This Friday, the Animation Addicts will be releasing their latest podcast episode where they will discuss The Thief and the Cobbler…if you are a newbie to this animated film (like me), you will find that the version that is available on Netflix is…well…unsatisfactory at best.
Turns out, there are several versions of the film, not to mention a sorted history that includes everything from story issues, time issues, complex animation issues and of course money issues. So in case you were banking on listening to the episode this Friday, but were deterred because you didn’t know a thing about The Thief and the Cobbler, read on and quickly become part of the super awesome underground fandom that surrounds the film.
Pre-Pro, or Something Like it
Richard Williams, whom is most notable for his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and The Pink Panther, began working on The Famous Nasruddin in 1964 which was supposed to be his auteur film. However, after a battle over rights to the story, stopping and stalling production, several name changes from 1964-1972 (including The Majestic Fool, and Nasruddin!), and Paramount dropping out of a deal with Williams, Nasruddin! was finally dropped as a project…sort of. Williams decided that having spent 8 years on animation that was still visually stunning deserved to see the light of day, so the story was revamped, characters were dropped and new ones were added, and a new story, The Thief and the Cobbler emerged. In a statement to the press Williams said:
… the Nasruddin stories were dropped as a project. However, the many years work spent on painstaking research into the beauty of Oriental art has been retained. Loosely based on elements in the Arabian Nights stories, an entirely new and original film entitled ‘The Thief and the Cobbler’ is now the main project of the Williams Studio.
Un-Official Production Begins for The Thief and the Cobbler
1973 began with a new script written by Richard Williams himself and his wife Margaret French that included many changes that brought the film closer to the versions that are available today. The original Nasruddin character became Tack the cobbler, Zizag the Grand Vizier spoke in rhyme while everyone else spoke in prose, Zigzag’s right hand bird’s name changed from Brutay to Phido, and these are only some of the changes that were made at this time. As production pushed forward, Williams began to sell the film to the press as “not following the Disney route”, and that it would be a “silent movie with a lot of sound”, as the titled characters would not be voiced at all, with the exception of the last line of the film which is delivered by Tack (voiced by Sean Connery).
Between the years 1973 and 1986 Williams, once again, worked diligently both on TTatC and on other projects in order to continue funding the film. Even though there was significant progress in the new story line, there was still a lot of stalling. In order to save money during these stalls, it was suggested that instead of doing all of the camera work and color, they simply focus on doing the rough drawings.
Production continued with William’s intention to make “the best animated film that has ever been made”. Which turned out to mean that the film would include entire scenes that would move in 3 dimensions before the aide of computer-generated imaging.
Through this stretch of time, Williams added several scenes to the story, as well as re-designed several of the characters, causing entire scenes to be re-drawn…thus stalling the project even further.
The Money Begins to Roll in
After loosing an investor due to missing deadlines, Williams cut a 12-minute sample reel, which caught the attention of Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg who agreed to help distribute the film if Williams agreed to direct Who Killed Roger Rabbit?
Who Killed Roger Rabbit? won Richard Williams 2 Oscars in 1988, and thus Warner Bros. decided to invest in TTatC, along with Japanese investors launching Williams into official production, but also giving him a deadline to finish by 1991.
In 1992, having missed his 1991 deadline, TTatC only had 10-14 minutes left of animation to finish when Warner Bros. decided to pull the plug on Williams, as Disney’s Aladdin was about to open, sharing too many similarities with TTatC.
Fred Calvert was rushed in to try and salvage the film, and create something out of the footage that had been finished. Choosing to add songs, and voice overs to Tack and the Thief, the film was finally completed though this version ended up feeling like a cheap Disney knock off.
In 1994 Miramax films gained the distribution rights to the film and released what they chose to call Arabian Knight in 1995.
The Thief Recobbled
What has widely begun to be known as The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut, is actually a fan-made funded and restored version of the film by Garret Gilchrist that when finished, will hopefully be exactly what Richard Williams had envisioned. Having gone through several edits (Mark 1, 2, and 3), it is now in it’s 4th edition having compiled newly restored audio, found edits and scenes while also incorporating parts of Fred Calvert’s version. For a complete comparison you can check out the Recobbled Cuthere.
Though the film never reached Williams’ final vision, it has garnered a solid underground following that, once you take a look at the original footage, is evident has their heart in the right place.
Mayra Amaya is a Theater graduate from Arizona State University in Tempe, AZ where she also learned filmmaking. Amaya now resides in Brooklyn, NY where she works as an actor, writer and sandwich maker. You can follow her on Twitter (@amayasunwizard).