The titular object in “The Black Cauldron” is what Hitchcock called a “MacGuffin,” which is basically a device everyone wants in order to keep the plot moving along. One such desirant is the Horned King, intent on using the dark vat of doom to control the world, or something.
The human hero Taran has a hanger-on of a little critter named Gurgi, who seemingly just wants to be friends but is so irritating that Taran keeps trying to ditch him along the way. At one point, Gurgi, seemingly despondent, throws himself into the Cauldron, but his gesture in fact stops the Horned King’s undead army, and also gets the villain sucked into the cauldron in the process (don’t you hate that?).
Fortunately, Gurgi is resurrected, so that’s all good, but what’s really upsetting is that, if you think about it, Gurgi has issues with making friends, clearly has mental health problems and doesn’t know how to relate well to others. And his jumping into the cauldron to save the day seems, looking back as an adult, less a heroic gesture and more a terrible cry for help. Severe depression, pure and simple. Although he gets to come back in the end, the pain of his “sacrifice” takes much longer to wash away after the credits roll.
In his review of the film in 1985, Ebert is quick to point out that even though the movie was dark and features Gurgi’s selfless sacrifice, this wasn’t exactly anything new for the Mouse House.
“The best of the Disney animated features were not innocent children's entertainments, but blood-curdling stories of doom and obsession … They only looked innocent because they were cartoons,” Ebertwrites of the film, adding, of Gurgi: “Gurgi is a slavishly devoted little yes-man who gurgles with appreciation for everything done by anyone within earshot who is stronger than he is.”
Maybe that’s what dooms Gurgi. He marvels at everyone, so much so that he often doesn’t believe he has anything within himself worth noting. But that all changes when he makes the ultimate sacrifice, only to return from the dead.