It was supposed to be the movie that put Walt Disney Feature Animation (as it was then known) back on the map, its release heralded as a second coming. It was a return to the romantic, fantastical storytelling that had defined the studio’s output in the early days. And it was emblematic of a symbolic passing of the torch, from the animators who had worked with Walt Disney and helped define the look and feel of what a Disney animated movie was to a rambunctious new group of talented artists who were eager to try new things and push the envelope. And yet, after more than a decade in production and several missed release dates, when The Black Cauldron finally opened on July 26, 1985, it was a critical and commercial disappointment that many saw as the low point of the post-Walt era. The tale of a young boy who travels far from home in order to vanquish an ultimate evil, was meant to be rousing and gripping.
But the story of making of The Black Cauldron is much more dramatic and involved than that of your average costly Disney flop. It’s the story of a single movie, so catastrophically mishandled, that it nearly wiped the towering Disney Animation institution out of existence. The epic battle between warring factions and dark overlords was supposed to be in the movie. Instead, it happened behind the scenes in a series of cramped offices on the Burbank lot.