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Forget Little Mermaid, The Disney Remake We Need Is The Black Cauldron (If It Follows The Books)

"The Little Mermaid" is the latest Disney animated film to receive the live-action remake treatment ... well, as live-action as a property featuring mermaids, sea witches, and talking seagulls can ever be, anyway. And while there's little to no fear in regards to Ariel's adventure underperforming – especially not when it's an uncontested blockbuster on Memorial Day weekend — the delighted swarms of Disney will no doubt leave theaters comparing it to the original work. That's bound to happen with any adaptation, especially when the previous media is as beloved as "The Little Mermaid." Comparisons aren't even necessarily a bad thing, they're just a thing thing.

Still, they can easily become a bad thing. Think of it like this: both Dr. Pepper and root beer are delicious beverages that look similar to each other, but if you reach for a glass with the assumption that it's filled with Dr. Pepper when it's actually filled with Root Beer, you'd be well within your rights to leave that experience surprised and unsatisfied. It's the same conundrum with film adaptations. Name recognition inherently creates a more difficult and divisive adaptation process.

So, let's strip away the popularity aspect. If Disney wants to reinvent one of its animated properties without (an overabundance of) pushback, the studio should give their failed movie "The Black Cauldron" the live-action treatment. Oh, and if your immediate response to that statement was "Huh?" that only goes to prove the point we're making. 

Here's why "The Black Cauldron" would be perfect for a second chance, and what it could mean for fantasy fans everywhere. 

Disney's The Black Cauldron was never beloved and that makes it perfect for reinvention

For those who don't make a point of consuming unsuccessful 1980s animation, "The Black Cauldron" is a dark fantasy film released by Disney in 1985 based on Lloyd Alexander's 1965 novel of the same name. The story follows a ragtag group of young, inept heroes on a quest to destroy the titular MacGuffin before the Horned King, a gnarled goblin in a funky cloak, can use it to gain endless power.

It's important that you understand that it did so poorly at the box office that it didn't even recoup half of its budget. Broadly speaking, a movie needs to make three times its budget to become financially lucrative. When you factor in the historical context, it's not an exaggeration to say that "The Black Cauldron" almost bankrupted Disney four years before "The Little Mermaid" swam into the picture and transformed the animation studio into an indestructible force. "The Black Cauldron" and "The Little Mermaid" couldn't be further apart in terms of dollars made.

On the surface, it makes sense that Disney would want to recapture the financial success that came with its Renaissance Era. But a Greatest Hits Compilation limits the audience's willingness to see change. Despite the fact that "The Black Cauldron" has garnered a small cult following in the intervening years since its release, at no point in its lifespan has it ever matched the viewer count of Disney's bigger properties.

That means that Disney could feasibly repurpose its failed product to make it serve the studio better. And let's be real, here, this kind of shakeup could easily be marketed with an underdog metanarrative.

A cult classic like The Black Cauldron can become mainstream with better marketing and smarter writers

The term "cult classic" means that a given project failed in the mainstream but landed on its feet with a hyper-specific niche. Think "Rocky Horror Picture Show" or "Idiocracy," except more underground because both of these examples exist within a subsection of cult classic media that ascends to mainstream recognition on the merits of its cult classic status. "The Black Cauldron" is a dyed-in-the-wool cult classic with a comparatively minor fan presence online. So, to the wider populace, Disney could approach remaking it with the framework of saving a property that never received the recognition it deserved. It's almost fiscally irresponsible for Disney not to do this, as ignoring it ensures that the original expenditure remains unreturned.

And "The Black Cauldron" is comprised of all the right parts for success, just maybe not in the wrong proportions. There's a fantasy kingdom, an evil reptilian king, a rookie hero, and a self-empowered princess. Those are literally the same building blocks of "The Super Mario Bros. Movie" and we all know how well that film's doing.

Furthermore, a new "Black Cauldron" doesn't need to look far to reinvent the wheel — instead, it just needs to be faithful to Lloyd Alexander's novels in a way the original was not. Alexander himself admitted that Disney made a product unrecognizable as an adaptation of his work (although he did acknowledge that it was a fun movie on its own merits). Well, given the success of franchises such as "Harry Potter" and "The Lord of the Rings," it's safe to assume that Disney could earn even more marketing points by bringing back "The Black Cauldron" as an adaptation loyal to its source material.

Lloyd Allexander's The Chronicles of Prydain books deserve a more faithful treatment, anyway

To get an idea as to why fans of Llyod Alexander's novel might have been displeased with "The Black Cauldron," consider that the Disney film takes its name and much of its plot from the second book in Alexander's "The Chronicles of Prydain" series. Again, that's the second book, not the first. Can you imagine if that was the same treatment that the fantasy epics from the 2000s received? Fundamentally, it's a horrible plan, almost as horrible as stretching a single novel into three blockbuster films. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

It's no secret that Disney is in the business of building franchises. Following the success of its Marvel Cinematic Universe, the studio applied that same forever-branching model to "Star Wars" and anything else that could be stretched into the infinite. Why not offer a modicum of that same energy to "The Chronicles of Prydain?" Back in 2016, Variety reported that Disney was planning to do this very thing, but we're now in the mid-2020s and obviously nothing has come out of that yet. 

If it ever comes to fruition, though,here's what you should expect. The first book in Alexander's pentalogy is "The Book of Three." A solid chunk of it was included and condensed in Disney's "The Black Cauldron," like how Taran is saved from imprisonment by Eilonwy. So, fans of the animated film might experience some déjà vu, but that'll quickly fall away to a different reaction because "The Chronicles of Prydain" series takes the "dark" part of its "dark fantasy" label very, very seriously.

Modern Disney is more comfortable with the macabre and that suits Lloyd Alexander just fine

Disney's attempt at animating "The Chronicles of Prydain" might not have been faithful to the narrative, but it embraced some of the series' darker elements ... in a way that audiences in the 1980s just weren't ready for. 

Google "The Black Cauldron" and the words "dark" or "scary" and you'll get a slew of bloggers praising the project for its dedicated, ominous tone. In comparison to other Disney animated films, the color palette is permitted to linger in subdued colors, and the music and visuals match that foreboding aesthetic (like, say, how the Horned King dies with his flesh being magically ripped from his bones).

To put it bluntly, it's not really a kid's movie. And any new adaptations of "The Chronicles of Prydain" shouldn't be toned down, either. "Dark fantasy" is not a genre that shies away from mature themes. It's the genre of Neil Gaiman's "The Sandman." It's the genre of MGM Studios' "The Secret of Nimh." Heroes can fail and the innocent can die, but so can the villains. The subgenre isn't inherently gloomy, it's that dark fantasy strips away the comfortable veneer of hope that is so often associated with magical stories.

And that just doesn't gel with a lot of Disney's older catalog, which heavily leans on music and whimsy and easily digestible family values — but that's different now. Marvel, under the wider Disney umbrella, just released "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3," a film that brutally examines the pain caused by eugenics and animal cruelty, to instant financial success. If that can fly, then the time is ripe for "The Chronicles of Prydain" to get a second chance.