The Thief and the Cobbler (Miramax version)

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The Thief and the Cobbler (Miramax version)
Genre: Animated
Directed By: Richard Williams
Produced By: Richard Williams
Imogen Sutton
Fred Calvert
Written By: Richard Williams
Margaret French
Howard Blake
Starring: Vincent Price
Matthew Broderick
Jennifer Beals
Jonathan Winters
Cinematography: John Leatherbarrow
Distributed By: Miramax Films
Release Date: 25 August 1995
Runtime: 72 minutes
Country: United Kingdom
United States
Language: English
Budget: $28 million
Box Office: $669,276

The Thief and the Cobbler (known as Arabian Knight during it's theatrical run by Miramax and as The Princess and the Cobbler in other territories) is a 1993 animated fantasy film directed by the famous animator Richard Williams.


When Tack the Cobbler upsets Zigzag the Vizier, the wizard drags him off to the royal palace, where Princess Yum Yum falls for the bashful boy and saves him from execution. Unfortunately, Zigzag plans to marry the princess in order to succeed her father, King Nod. The Thief, meanwhile, is more interested in gold than love and takes off with the three protective orbs topping the palace. Together, Tack and Yum Yum attempt to retrieve them in order to prevent Zigzag and the One-Eyed army from destroying the city.


Development and Early Production (1964–1972)

In 1964, Richard Williams, was running an animation studio assigned to animate commercials and special sequences for live-action films. Williams illustrated a series of books by Idries Shah, which collected the tales of Mulla Nasruddin. Nasruddin was a philosophical yet "wise fool" of Near Eastern folklore. Williams began development work on a film based on the stories, with Shah and his family championing production. Idries Shah demanded 50% of the profits from the film, and Idries Shah’s sister Amina Shah, who had done some of the translations for the Nasrudin book, claimed that she owned the stories. Production took place at Richard Williams Productions in Soho Square, London. An early reference to the project came in the 1968 International Film Guide, which noted that Williams was about to begin work on "the first of several films based on the stories featuring Mulla Nasruddin."
Williams took on television and feature-film title projects in order to fund his project, and work on his film progressed slowly. Williams hired the legendary Warner Bros. animator Ken Harris as a chief animator on the project, which was then entitled "The Amazing Nasrudin." Designer Roy Naisbitt was hired to design backgrounds for the film, and promotional art which showed intricate Indian and Persian designs. In 1970, the project was re-titled "The Majestic Fool." For the first time, Williams had a potential distributor for the film, the British Lion Film Corporation. The International Film Guide noted that the Williams Studio's staff had increased to forty people for the production of the feature. Williams gained further attention when he and the studio produced a TV adaptation of A Christmas Carol for Chuck Jones, which won the studio an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film.
After the project being re-titled again as "Nasrudin," dialogue tracks for the film were recorded at this time. Actor Vincent Price was hired to perform the voice of the villain, Anwar (later renamed "ZigZag"). Even though Kenneth Williams was supposed to voice Anwar, Price was hired instead to make the villain more enjoyable for Williams, as he was a great fan of Vincent Price's work and was based on two people Williams hated. Sir Anthony Quayle was cast as King Nod.
By 1972, Williams and the studio had animated around three hours of footage for the film, according to composer Howard Blake. Blake insisted to Williams that while he thought the footage was excellent, he needed to structure the film and his footage into a three-act plot. The Shah family had a bookkeeper that wasn't keeping track of the studio's accounting, so Williams felt that producer Omar Shah had been embezzling financing from the studio for his own purposes. As a result, Williams had a falling-out with the Shah family. Paramount withdrew a deal that they'd been negotiating. Williams was forced to abandon Nasrudin, as the Shah family took the rights of Williams' illustrations. However the Shah family allowed Williams to keep characters he designed for the books and the movie, including a thief character that was Williams' favorite.

Gaining Financial Backing (1978–1988)

