THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER
ARABIAN KNIGHT; THE PRINCESS AND THE COBBLER
Unfortunately, Richard Williams was a perfectionist who wanted to make took such a long time to make The Thief and the Cobbler the most ambitious handdrawn animated film ever made. He would have sequences drawn and then order them redone. This went on so long that Warners began to panic. (In fact, the project had such a lengthy history, over its twenty-seven years from its inception to its release (a world record), that several of the people doing voice-work Vincent Price, as well as both Anthony Quayle and Donald Pleasence who did voices at one point but whose work did not end up on the finished print ended up dying several years before the film ever saw the lights of theatres). Fearing that the films thunder would be stolen by Disneys Aladdin (1992), Warner Brothers panicked and called in the completion guarantors. With only fifteen minutes of footage left to complete, Williams was fired and director Fred Calvert and a South Korean animation-for-hire studio were assigned to turn the existing footage into something salvageable. Calvert took Williamss print and added songs and a romance and this version was released internationally in 1994 under the title The Princess and the Cobbler (the version seen here), which is somewhat truer to Williamss original vision. Disney-subsidiary Miramax then purchased Calverts print and substantially re-edited the film, adding voiceovers for the cobbler (whom Williams had originally intended to remain unspeaking) and the thief (who gets a particularly annoying babble of one-liners from Jonathan Winters), as well as substantially reworking the plot, including removing the character of the witch. This version went into US release in 1995 under the title Arabian Knight and met a dismal box-office reception. For a film that has occupied nearly the entire life of one artist, it was an extraordinarily vulgar treatment to be afforded such a work. Sadly to say, neither version of the film ended up being noticed and it vanished without a trace, although there is a fan edit in circulation that restores some of Williamss original footage. Williams will reportedly not talk about the film to this day.
All of which is a shame as The Thief and the Cobbler is a mini-masterpiece. Even in butchered form, the dizzying joy of Williamss imagination shows through. Williams adopts an eccentrically stylised look that seems like a collision between Aubrey Beardsley and M.C. Escher the only near equivalent in animation might be something a little akin to the Pink Panther animated shorts. Williams delights in nonsensical visual play and optical absurdism for its own sake. The chase sequences are jewels of gonzo animation surrealism the thiefs wacky ascent up through the zigzag plumbing system of the palace; the hysterical sequence where the thief attempts to steal the three golden balls off the minaret, which could almost be a silent movie comedy routine; and the thief and the cobblers madcap chase around the palace, which takes place in a dizzying series of zigzag optical patterns and eye-blinding colour contrasts. It all climaxes on a amazingly spectacular sequence with the thief flying around a series of madcap mechanical inventions as they collapse everywhere as a single one of the cobblers tacks ends up destroying an entire army. There is a wonderful eccentricity to Williamss characters Vincent Prices evil vizier, for example, talks entirely in rhyme. Or else the thief who is perpetually accompanied by a swarm of flies circling around his head; the brutish bandits who are only drawn as animated sketches; and the maniacally cackling witch. In a delightful post-credits coda, the thief ends up stealing The End and the film itself.
There is The Recobbled Cut, an unofficial fan edit in existence that pieces it together from some of the unseen footage and Williams test reels that has been seen in successive more extensive versions since 2006 and can be seen at the below-listed link. Persistence of Vision (2012) is a documentary of the behind-the-scenes story of the making of The Thief and the Cobbler.
(Winner in this sites Top 10 Films of 1994 list).
Trailer here (US version):-