The Thief and the Cobbler

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The Thief and the Cobbler
An unreleased poster made near the end of the film's production, before it was taken from Williams
Directed byRichard Williams
Written by
  • Richard Williams
  • Margaret French
Produced by
StarringVincent Price
CinematographyJohn Leatherbarrow
Edited byPeter Bond
Music by
Distributed by
  • Miramax Films (Arabian Knight)
  • Majestic Films (The Princess and the Cobbler)
Release dates
  • 13 May 1992 (1992-05-13) (Workprint)
  • 23 September 1993 (1993-09-23) (The Princess and the Cobbler)
  • 25 August 1995 (1995-08-25) (Arabian Knight)
Running time
  • 91 minutes (Workprint)
  • 80 minutes (The Princess and the Cobbler)
  • 72 minutes (Arabian Knight)
  • [1]
  • United Kingdom
  • United States
  • Canada
Budget$28 million[2]
Box office$669,276[3]

The Thief and the Cobbler is an unfinished animated fantasy film co-written and directed by Richard Williams.[4] Originally conceived in the 1960s, the film was in and out of production for nearly three decades due to independent funding and ambitiously complex animation. It was finally placed into full production in 1989, when Warner Bros. agreed to finance and distribute the film.[5] When production went over budget and fell behind schedule, it was heavily cut and hastily re-edited by producer Fred Calvert without Williams' involvement; it was eventually released by Allied Filmmakers in 1993 under the title The Princess and the Cobbler. Two years later, Disney's Miramax Films released another re-edit titled Arabian Knight.[6] Both versions of the film performed poorly at the box office and received mixed reviews.

Over the years, various people and companies, including Roy E. Disney, have discussed restoring the film to its original version. In 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences archived Williams' own 35 mm workprint; Williams himself acknowledged the film's rehabilitated reputation, thanks to projects like The Recobbled Cut, a popular fan edit by Garrett Gilchrist, and Persistence of Vision, a 2012 documentary by Kevin Schreck detailing the film's production.

With The Thief and the Cobbler being in and out of production from 1964 until 1993, a total of 29 years, it is among films with longest production times. It was also the final film for several actors and artists, including animators Ken Harris (died 1982), Errol Le Cain (died 1989), Emery Hawkins (died 1989), Grim Natwick (died 1990), and Art Babbitt (died 1992), as well as actors Felix Aylmer (died 1979), Eddie Byrne (died 1981), Clinton Sundberg (died 1987), Kenneth Williams (died 1988), Sir Anthony Quayle (died 1989), and Vincent Price (died 1993, a month after the film's initial release).


1992 workprint (unfinished)[edit]

The prosperous Golden City is ruled by the narcoleptic King Nod and protected by three Golden Balls atop its tallest minaret. According to a prophecy, the city would fall to "destruction and death" if the Balls are removed, and could only be saved by "the simplest soul with the smallest and simplest of things". Living in the city is a cobbler, Tack, and a nameless, unsuccessful yet persistent Thief, both mute.

When the Thief sneaks into Tack's house, the two get stitched together and stumble outside, causing Tack's tacks to fall onto the street. Zigzag, King Nod's Grand Vizier, who speaks in rhyme, steps on one of the tacks and orders Tack to be arrested while the Thief escapes. Tack is brought before King Nod and his daughter, Princess Yum-Yum. Before Zigzag can convince King Nod to have Tack beheaded, Yum-Yum saves Tack by ordering him to fix a shoe she intentionally breaks. During repairs, Tack and Yum-Yum become increasingly attracted to each other, much to the jealousy of Zigzag, who plots to take over the kingdom by marrying the princess.

Meanwhile, the Thief, having noticed the Golden Balls atop the minaret on the courtyard, breaks into the palace through a gutter. He steals the repaired shoe from Tack, prompting the cobbler to chase him through the palace. Upon retrieving the shoe, Tack bumps into Zigzag, who notices the shoe is fixed and imprisons Tack in a cell.