In 1978, a Saudi Arabian prince, Mohammed bin Faisal Al Saud, became interested in The Thief and agreed to fund a ten-minute test sequence, with the budget of $100,000. Williams chose the complex, penultimate sequence of the Thief in the War Machine for the test. The studio missed two deadlines, and the scene was completed in the end of 1979 for $250,000. Faisal, despite his positive impression of the finished scene, backed out of the production because of missed deadlines and budgetary overruns.
In the 1980s, Williams put together a 20-minute sample reel of the Thief, which he showed to Milt Kahl, friend and one of Williams' animation mentors, at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, California. Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz even worked with Williams to attempt to get financing in the mid-1980s, although he left later during production. In 1986, Williams met producer Jake Eberts, who began funding the production through his Allied Filmmakers company and eventually provided $10 million of the film's $28 million budget. Allied's distribution and sales partner, Majestic Films, began promoting the film in industry trades, under the working title "Once...."
At this time, Eberts encouraged Williams to make changes to the script. A subplot involving the characters of Princess Mee-Mee, Yum-Yum's twin sister (played by Catherine Schell), and the Prince Bubba, who had been turned into an ogre (played by Thick Wilson). Both characters were deleted, some of Grim Natwick's animation of the Witch had to be discarded, and Ken Harris' sequence of a Brigand dreaming of a Biblical temptress was also deleted.
Steven Spielberg saw the footage of the film and was impressed enough that he, along with film director Robert Zemeckis, asked Williams to direct the animation of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Williams agreed in order to get his film the financing it needed to get finished. When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, Williams won two Oscars for his animation and contributions to the visual effects. Although it ran over-budget before animation production began, the success of the film proved that Williams could work within a studio structure and turn out high-quality animation on time and within budget. Disney and Spielberg told Williams that in return for doing Who Framed Roger Rabbit, they would help distribute his film. This plan, however, did not come to pass. Disney began to put their attention more in its own feature animation, while Spielberg instead opened a rival feature animation studio called "Amblimation."
Warner Bros. negotiated a funding and a distribution deal for The Thief and the Cobbler with Williams, which included a $25 million marketing budget. Williams' current wife, Imogen Sutton, suggested for him to finance the film with European backers, citing his appreciation of foreign films. Richard insisted he could produce the film with a major studio. Williams and Warner Bros. signed a negative pickup deal in late 1988, and Williams also got some financial aid from Japanese investors. Williams himself later stated, "In hindsight we should have just gone to Europe, take another five years, made it on our own, and then go to a distributor and get people who find it as a novelty."

Production Under Warner Bros. (1989–1992)

With the funding from Warner Bros., the film finally got into full production in 1989. Williams scoured the art schools of Europe and Canada to find talented artists. It was at this point, with almost all of the original animators either dead or having long since moved on to other projects, that full-scale production on the film began, mostly with a new, younger team of animators, including Williams's own son Alexander Williams. In a 1988 interview with Jerry Beck, Williams stated that he had two and a half hours of pencil tests for Thief and that he had not storyboarded the film as he found such a method too controlling. Vincent Price originally recorded his dialogue from 1967 to 1973, a period of 6 years. Williams recorded further dialogue with Price for the 1990 production, 16 years later, but Price's age and illness meant some lines remained unfinished.
Williams had before experimented with shots animated by hand to move in three dimensions with characters, including several shots in Roger Rabbit's opening sequence. With The Thief, Williams began planning several sequences to feature a greater use of this animation technique, including Tack and the Thief's palace chase – which was achieved without computer-generated imagery. According to rumors, Williams approached The Thief with a live-action point of view coming off of Roger Rabbit. Williams was creating extra footage and extending sequences to trim down later and that he would have edited down the workprint he later assembled.
Warner Bros. had also signed a deal with The Completion Bond Company to ensure the studio would be given a finished film, if not they would finish The Thief under their management. Williams, dedicated but pressured, was taking his time to ensure sequences would look perfect. Animators were working overtime, sometimes sixty hours a week, to get the film done. While Williams encouraged the best out of people, discipline was harsh and animators were frequently fired. "He fired hundreds of people. There's a list as long as your arm of people fired by Dick. It was a regular event," cameraman John Leatherbarrow recalls, "there was one guy who got fired on the doorstep." Williams was just as hard on himself: "He was the first person in the morning and the last one out at night," recalls animator Roger Vizard. Funders pressured Williams to make finished scenes of the main characters for a marketing trailer. The final designs were made for the characters at this time.
The film was not finished by a 1991 deadline that Warner originally imposed upon Williams; the film had approximately 10 to 15 minutes of screen time to complete, which at Williams's rate was estimated to take "a tight six months" or longer. From Warner Bros.' perspective, the animation department at the studio had put their enthusiasm towards high-quality television animation but had little confidence towards backing feature animation. Warner Bros. had already released The Nutcracker Prince, a Canadian-produced animated feature, in 1990 to almost no promotion. Warner Bros.' head of animation Jean MacCurdy didn't know anything about animation, as she admitted to an artist that had worked for Williams while she was seeing footage of the film. Another animator working in Warner Bros. salvaged almost 40 minutes of 35mm dailies footage from MacCurdy's trash. Meanwhile, Walt Disney Feature Animation had begun work on Aladdin, a film which bore striking resemblances in story, style and character to The Thief and the Cobbler; for example, the character ZigZag from Thief shares many physical characteristics with both Aladdin's villain, Jafar, and supporting character, the Genie, as animated by Williams Studio alumnus Andreas Deja and Eric Goldberg.
The Completion Bond Company asked television animation producer Fred Calvert to do a detailed analysis of the production status. He traveled to Williams's London studio several times to check on the progress of the film, and his conclusion was that Williams was "woefully behind schedule and way over budget." Williams had a script, according to Calvert, but "he wasn't following it faithfully." People from the Completion Bond Company, and Calvert, were visiting the studio more often towards the end. Williams was giving dailies of sequences that were finished or scrapped since the 1980s, hoping to give an indication of progress to Warner Bros. Williams was asked to show the investors a rough copy of the film with the remaining scenes filled in with storyboards in order to establish the film's narrative. Williams had avoided storyboards up to this point, but within two weeks he had done what the investors had asked. Williams made a workprint which combined finished footage, pencil tests, storyboards, and movements from the symphonic suite, Scheherazade, to cover the 10–15 minutes left to finish. Animators found out that they had completed more than enough footage for an 85-minute feature, but they had yet to finish certain vital sequences involving the central story.
On May 13, 1992, this rough version of the film was shown to Warner Bros., and was not well received. During the screening, the penultimate reel of the film was missing, which was not helping matters. The studio lost confidence and backed out of the project. The Completion Bond Company seized control of the film, ousting Williams from the project. Jake Eberts, who at this point was an executive producer, also abandoned the project. Additionally, according to Richard Williams himself, the production had lost a source of funding when Japanese investors pulled out due to the recession following the Japanese asset price bubble. Fans cite this decision as an example of a trend of animated films being tampered with by studio executives.

