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The Thief and the Cobbler
The Thief and the Cobbler
Actors: Vincent Price, Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Beals, Anthony Quayle, Hilary Pritchard
Director: Richard Williams
Genres: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Animation
G     2005     1hr 12min

Directed by Oscar-winning animator Richard Williams (Who Framed Roger Rabbit), The Thief and the Cobbler began production in 1968, so it actually predates 1992's Aladdin. Also known as The Princess and the Cobbler and Arab...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Vincent Price, Matthew Broderick, Jennifer Beals, Anthony Quayle, Hilary Pritchard
Director: Richard Williams
Creators: Richard Williams, Bette L. Smith, Eric Gilliland, Gary Glasberg, Margaret French, Michael Hitchcock, Parker Bennett
Genres: Action & Adventure, Comedy, Kids & Family, Science Fiction & Fantasy, Animation
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Animation, Animation, Comedy, Animation, Animation
Studio: Miramax
Format: DVD - Color - Animated,Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 03/08/2005
Original Release Date: 08/25/1995
Theatrical Release Date: 08/25/1995
Release Year: 2005
Run Time: 1hr 12min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 12
MPAA Rating: G (General Audience)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

The Magnificent Ambersons of animation
Patrick J. Mccart | Georgia, USA | 05/06/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)


In possibly the worst seizures of a film in history, possibly the greatest animated film was reduced to a grotesque mess only with only hints of the original brilliance. Almost half of the film was deleted or never finished, wonderful vocal performances were re-dubbed, and extensive re-editing destroyed the lyrical narrative form.

Before The Thief and the Cobbler was ripped to shreds, it was a pet project of animator/director Richard Williams (who you should know as the animation director... or really co-director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit). From 1964 to the late 1980s, every penny spent on the film was out of his own pocket or from small investments from benefactors. He produced hundreds of television commercials to pay for the movie. Alas, even after years of work, he had only about 10 minutes of footage at the cost of $2 million dollars.

The Thief and the Cobbler started as an adaptation of stories about Mulla Nasrudin (by Idres Shah). When rights over the published work fell apart, he turned his project into an original, but familiar tale. The haunting opening narration (spoken by Shakespearian actor Sir Felix Almyer) began the film:

"It is written among the limitless constellations of the celestial heavens and in the depths of the emerald seas and upon every grain of sand in the vast deserts that the world which we see is an outward and visible dream of an inward and invisible reality.

Once upon a time there was a golden city. In the centre of the golden city atop the tallest minaret were three golden balls. The ancients had prophesied that if the three golden balls were ever taken away harmony would yield to discord and the city would fall to destruction and death.

But... the mystics had also foretold that the city might be saved by the simplest soul with the smallest and simplest of things.

In the city there dwelt a lowly shoemaker... who was known as Tack the Cobbler. Also in the city... existed a Thief... who shall be nameless."

Through a series of circumstances, the flea-bitten thief causes Tack to be mistaken as an attacker on the Grand Vizier Zig-Zag. After being brought to the palace to be executed, he falls in love with Princess Yum-Yum (daughter of the benevolent, but sleepy King Nod). Zig-Zag bribes and brownnoses King Nod, hoping to control the Golden City and take Yum-Yum as his own.

Tack is a white-faced and silent - his demeanor and movement reminiscent of Chaplin's Tramp, Harry Langdon, and Jacques Tati's Hulot. The Thief is a scrawny, flea-bitten kleptomaniac mute. Zig-Zag, voiced by Vincent Price in a valedictorian performance, is blue-skinned and vulture-like in appearance.

Princess Yum-Yum is voiced by Hilary Pritchard (bit player in many 1970's British TV shows), King Nod by Sir Anthony Quayle, Zig-Zag's vulture has squawks and hisses provided by Donald Pleasence. In a surprise, but appropriate cameo, Sir Sean Connery provides his voice.

For animation, he recruited master animators from the golden age: Art Babbitt (Disney), Ken Harris (Warner Bros.), Myron "Grim" Natwick (Fleischers). He would also give shots to his commercial animators to work on as training (many of which went on to be acclaimed animators in their own right such as Eric Goldberg, Tom Sito, and his son Alex). Richard Williams, himself, animated much of the film himself - often keeping Zig-Zag's scenes to himself. The style of most of the characters is a blend of the rounded UPA look, but with the detail of Disney. Rare for most animated films, nearly all of the animation was drawn in "ones" which refers to one drawing = one frame.