One-Eyes, a race of warlike, cycloptic monsters, plan to destroy the city, and have already slaughtered much of its frontier guard, all except for one mortally wounded soldier who escapes to warn the city; the next morning, King Nod has a vision of them. While Zigzag tries to convince Nod of the kingdom's security, the Thief steals the Balls after several attempts, only to lose them to Zigzag's minions. Tack escapes from his cell using his cobbling tools during the ensuing panic. King Nod notices the Balls' disappearance when the soldier warns them of the invading One-Eyes. Zigzag attempts to use the stolen Balls to negotiate Yum-Yum's hand in marriage in exchange for returning the Balls, but when King Nod dismisses him, Zigzag defects to the One-Eyes and gives them the Balls instead.

King Nod sends Yum-Yum, her nurse, and Tack to ask for help from a "mad and holy old Witch" in the desert. They are secretly followed by the Thief, who hears of a golden idol on the journey but fails in stealing it. In the desert, they discover a band of dimwitted brigands, led by Chief Roofless, whom Yum-Yum recruits as her bodyguards. They reach the hand-shaped tower where the Witch lives, and learn that Tack is prophesied to save the Golden City. The Witch also presents a riddle—"Attack, attack, Tack! A tack, see? But it's what you do with what you've got!"—before destroying the entire tower with a storm cloud. Tack and the others return to the Golden City to find the One-Eyes' massive war machine approaching. Tack shoots a single tack into the enemy's midst, sparking a Goldberg-esque chain reaction that destroys the entire One-Eye army. Zigzag tries to escape but falls into a pit where he is eaten alive by alligators and his vulture, Phido. The Thief, avoiding death with almost every step, steals the Golden Balls from the collapsing machine, only to run into Tack whilst escaping, and after a brief scuffle, he reluctantly gives up and leaves Tack with the Balls. With peace restored and the prophecy fulfilled, the city celebrates Cheer as Tack and Yum-Yum marry; Tack finally says "I love you" in a very deep voice. The film ends with the Thief stealing the reel of film and running away.

Changes made in subsequent versions[edit]

The Princess and the Cobbler (1993, Allied Filmmakers)[edit]

The Allied Filmmakers cut is drastically different from the unfinished workprint. These changes include:

  • Four musical numbers have been added ("She Is More", "Am I Feeling Love?", "Bom Bom Bom Beem Bom", and "It's So Amazing"); the film originally had none.
  • An entirely new score composed by Robert Folk replaces the one utilized in the workprint.
  • Many scenes have been cut, primarily involving the Thief, most notably his attempted theft of an emerald and his subsequent evasion of capital punishment for it (though many of these scenes appear in the credits), and the subplot wherein Zigzag tries to feed Tack to Phido.
  • The introduction of the One-Eyes is moved to the beginning of the film, after it is stated that if the Golden Balls were removed, then the city would fall to doom and destruction.
  • All of the mentions to the maiden from Mombasa, whom Zigzag gives to King Nod as a "plaything" in the workprint, were removed.
  • Tack, almost mute in the workprint, speaks several times and narrates most scenes in past tense; the workprint had narration only in the beginning by a voiceover.
  • Some subplots have been added; in one, Yum-Yum is tired of living a life of "regal splendor", and wishes to prove her worth to her father.
    • Another subplot sees the nurse initially disliking Tack, and scolding Yum-Yum for harboring romantic feelings for him, but warming to him later on.
  • The "soliloquy" scene, wherein Zigzag formulates his plan to make Yum-Yum his bride, while teasing his vulture Phido in the process, is moved to a point earlier in the film, just after King Nod tells Tack to go with the Princess. The scene is also cut down, so it's only shown up to the part where Phido gets burnt on the torch.
  • When Zigzag tells King Nod he will give him the Balls as long as he lets him marry Princess Yum-Yum, in the workprint King Nod angrily tells him never and orders him to leave the palace, while in the Allied Filmmakers version he laughs him off and says that he'll never marry her since he's a practitioner of the black arts rather than someone pure of heart.
  • When the Mighty One-Eye sees the destruction of the war machine, he wails in a horrified voice, "My machine!" as his slave women find him and start chanting "Throne!" at him, before picking him up and throwing him into the destruction. In the workprint, he instead goes onto all fours and they all sit on him.
  • A scene during the climax is added where Zigzag pushes Tack out of his way and kidnaps Yum-Yum, who then throws his horse off balance. During his fight with the sorcerer, Tack then stitches Zigzag up and when the tied up Zigzag tries to escape, he steps on another tack causing him to fall into the pit with the alligators.
  • In the scene, Phido taking a bite of his master is significantly cut, so it doesn't show him completely closing his mouth.
  • When the Thief escapes the war machine, he runs into the King's guards, but King Nod believes that the Thief found the Balls, so the Thief reluctantly gives them to Tack and is hailed as a hero alongside him. In the workprint, he ran into Tack, and simply gave up on trying to steal the Balls before storming off back into the destruction.

