– By Matthew Sawczyn –
In case you missed it, like most of humanity, Disney (somewhat) recently reacquired the film rights to the award winning children fantasy series, Chronicles of Prydain. Written by Lloyd Alexander from 1964 to 1968, the Chronicles of Prydain is a wonderful coming of age story, concerning a humble peasant boy with dreams of being a hero, alongside his colorful gang of friends: a spunky bard, a grumbling dwarf, an eager ‘Gurgi’, and a sharp-tongued princess. Lloyd drew deeply from his British heritage and Welsh lore in crafting the series, creating a fabulous high fantasy pentalogy that’s easy to access, yet rich in its rewards. The second book, The Black Cauldron, earned a 1966 Newbery Honor, and the fifth and final book, The High King, won the 1969 Newbery Medal. Fans of Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Harry Potter, or Merlin should definitely give this series a look. (David Roberts at Vox also praised it quite nicely.)
In 1985, Disney owned the film rights, and released their now infamous animated adaptation, The Black Cauldron. This was Disney’s sole venture into the realm of Prydain, and they have yet to touch the series again (for reasons we’ll get into).
However, there was renewed hope for fans, when in 2016, Disney renewed its ownership of the film rights. Things have been pretty quiet since, but in this brave new world of streaming gluttony and niche markets, there may be hope that Disney gives this one another shot. (We’re all chasing that next Game of Thrones…)
So, without further ado, here’s my wish list, in case any Disney executive happens to stumble upon this blog. Here are my fairly subjective, entirely wishful, ways to make Prydain great again:
1. Just Make It
Okay, this one might seem obvious – But, it is harder than you think!
Disney’s The Black Cauldron in 1985, a poorly conceived mash up of the first two books, just plain bombed. Deemed too dark and completely underdeveloped, the film couldn’t catch the eye of either the adult or children crowd. It failed to even make its budget, generating a mere $21 million at the domestic box office, off a staggering $44 million production cost. It would take The Little Mermaid the next year to save Disney from bankruptcy! Ever since, Prydain carried a sort of ‘curse’ label to it, as if somehow the series were impossible to adapt.
In the mad race for viewer retention rate, Prydain may still cause trepidation, given its infamous reputation at Disney, as well as its status as an older intellectual property, with a relatively niche fan base. Be not afraid, Disney! These books’ followers are loyal! They will most definitely look into a long awaited adaptation. Embrace the challenge! Just do it!
Which leads us right our next point for the House of Mouse…
2. Embrace the Fantastical
Look, Prydain could easily be cheesy. An oracle pig… a half-beast sidekick… a giant cat. Well, you know what else is kind of cheesy? Talking beavers. Halflings with hairy feet. A letter that yells at you. Grown men in spandex. The CLIFFS OF INSANITY! And, those worked out just fine for their franchises!
Don’t get me wrong! In our post Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones world, fantasy series should be grounded. Please, do. Prydain springs from a rich Welsh story heritage: there is much depth and realism to be mined. But, do not fear the fun! These books are humorous, endearing, and charming, while still maintaining a meaningful, fulfilling fantasy atmosphere. The series can have both. Walk that line well.
3. Embrace the Adult
Prydain is definitely a children series. The writing is very accessible, and the plots and characters are fairly straightforward. But, that does not eliminate depth! Themes of duty, fate, redemption, self-sacrifice resonate within the pages. Embrace these lessons, and craft a land of legends and lords, both pleasing to adults and children (It’s not impossible – A Princess Bride, Narnia…)
On a side note, also take the advice of Emmy winning costume designer Michele Clapton (Game of Thrones, The Crown), and distress the %#!$^ out of the costumes. As you will be reminded many times while reading, our main character is an Assistant Pig Keeper. He’s going to get dirty. Even the royalty of the realm skew more to the “Strider” side of the fashion spectrum. So, the story a favor, and rub some dirt on those costumes.
4. Consider Expanding
Lastly, turn this franchise into a silver screen series! Disney failed when it tried condensing these books into movie form. Try expanding them. More battles, more kingdoms, more characters, more lore. An expert at prose, Alexander says so much with so little. He touches upon people and history that can easily be elaborated. Grow the world he so richly created. Draw this world out.
So, these are my four humble thoughts on how to make the land of Prydain great again. If you haven’t read the series, I highly suggest giving it a try. And hopefully, given enough time, we’ll at least see a new film adaptation in the future.
Until next time, remember:
About the Author
Matthew Sawczyn is a screenwriter in Los Angeles, and alumni of JPCatholic (MBA in Film Producing – Class of 2017). He loves hiking, HBO, and cuddly cats.