The film's plot is intricately subtle, requiring the utmost attention to detail to understand the characters. Being that the two main characters have no dialogue, emotions are conveyed masterfully through facial expressions and gestures. Sometimes, just one brief shot defines an entire character. The animation itself (in the original 70 minutes directed by Richard Williams) out-performs 3-D digital animation. Characters are drawn with such fluidity, often giving the illusion of being live-action (make no mistake, not one frame utilized rotoscoping). However, the film often replicates the look of a live-action film. Surprisingly, the fluid "camera movement" is similar to the styles used in the French New Wave - length dolly shots, long takes, 360 degree turns, and even rapid zooms. In one bravura shot, the camera dollys from a close-up of Zig-Zag's eyes with full 3-D perspective and then revealed to be a reflection in another character's eye - continuing to pull out.

It's important to note that everything in the film was as intricate as possible. As mentioned before, the most subtle emotions conveyed by characters say more than dialogue. Tack's facial emotion is hidden by his pale face, but the one or two tacks held in his lips become his smile or frown. Zig-Zag is drawn with extra shoulder joints like a marionette. His face is virtually a characture of Vincent Price (appropriately). If that's not enough, Zig-Zag has six digits on each hand, each with an extra joint, and 20 rings per hand. The Thief conveys his want (whether it be the golden balls or jewels) through a reflection in his eyes. Desert brigands are literally animated sketches (in contrast to the highly refined main characters). The settings are drawn with squashed perspective as a homage to Persian miniatures paintings.

The story itself combines comedy, romance, fantasy, with a little bit of scares. The One-Eye Army is reminiscent of the Teutonic soldiers in Alexander Nevsky - led by the massive Mighty One-Eye. The Thief constantly gets into injury or mishaps as if he were a human Wile E. Coyote (not a coincidence since Ken Harris, the main animator for the thief, often animated the classic Roadrunner cartoons). Tack is constantly at work - sometimes repairing shoes in his sleep.

The centerpiece of the film, though, is the gigantic One-Eye Army War Machine. Filled with Rube Goldberg mousetrap devices. The destruction sets off a chain reaction, resulting in self-destruction.

Featuring beautiful and stunning animation, wonderful vocal performances, and plenty of laughs - The Thief and the Cobbler almost had a chance at being the greatest animated film ever made.

After decades of work, with only 15 minutes of animation to complete in 4 months, the investors pulled out of a negative pickup deal, resulting in the incomplete film to be bought-out by the Completion Bond Company. Richard Williams was taken off his own project. Incomplete animation was farmed out to Korea where it was finished poorly (even compared to the original work). Many voices were re-dubbed, including Sir Anthony Quayle's wonderful King Nod. Insipid musical sequences were added. Over 20 minutes of completed animation were cut out of the film. Tack was given a new voice regardless of his lips moving or not. Originally with an eclectic soundtrack consisting of classical (much from Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade), surreal Wendy Carlos-eque electronic pieces, and even some fierce jazzy sections - it was replaced with a mediocre orchestral score that borrowed heavily from Henry Mancini's themes for The Pink Panther.

While the original story remained intact to an extent, many inexplicable changes were made. Tack, shown to be quite a successful cobbler, was changed via a new opening narration to be an orphan and shoemaker's apprentice. Yum-Yum was changed into a feminist. Originally with a modulated, demonic voice, Mighty One-Eye was redubbed with a laughably tame voice.

The misery did not end there. Miramax picked up distribution for the United States and altered the film even further. The first release was retitled The Princess and the Cobbler. This new version, Arabian Knight made even worse changes. The Thief, thankfully left as a mute in the prior version, was given a voice provided by Jonathan Winters - who seemed to ad-lib the entire performance. Phido, Zig-Zag's vulture, was given a voice even with absolutely no lip-sync. Tack and Yum-Yum were redubbed again, often with the ADR out of sync. Even more footage was deleted such as an entire subplot with the Mad Holy Old Witch (voiced by Carry On ____ regular Joan Sims) and much of the fantastic War Machine sequence. Even worse, this further altered version was marketed as an Aladdin clone - to the point of having overdubs referencing the film.

Even in its truncated and emasculated form, the genius of the original animation is stunning. Negotiations have been off and on since the release of the altered cuts to restore it. The Walt Disney Company currently owns the film and has the power to bring back Richard Williams to allow him to restore and finish the film the way it was intended to be seen.