Arabian Knight (1995, Miramax)[edit]

The Miramax cut includes all changes made in the Allied Filmmakers cut. In addition, several other changes that were requested by then-CEO Harvey Weinstein were added.

  • Several lesser-known actors are replaced by more notable actors in this version. Matthew Broderick replaced Steve Lively as Tack, Jennifer Beals replaced Bobbi Page as Princess Yum-Yum (though their singing voices are still kept), and Toni Collette replaced Mona Marshall as the Nurse and the Witch.
  • In addition to the recasts, many previously mute characters are given voices including Phido (now voiced by Eric Bogosian), the alligators, and most notably the Thief (now voiced by Jonathan Winters), who narrates over all of his scenes in the form of an inner monologue, with much of his lines also including anachronistic pop culture references.
  • Several cartoony sound effects are added in the sound mix.
  • The Golden City is now sometimes referred to as Baghdad.
  • Additional dialogue is added via an announcer as Zigzag is introduced. At the end of said scene, some yelps are even heard from various people in the crowd when Zigzag steps on a tack.
  • An extra (unseen) character is added: the Thief's mother, who argues with him while he is scaling the pipes.
  • The scene of the Thief looking at his own reflection and running off adds a high-pitched scream.
  • It is stated that the Witch is the Mighty One-Eye's twin sister, explaining why she starts off as an eye when she is introduced.
  • The sequence featuring the Witch has been almost entirely removed, though her eyeball and ghost forms are kept.
  • Most scenes featuring the Mighty One-Eye's slave women in detail have been removed, although he can still be seen sitting on them due to it being part of an important scene.
  • Most of the final battle sequence, which had already been greatly shortened in the Allied cut, is trimmed, most likely for time.
  • Due to the removal of the slave women, One-Eye's death is cut, though he can be heard crying, "My machine!" as the war machine burns, whereupon he presumably burns with it.
  • The ending musical number "It's So Amazing" is cut and instead moved to the end credits (which this time contains no background), while the number is replaced by a scene of the Thief trying to steal the Golden Balls, only for him to fly through the tower's window, which was included in the credits of the Calvert version.
  • Some pieces of music are replaced, moved to different areas, or new pieces of music composed by Jack Maeby are added into some scenes.


