his life at the drop of a hat by jumping into an evil cauldron! Give him a break!
Now in possession of the cauldron, Tim, Ethel, Fred and Boris Shih tzu sit around a fire. We get a strong indication for the first time, that Tim and Ethel would like nothing more than to have a good hard shag on the ground beneath them. It looks like Fred and Boris find the idea of them doing that appealing too…
But before the show can begin, the bad guys turn up and kidnap them.
Finally, we’re in the home straight of this god-awful film! The Horned King releases his undead army from the Cauldron, Boris sacrifices himself which somehow stops them. The horned King gets sucked into the Cauldron, Tim trades back the cauldron to the witches if they bring Boris back to life and he and Ethel get to have their hard shag (presumably). For some reason in all of this, The Horned Kings castle starts to collapse, seemingly without reason other than visual effect. I stopped questioning things like this a long, long time ago, back when I thought things happened in this film for a reason, and also when I gave a shit. The film ends with Dallben (or as he’s now known, Dave), Hen Wen and one of those Great Gazoo type creatures, watching Tim’s adventures in the water trough. I’ve skipped over most of the bits involving the Great Gazoo type creatures in the film, as well as most of the bits involving the witches and The Horned Kings green goblin bitch, as to be honest, I couldn’t be arsed to talk about them. Dave says that Tim has done very well.
You may have gathered from this review, that I thought this film was crap. But I’m not sure if I successfully conveyed just how crap. Put it this way, I gave Bambi one out of ten, more because of the emotional scarring than the films actual quality. I want it to be in no doubt that for me, this is the worst Disney film I’ve ever watched. Possibly the worst film I’ve ever seen period. The characters had no depth. Their interpersonal relationships were woefully underdeveloped, and we were expected to invest in the happenings as if we somehow filled in the blanks ourselves. The film turned up the “scary” factor, which could have made The Horned King a truly iconic Disney villain had there been a well told story to go with it.
And I think that is what frustrates me most, is that there is a good story buried in there somewhere. I’ve been told that the book series is far better than the film. And I think the key word is ‘Series’. This film is loosely based on the first two books of a five-book series. As a result, they’re clearly trying to cram as much into the runtime as possible, which explains why everything feels rushed and underdeveloped. As always, this is just my opinion of course, and if someone out there loves this film, I’m slightly jealous that they get a far happier ninety minutes watching it than what I endured.
I can sort of see why Kerry says the film doesn’t feel very “Disney-ish”. To start with, the film has no songs. For me that’s a silver lining. But my earlier fears of a style ghastlier than ‘typical Disney’ appear to have been realised. If you’re looking to convert someone from being Disney-cynic to Disney-fan, then this film is a terrible place to start due to it not only being a weak entry, but also as it isn’t a good representation of the Disney brand. That being said, I can still see plenty of ways in which it definitely IS a Disney film. We still get usual chase scenes and production. The animation is good. The film struggles not to take itself too seriously. But most of all, when you watch these films chronologically, it feels like a logical stylistic progression that we’ve seen over the last decade. It also feels like the quality has consistently worsened as well. I can only hope and pray that this is a bell curve that we’ve just reached the bottom of, and that things will now improve. To be honest, it’s hard to see it getting worse!
I tried to like this film. I really did, I’d heard only bad things about it, but hoped the reviews were just overeacting. Nope. It’s just shit. It is a shit Disney film and, as much as the 80s haven’t been a great decade for the brand so far, this film could’ve finished it completely for them. I’ve got nothing else to say. I agree with every point Ben’s made and hope that The Great Mouse Detective (another film I’m familiar with, but don’t recall much of) fares better. I’ve been told by a colleague that it’s good, so fingers-crossed I share their opinion.