Rants for the Riff Raff: The Thief and the Cobbler
I watched this movie for the first time in years the other day. When I was a kid, my sisters and I watched it all the time. It was one of our favorite movies. It’s funny, bizarre, and has some of the coolest non-digital animation you’ll ever see. But I never really thought about it all that much when I was younger. I just took it at face value.
That is something I no longer do when I watch movies. I can’t help it, no matter what I’m watching, I think about it. I think about what went into making it, what the creators were trying to say, and how successful they are at getting the message across.
The Thief and the Cobbler, or at least the version I watched, was a little confused. The animation and basic story seemed to be trying to tell a story in the vein of old school fairy tales; dark, violent, and dangerous, but with a happy ending. The dialogue and songs, however, were closer to Disney movies. The danger was there, but the characters never seemed that affected by it, they just knew they had to stop it.
I was interested in this disconnect, so I tried to find out more about it. I learned there was far more to the story of this film than I would have ever expected.
Development began way back in 1964, when Richard Williams had an idea to make a movie based on characters from Turkish folklore called Nasruddin. Early dialogue tracks were recorded, with Vincent Price lending his voice to the villain ZigZag. Somewhere during this period, Williams realized that, along with not having enough money, he did not know how to animate. He was a graphic artist, but had no idea how to make his pictures move in a natural way. So, he spent 14 years learning the craft and earning money, making his vision for the film more ambitious.
He released a 12 minute reel of the film in mid ’80s, which gained the attention of Steven Speilberg and Robert Zemeckis. They hired him as the lead animator for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, agreeing to distribute the recently renamed Thief and the Cobbler in return. He agreed, and subsequently won two Oscars for his work on Roger Rabbit.
Full production of Thief and the Cobbler began in 1989. Extensive changes to the script and story were made, characters were added and removed, and new animators were hired and then fired. This went on for 3 years, until in 1992, Disney released Aladdin.
Though very different in content and story, there are striking similarities between the two films’ characters and setting. The investors hired Fred Calvert to go in and make sure the movie was still going well. It wasn’t. Williams had spiraled out of control. Calvert declared that the film was “woefully behind schedule and way over budget.” Investors panicked and backed out, leaving the film half-finished and under-financed.
Calvert himself was hired to go in and finish the film as quickly and cheaply as possible. He recut, re-edited, and removed things in an effort to make a finished product. He hired freelance animators to fill in some of the cracks left by Williams, and, in 18 months, had finished the film.
Unfortunately, nobody wanted it. That version of the film was only released in Australia and South Africa, under the name The Princess and the Cobbler. In 1994, Miramax bought the rights to it, and made even more changes to it. This is the version I have seen. They wrote dialogue for the previously mute main characters and hired Mathew Broderick and Jonathan Winters to do the voices, eventually releasing it as Arabian Knight.
It was not until 1997 that they released it on home video as The Thief and the Cobbler. It took 33 years of strife, but the film was finally available for mass consumption.
Even with all its problems and inconsistencies, it is still a great film. It’s a simple story about underdogs being able to make a difference, filled with humor and wit. I love the version that I’ve seen, but it would be interesting to see something closer to what Williams intended. Other people felt the same way. In 2006, a fan named Garrett Gilchrist took all available sources and tried to put together a film that resembled the original, named The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut. Gilchrist worked with several of the people originally involved with the film, but not Richard Williams. It seems that Williams has given up, and now refuses to have anything to the film that he thought up almost 40 years ago.
I’ve been watching that movie for 15 years, and I never knew any of that. Watching the Miramax version, it is easy now to see what has been added and changed by producers, and what was the director’s intent. Even still, it’s a movie I love watching. The animation is incredible. This scene blew my mind when I was a kid-
Though it will be a challenge to find a copy, I strongly suggest you try. Or come to my place. I still have the VHS I used to watch, and I would love to show it to you.
By: Will Bray
Last 5 posts by wabray
- LOVE HAS COME FOR YOU by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell - April 10th, 2013
- THE NEXT DAY by David Bowie - April 10th, 2013
- Beneath the Surface with Brocktavious Science: ONE MORE NIGHT by Maroon 5 - October 12th, 2012
- Rants for the Riff Raff: Li’l 5 Flicks - April 16th, 2012
- Rants for the Riff Raff: A Tribute to Jackass Number 2 - April 2nd, 2012