From left to right: Tack the Cobbler, Zigzag the Grand Vizier, King Nod, and Princess Yum-Yum. The character designs are a combination of UPA and Disney styles,[5][7] and the overall style[8] and flat perspective are inspired by Persian miniature paintings.[9][10]
Character Original version
(The Thief and the Cobbler)
Fred Calvert versionf
(The Princess and the Cobbler)
Miramax versionf
(Arabian Knight)
Zigzag the Grand Vizier Vincent Price
Richard Williams (Additional dialogue, uncredited)
Tack the Cobbler Unknown (Only one line)a Steve Lively Matthew Broderick (Speaking)
Steve Lively (Singing)
Narrator Felix Aylmer Unknown (Uncredited) Matthew Broderick
Princess Yum-Yum Sara Crowe Bobbi Page
Sara Crowe (One vocalisation)b
Jennifer Beals (Speaking)
Bobbi Page (Singing)
The Thief Unknown (Never speaks)c Ed E. Carroll Jonathan Winters
King Nod Anthony Quayle Clive Revill (Clive Revill re-recorded a few lines for the Miramax version)
Anthony Quayle (One scene, uncredited)d
Princess Yum-Yum's Nurse Joan Sims Mona Marshall
Joan Sims (Some vocalisations, uncredited)
Toni Collette
Mad and Holy Old Witch Joan Sims Mona Marshall
Joan Sims (Some lines)e
Toni Collette
Chief Roofless Windsor Davies
Mighty One-Eye Christopher Greener Kevin Dorsey
Phido Donald Pleasence Eric Bogosian
Donald Pleasence (few squawks, uncredited)
Dying Soldier Clinton Sundberg
Goblet Kenneth Williams
Gofer Stanley Baxter
Dwarf George Melly    
Hoof Eddie Byrne
Hook Thick Wilson
Goolie Frederick Shaw
Maiden from Mombasa Margaret French    
Laughing Brigand Richard Williams (Uncredited)
Other Brigands Joss Ackland
Peter Clayton
Derek Hinson
Declan Mulholland
Mike Nash
Dermot Walsh
Ramsay Williams
Joss Ackland (Uncredited)
Peter Clayton
Geoff Golden
Derek Hinson
Declan Mulholland
Mike Nash
Tony Scannell
Dermot Walsh
Ramsay Williams
Rik Mayall (Uncredited)
Singers for the Brigands   Randy Crenshaw
Kevin Dorsey
Roger Freeland
Nick Jameson
Bob Joyce
Jon Joyce
Kerry Katz
Ted King
Michael Lanning
Raymond McLeod
Rick Charles Nelson
Scott Rummell
"Am I Feeling Love?" pop singers   Arnold McCuller
Andrea Robinson
Additional Voices     Ed E. Carroll
Steve Lively
Mona Marshall
Bobbi Page
Donald Pleasence


^a According to Richard Williams, Sean Connery was set to record Tack's one line, but never showed up at the studio, so the line was instead performed by a friend of his wife's. However, Connery's name remains credited as Tack in the end credits of the "Recobbled Cut" version.

^b While Yum-Yum's dialogue was mostly re-voiced by Bobbi Page for the Allied Filmmakers version, one vocal effect from Crowe is retained when Yum-Yum throws her pear at Zigzag in disgust during the polo game.

^c In both of the 1992 workprints, the Thief is heard making short grunts/wheezes in a few scenes—though not as many as in the Allied Filmmakers version. It is unclear who provided these sounds, but it is known that Carroll did the additional ones for the Allied Filmmakers version.

^d Although Quayle's voice was mostly re-dubbed by Revill in the re-edited versions of the film by Allied Filmmakers and Miramax, Quayle's uncredited voice can still be heard for an entire scene when King Nod gives a speech to his subjects.

^e Sims' voice for the Witch was mostly re-dubbed by Marshall, but a few lines spoken by Sims were retained after she first fully materializes and when she receives her chest of money all the way up to the part when she's in a basket lighting a match to the fumes.

^f Fred Calvert is credited on both of these versions.

Hilary Pritchard was initially cast as Yum-Yum and is listed in some of the original drafts of the script and a 1989 Cannes brochure. By the time of the 1992 workprints, she had been replaced by Sara Crowe. Despite this, Pritchard's name was still retained in the credits of the "Recobbled Cut" version.

Similarly, Miriam Margolyes was initially billed as the Maiden from Mombasa, but the workprint features co-writer Margaret French as the Maiden.

According to animator Michael Sporn, Paul Matthews was an African-American delivery person with a deep, dark voice whom Williams met in an elevator on the way to a rehearsal space during production on Raggedy Ann and Andy: A Musical Adventure. Matthews had not done any acting before, and so Williams had promptly cast him as the Mighty One-Eye. Not long afterwards, however, Williams, wanting to go in a different direction, replaced Matthews' voice with "England's tallest man" Christopher Greener (mistakenly credited as Christopher Greenham or Chris Greenham in several pamphlets promoting the film) as the Mighty One-Eye.[11][12][13] Despite this, Matthews is still credited as the Mighty One-Eye in the "Recobbled Cut" version.