Until this happens, the only way to see the original film is via VHS tape bootlegs - often from 3rd generation sources. Considering how much a fanbase exists thanks to the bootleg, it would be benificial to Disney and fans for the uncut version to finally be made available not only on DVD, but to be allowed a wide theatrical release. Thanks to the rules of the Academy Award, a theatrical release of a restoration would allow it to win the Best Animated Feature Oscar - among others.

Until then, avoid the current DVD like the plague. The Thief and the Cobbler is one of the rare cel-animated films shot in CinemaScope - at the time of the film's production starting, only two American films shot in wide-format had been made (Disney's The Lady and the Tramp and Sleeping Beauty). The commercial DVD is in pan & scan, which does unforgivable damage to the virtuoso 2.35:1 framing the film had - even the laserdisc preserved this."
Content aside, shame on you Mr. Eisner
R. Holman | SoJo, Utah, USA | 03/11/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)

"I am not here to rant about how what this movie became after Miramax/Disney got a hold of it back in the mid 90's. However, I am here to expound my extreme irritation with this shoddy release.

A little history first: A fullscreen, 2 channel version of this movie on DVD was offered as a free promotional item on cereal boxes in Canada about 5 years ago. I picked one up at that time for a few bucks on an auction site. I still have the cereal box version in my collection, holding out for a Widescreen release, similar to the one that I first saw on Laserdisc. So at long last Disney releases it on DVD and it is the same exact thing that was offered on the cereal box, but now it is the price you see here - ouch! Actually, I found it a local ***-Mart store for half as much, so shame on this place for their price gouging.

This is a clear case of Disney not knowing their audience. It appears family movies are more marketable in fullscreen, even though most buyers of this video are going to be animation fans, original content changes notwithstanding. Disney should have taken the same angle with this one that they took with the excellent Studio Ghibli releases. But the man behind that brilliant maneuver, John Lasseter at Pixar, probably has shaky relations with Disney at this point. So this half-baked release will sit on the shelf next to another crappy Disney release, Mulan II, and gather dust. I'm still waiting for the Widescreen, 5.1 surround version."
an anonymous viewer | 05/21/2005
(1 out of 5 stars)

"It's almost been a full year since I developed interest in this film. I remember reading that Richard Williams himself announced in 2000 at one of his Master classes that the workprint version of The Thief and the Cobbler will be released on DVD. This is contrary to what he promised. It all turns out to be the infamous heavily butchered version from those scissor-happy morons at Miramax! It's almost been 10 years since it was released under the name, Arabian Knight, 3 years after it was disowned from Richard. They first released the DVD a few years ago on boxes of Froot Loops, and only in Canada(how's THAT for insulting?), But this has gone far enough!! I gave this DVD only 1 star, because I want to let you know what a mockery they've made of what would've been the greatest animated film of all time. They've done a lousy job on Special Features. There's only English and French audio, scene selections, and it's only in fullscreen, which subtracts much from the original film. Don't buy this! Instead, spread the word about the film's troubled history and demise, the websites I strongly recommend are:
(This site will tell you everything you need to know about the film. It has, pics, clips from the workprint, articles about the film's history, and a "Help Save It!" part with addresses to write to Disney and Miramax to help inspire releasing the workpint to the public. Believe me, when you read the articles of the film, you'd be outraged. Strongly Recommended site.)
(A small art page dedicated to helping spreading the word on the film in the way it was meant to be. I wasn't a member of the site, but I've contributed a lot of info to the owner, including the original narration to the workprint's opening.)
(An online petition to help release the Workprint version on DVD Uncut and Unedited, Also strongly recommended.)

Also, if Disney and/or Miramax are reading this, if you ever get around restoring the film, I have some Requests for The Thief and the Cobbler: Workprint version: Special Collector's Edition DVD Extras:
* A very special introduction to the DVD, hopefully by Richard Williams himself(He can host other parts of the DVD. Roy E. Disney can appear too, but it should be Williams).

* The Whole Movie Uncut and Unedited (an obvious one).

* In Widescreen (also obvious)

* Fully Digitally Restored and Remastered footage and Audio (also obvious, especially the samples of "Scheherazade" by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov from the workprint).

* A very Special Audio Commentary by Richard Williams or his son, Alex Williams, whichever one's available.(Preferably Richard. He'll pour his heart out the most in the commentary).

* English, Spanish, and French Captions and Subtitles.

* Early and rare Artwork, drawings, and pencils tests.

* All the documentaries documenting the film's progress, courtesy of the BBC.

* An all-new exclusive documentary on the film, its troubled history, and its demise, featuring fans, animators, animation/film historians, family, friends and people who ever worked with Richard, and also featuring clips of his other work in it.

