Monday, January 8, 2018

The Disney Boys - Part 5: Taran

Click to read my introduction to this series, Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4.

Taran who, you ask? Why, Taran from 1985's The Black Cauldron, of course. It's one of those Disney films that doesn't get mentioned much--especially by Disney. Although Disney sometimes gets criticized (quite unfairly, I might add) for being too bright, here is an example of when people just don't accept a darker tone. The Black Cauldron was Disney's first PG animated film, and even though children nowadays tend to watch plenty of PG-13 films, I would say that this film is darker than plenty of those. Maybe it has less fighting than, for instance, the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, but it's still darker and genuinely terrifying. 

So who is this Taran who lives inside this dark movie? Well, given that the story is a basic good and evil one, Taran is our hero. He's the boy who starts off daydreaming about going off to fight. He imagines becomes a famous warrior because of his great bravery. Like Arthur and Mowgli, Taran also starts off asserting that he isn't afraid. Dallben, his mentor, of course tells him that he would be foolish not to be afraid of the Horned King.

Yet on his first test, Taran fails. Dallben sends him off to get Hen Wen to safety and what does Taran do? He starts daydreaming again and Hen Wen gets away. Still, Taran doesn't hesitate to try to save Hen Wen from the dragons that are after her--and neither does he hesitate to enter the Horned King's castle to try and free her. He does seem to have courage after all; he even admonishes Gurgi for not coming with him. 

Inside the castle, same thing. Taran loses his safe lookout spot in his desperate desire to save Hen Wen and he stands up for her even though he is face to face with the Horned King himself. Taran even gets away from the King and all his minions. Then he makes the choice to put Hen Wen over the wall first, the consequence being that he is captured while Hen Wen gets free.

Taran finds power but also his own weakness in the magical sword. He is thrilled to see what it can do, and having it fuels his high hopes for himself. Later, when the group escapes and Taran tries to prove himself to Eilonwy, all he does is the opposite. All he shows her is that, despite everything, he is still just the boy daydreaming about fame and greatness and not really understanding what it truly means to stand up for someone else (even though he has in fact stood up for others by this point). 

When Taran offers the sword that he loves in exchange for the cauldron so that he can destroy it and all of the Horned King's evil plans, he begins to understand. He gives up his chance for fame in the hopes of achieving something greater. Later, when he has the chance to trade the cauldron back for the sword, he can't do it because he realizes that the sword itself meant nothing. "I'm not a warrior . . . what would I do with a sword?" Taran realizes that it's the role he has been given that has been most important. He played his role to protect Hen Wen and now it is his time to help Gurgi, who helped him by taking his place in the cauldron. Helping others matters more than fame. 

In this the darkest of the Disney animated films, we have a character who learns what sacrifice and friendship and courage mean. And many of the lessons he learns, I might add, he learns with the help of Eilonwy; more than "strong female characters" (I find that phrase vague and unhelpful toward anyone) I value male and female characters (each with their own sets of strengths and weaknesses) who can work together. The Black Cauldron offers us that. Eilonwy is optimistic and brave, and Taran is hopeful and brave. They show the difference we can make by choosing the side of good. 

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