Several minor characters, including the Eunuchs, the Guards who catch the Thief and sentence him to a hand-chopping, the polo players, the One-Eye soldiers, and the slave women, among others, are voiced by unknown actors. Gort, the tall subordinate, the guards protecting the ruby near the Witch's mountain, and the little child who King Nod runs up to crying for help to help his daughter do not have any lines.

Catherine Schell and Thick Wilson (who was also the voice of Hook in this film) were proposed as the voices Princess Mee-Mee, the sister of Princess Yum-Yum, and the enchanted ogre Prince Bubba, respectively, in an early draft of the film. Both characters were dropped in 1989 at the request of Warner Bros.

Revill dubbed in additional dialogue as King Nod for the Miramax version, e.g. explaining that the Witch is "One-Eye's twin sister, the bearer of his other eye." When he bids farewell to Yum-Yum, his line is also different.

Many of the minor characters, such as Goblet, Gofer, Tickle, Slap, the Dying Soldier, and the alligators all have additional dialogue provided by currently unknown voice actors in the Miramax version. Additional characters exclusive to the Miramax version, including Zigzag's announcer and the Thief's mother, are voiced by unknown actors. Also, in the Miramax version, some lines from the brigands and the camel's laughter appear to be re-dubbed, again by unknown actors.

Production history[edit]

Development and early production as Nasrudin (1964–1972)[edit]

In 1964, Richard Williams, a Canadian animator living in the United Kingdom, 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,[7] which collected the tales of Mulla Nasruddin,[2] a philosophical yet "wise fool" of Near Eastern folklore from the 13th century. Williams began development work on a film based on the stories, with Shah and his family championing production.[2][14] Shah asked for 50% of the profits from the film, and his sister, author and folklorist Amina Shah, who had done some of the translations for the Nasrudin books, stated ownership of the stories.[7][15] 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".[2]

Williams took on television and feature film projects in order to fund his project, and work on his film progressed slowly. Williams hired veteran Warner Bros. animator Ken Harris as a chief animator on the project,[14] which was then titled The Amazing Nasrudin. Roy Naisbitt was hired to design backgrounds for the film,[14] and promotional art showed intricate Indian and Persian designs.[2][9] In 1970, the project was re-titled The Majestic Fool. For the first time, a potential distributor for the independent film was mentioned–in this case, British Lion Film Corporation. The International Film Guide noted that the Williams Studio's staff had increased to forty people for production of the feature.[2] 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.

Dialogue tracks for the film, now being referred to as just Nasrudin, were recorded at this time. Actor Vincent Price was hired to perform the voice of the villain Anwar, later renamed "Zigzag",[2] originally assigned to Kenneth Williams. Price was hired to make the villain more enjoyable for Williams, as he was a great fan of Price's work and Zigzag was based on two people that Williams hated. In addition to Price, Sir Anthony Quayle was cast as King Nod.[16]

According to composer Howard Blake, Williams and the studio had animated around three hours of footage for Nasrudin by 1972. 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.[14] The Shah family had a bookkeeper who was not keeping track of the studio's accounting, so Williams felt that producer Omar Ali-Shah had been embezzling financing from the studio for his own purposes.[14] As a result, Williams was forced to abandon Nasrudin, as the Shah family took the rights of his illustrations, and Paramount Pictures withdrew a deal they had been negotiating.[15] 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.[14]

Prolonged production (1972–1978)[edit]

The film went through many name changes before becoming The Thief and the Cobbler; other names included The Thief Who Never Gave Up[16] and Once....[17] Older character designs as well as characters that were later removed from the film can be seen within the Once... logo.