* Richard's commercials and other short films, The Little Island; Love Me, Love Me, Love Me, etc. Courtesy of him.

* A small acknowledgment to those loyal and determined fans who pitched in to make this DVD possible.

And there better be at least 11 of those features on that DVD(that would be all of them, if you've counted, correctly).The DVD can be a limited series like the Walt Disney Treasures, but you should make widespread copies for everyone's access. You can do either one, as long as it's how Richard Williams intended it. We want this to be one heck of a DVD, with the same care and top notch quality as Miyazaki's films, and other features to make this DVD worthy of the name,"Special Collectors's Edition". The Australians (who have The Princess and the Cobbler) deserve this DVD, too. Maybe a limited theatrical release across American cinemas and IMAX theatres wouldn't be bad either. It's all part of the plan of releasing the workprint to the public, isn't it? Richard and his associates MUST be round the restoration project at all times, and let him design the poster/DVD cover.

It's up to us to help convince Disney/Miramax to make Richard's dream come true, even if it's going to be risky and expensive. And I don't care how relations between the 2 companies are, there's a vision to be restored, and they need to do it, now! One more thing, Stay away from the Butchered Version.

1-star not for what the movie is, but what it became
TrezKu13 | Norfolk, VA | 03/05/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)

"When I was studying animation at college, we had the honor of Don Bluth coming to speak after a showing of "The Secret of NIMH". One of the things he said was that the problem with modern animated films is that instead of writing a good story there is more effort on making corny jokes or pop-culture references every second, thereby turning the movie into an hour-and-a-half sitcom. This quote perfectly came to mind as I watched this, the "official" release of Richard Williams' life work.

Another reviewer labeled this as "The Magnificent Ambersons of Animation", and that is a very, very fitting title for this. If you can, go and find the fan-edited version which does its best to remain faithful to Williams' original idea. Then try watching this, and see how - after Williams had passed away - the studio butchered and ruined it, apparently never realizing just what a beautiful piece of artwork they had.

In the original story, in a mystical (and furthermore, mythological) Arabian city, we are presented with two heroes: the Thief and the cobbler named Tack. The Thief is silent the entire film, while Tack only speaks the last line of the film. Due to a series of circumstances, Tack gets thrown into the palace dungeon and falls in love with the Princess Yum-Yum while the Thief steals the three golden balls prophesied to defend the city from destruction. Behind all this the wizard Zig Zag (wonderfully voiced by Vincent Price, who steals the show) seeks to gain control of the city and force the princess to be his bride. When the golden balls are lost and the city finds itself under siege by the warring tribe called the One-Eyes, it is up to Tack, Yum-Yum, the Thief, and an assortment of other characters to save the day. This version of the film is fun, exciting, and has a style all its own. The climax (a good ten to fifteen minutes) is very well done. The entire film is a testament to good animation, particular those scenes involving Zig Zag.

The studio edit, which is unfortunately the only one you can buy in stores, is a travesty to the original version. Inserted are goofy songs that we didn't need, changed are the voice actors with celebrities we could've cared less about, taken out are several hilarious gags, the city is identified as Baghdad (which is kinda ironic now), and sliced away are many well-done scenes involving the ingenuity of Tack and the Thief. Added in are also waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too many narrations. Tack now speaks through out the entire film, not only speaking to other characters but also narrating the entire movie as if we're too stupid to understand what was going on. Worst yet, the Thief has a voice-over, and it couldn't be any more senseless! The Thief's mouth doesn't move the entire film, yet he still speaks almost every time he's on the screen, and by gosh he WON'T SHUT UP! It doesn't stop here though - not only do the people talk, but the animals too. Given similar treatment as the Thief, the studio editors gave voice actors to Fido, Zig Zag's buzzard, and the alligators Zig Zag later tames. I mean, seriously folks, would people have walked away from the movie saying, "Wow, that was almost a good movie, too bad they didn't make the buzzard talk." When Disney's studio was making "Snow White", they had originally voiced Dopey but soon realized the character worked better pantomiming - why wasn't this wisdom seen with the studio editors?

To emphasize how bad and pointless these voice-over style acting was, there were several points in the movie where I glanced at the bottom right of the screen to see if there was a guy and two robots sitting there. All the wit and wonder of the original story is lost when nobody except the film's distributors seems to be taking it seriously.

Again, I would suggest finding the fan-edit of this movie out there. It exists and is easy to find, and I can guarantee you will enjoy it a thousand times more than this drivel."