Production Under Fred Calvert (1992–1993)

Sue Shakespeare of Creative Capers Entertainment had previously offered to solve story problems with Richard Williams, suggested to bring in film director Terry Gilliam to consult, and proposed to allow Williams to finish the film under her supervision. Williams reportedly agreed to Shakespeare's proposal, but her bid was ultimately rejected by the Completion Bond Company in favor of a cheaper one by Fred Calvert. Calvert was assigned by the Completion Bond Company to finish the film as cheaply and quickly as possible. "I really didn't want to do it," Calvert said, "but if I didn't do it, it would have been given off to the lowest bidder. I took it as a way to try and preserve something and at least get the thing on the screen and let it be seen."
It took Calvert 18 more months to finish the film. The new scenes were produced on a much lower budget, with the animation being produced by freelance animators in Los Angeles and former Williams animators working with Neil Boyle at Premier Films in London. Sullivan Bluth Studios animated the first song sequence, "She Is More", and Kroyer Films the second, "Am I Feeling Love?". The ink and paint work was subcontracted to Wang Film Productions in Taiwan and its division Thai Wang Film Productions in Thailand, as well as Varga Studio in Hungary.
Approximately 18 minutes of completed animation were cut by Calvert, due to the repetitive nature of the scenes. Calvert said "We hated to see all this beautiful animation hit the cutting room floor, but that was the only way we could make a story out of it. He [Williams] was kind of Rube Goldberg-ing his way through. I don't think he was able to step back and look at the whole thing as a story. He's an incredible animator, though. Incredible. One of the biggest problems we had was trying our desperate best, where we had brand new footage, to come up to the level of quality that he had set."
After the movie was completed, Allied Filmmakers, along with Majestic Films, reacquired the distribution rights from the Completion Bond Company.

Why It Sucks

  1. Bad voice-acting from Matthew Broderick and others.
  2. Repetitive monologue from Tack and even the Thief where they never stop talking.
  3. Yum Yum is your typical princess who's tired of her old life and dreams of wanting more.
  4. The main villain of the film (Zigzag) speaks entirely in rhyme.
  5. Very odd names such as Tack, Zigzag and Yum Yum. (The Nostalgia Critic said that these names feel more like words that infants would say for the first time.)
  6. Some scenes have been switched and edited, whilst Miramax added new scenes like Tack speaking and removed scenes that they didn't want audiences to see.
  7. Speaking of scenes, there are many errors, like how Tack's skin goes from pale to tanned after coming out of the temple at nighttime.
  8. Crappy songs, with some of them being rip-offs of similar ones from Disney's Aladdin.
  9. Too many pop-culture references (similar to Doogal)
  10. Possibly worst of all, this version completely butchered Richard Williams' original vision.

Redeeming Qualities

  1. Aside from a few errors, the animation is beautiful.
  2. The fan restoration of this film, "The Recobbled CutGMW", removes all of the problems listed above and closely follows Williams' workprint.
  3. Although the voice acting isn't very good, Vincent Price played Zigzag pretty well.
  4. The Brigand's song "We're What Happens When You Don't Finish School" is funny and catchy.
  5. Tack is a very adorable and charming main character.