In 1973, Williams commissioned a new script from Howard Blake, who wrote a treatment called Tin Tack that incorporated a character who is a clumsy cobbler named Tack, and retained Williams' thief character from Nasrudin.[14] The script would later be scrapped, but the character of Tack would be incorporated in another script written by Margaret French,[18] which would use characters from Nasrudin, including a sleepy king, a thief and an evil vizier originally named Anwar. Many scenes that did not include Nasrudin himself were also retained.[2] Throughout the 1970s, Williams would further rewrite the script with Margaret French, his wife at the time.[14]

Williams later began promising his new film as a "100-minute Panavision animated epic feature film with a hand-drawn cast of thousands."[2] The characters were renamed at this point. Zigzag speaks mostly in rhyme throughout the entire film, while the other characters—with the exceptions of the Thief and Tack, who are mute—speak normally. Williams stated that he did not intend to follow "the Disney route" with his film, stating that it would be "the first animated film with a real plot that locks together like a detective story at the end." He also said that with its two mute main characters, it was essentially "a silent movie with a lot of sound."[2] Silent comedies, like films from Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon, were already an inspiration on Nasrudin and carried over to the new film. Tack was modeled after said silent film stars.[14]

British illustrator Errol Le Cain created inspirational paintings and backgrounds, setting the style for the film.[8] During the decades that the film was being made, the characters were redesigned several times and scenes were reanimated. Test animation of Princess Yum-Yum, as featured in the released versions, was traced from the live-action film Muqaddar Ka Sikandar,[19] with her design slightly changed later on in production.[20] In Williams' early drafts, the climax included a final battle with Zigzag after the collapse of the War Machine, where he conjures a larger-than-life Chinese dragon, only for Tack to reveal it to be nothing more than an inflatable balloon. Although there were some production designs of said scene, it was never made since it was found to be too difficult to animate.[6]

In 1974, a recession forced the studio to focus primarily on various TV commercial, special and feature film title assignments, leaving Williams' film to be worked on as a side project.[14] Since Williams had no money to have a full team working on the film, which was a "giant epic", production dragged for decades.[17] Ken Harris was still chief animator on the film, as he had been since Nasrudin, and Williams would assign him sequences while he was supervising production on commercials.[14] To save money, scenes were kept in pencil stage without colour, as advised by Richard Purdum: "Work on paper! Don't put it in colour. Don't spend on special effects. Don't do camera-work, tracing or painting... just do the rough drawings!"[21] Williams was planning to later finish these sequences when the financing would come in.

Williams was learning the art of animation himself during the production of his film; his animation during the 1960s typically featured stylized designs in the vein of UPA animated shorts. Williams hired veteran animators from the golden age of animation, such as Art Babbitt, Emery Hawkins and Grim Natwick, to work at his studio in London and help teach him and his staff.[16][22] Williams learned also from Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston, and Ken Anderson at Disney, to whom he made yearly visits[23] and would later pass their knowledge to the new generation of animators.[14][24] Williams also allowed animators like Natwick and Babbitt to work on the studio assignments, such as the 1977 feature Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure. The Mad Holy Old Witch was designed as a caricature of animator Grim Natwick,[25] by whom she was animated. After Natwick died, Williams would animate the Witch himself.

As years passed, the project became more ambitious. Williams said that his idea was "to make the best animated film that has ever been made—there really is no reason why not."[17] He also envisioned the film to feature very detailed and complex animation, the likes he thought no other studio would attempt to achieve.[5][9][7][14] Additionally, much of the film's animation would be photographed "on ones", meaning that the animation would run at full 24 frames per second as opposed to the more common animation "on twos", in twelve frames per second.[5][7][15]

Gaining financial backing (1978–1988)[edit]

In 1978, Saudi Arabian prince Mohammed bin Faisal Al Saud became interested in The Thief, and agreed to fund a ten-minute test sequence with a 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 late 1979 for $250,000. Despite his positive impression of the finished scene,[15] Faisal backed out of the production because of missed deadlines and budgetary overruns.[7][14]

In the 1980s, Williams put together a 20-minute sample reel of The Thief, which he showed to Milt Kahl, a friend and one of his animation mentors, at Skywalker Ranch in Marin County.[26] Star Wars producer Gary Kurtz briefly worked with Williams to attempt to get financing in the mid-1980s. In 1986, Williams met producer Jake Eberts, who began funding the production through his Allied Filmmakers company and eventually provided US$10 million of the film's $28 million budget.[2][27] 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 identical twin sister voiced by Catherine Schell, and the Prince Bubba, who had been turned into an ogre and was voiced by Thick Wilson,[20] was deleted, and some of Grim Natwick's animation of the Witch had to be discarded. Also deleted was Ken Harris's sequence of a Brigand dreaming of a Biblical temptress.[2]

Steven Spielberg saw the footage of The Thief and was impressed enough that he and Robert Zemeckis asked Williams to direct the animation of Zemeckis' film Who Framed Roger Rabbit.[5][6][7][15] Williams agreed in order to get financing for The Thief and the Cobbler and get it finally finished. Roger Rabbit was released by Disney (under their Touchstone Pictures banner) in 1988, and became a blockbuster hit. Williams won two Oscars for his animation and contributions to the visual effects. Although Roger Rabbit 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.[2] Disney and Spielberg told Williams that in return for doing Roger Rabbit, they would help distribute his film.[28] This plan did not come to pass. Disney began to put their attention more in their own feature animation, while Spielberg instead opened a rival feature animation studio in London.

Following his success, Williams and Warner Bros. negotiated a funding and a distribution deal for The Thief and the Cobbler, which included a $25 million marketing budget.[14] Williams' current wife Imogen Sutton suggested him to finance Thief with European backers, citing his appreciation of foreign films. Richard insisted he could produce the film with a major studio.[29] Williams and Warner Bros. signed a negative pickup deal in late 1988, and Williams also received financial aid from Japanese investors.[7][15] He 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."[30]

Production under Warner Bros. (1989–1992)[edit]

This uncolourised scene is one of many that were animated by hand to move in three dimensions without CGI. The scene exists only in Williams' original, unfinished version, and was cut along with many others in the two released versions.

With the new funding, the film finally went into full production in 1989. Williams scoured art schools in Europe and Canada to find talented artists.[6] At this point, with almost all of the original animators either deceased or having long since moved on to other projects, production began mostly with a new, younger team of animators, including Richard'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 had not storyboarded the film since he found such a method to be too controlling.[2] Vincent Price had originally recorded his dialogue from 1967 to 1973. Williams recorded further dialogue with Price for the 1990 production, but Price's old age and illness meant that some lines remained unfinished.

Williams had experimented with shots with characters animated by hand to move in three dimensions, including several shots in Roger Rabbit's opening sequence. With Thief, Williams began planning several sequences to feature a greater use of this technique, including Tack and the Thief's palace chase, which was achieved without computer-generated imagery. According to rumours, Williams approached The Thief with a live-action point of view, coming off of Roger Rabbit. He was creating extra footage and extending sequences to trim down later, and would have edited down the workprint he later assembled.[14][31]

Warner Bros. had signed a deal with the Completion Bond Company to ensure that the studio would be given a finished film, otherwise they would finish The Thief under their management.[14] Dedicated but pressured, Williams was taking his time to ensure sequences would look perfect. Animators were working overtime, sometimes with sixty hours a week required, to get the film done. While Williams encouraged the best out of people, discipline was harsh and animators were frequently fired.[14] Cameraman John Leatherbarrow recalled, "He fired hundreds of people. There's a list as long as your arm of people fired by Dick. It was a regular event. [...] There was one guy who got fired on the doorstep." Williams was just as hard on himself, with animator Roger Vizard stating, "He was the first person in the morning and the last one out at night."[6] 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 Bros. originally imposed upon Williams,[6] and had approximately 10 to 15 minutes of screen time to complete, which, at Williams' rate, was estimated to take "a tight six months" or longer.[9][7] The animation department at Warner Bros. had put their enthusiasm towards high-quality television animation, but had little confidence towards backing feature animation. The studio had already released The Nutcracker Prince, a Canadian-produced animated feature, in 1990 to almost no promotion. Jean MacCurdy, Warner Bros.' then-head of animation, did not know anything about animation, as she admitted to an artist who had worked for Williams while she was seeing footage of The Thief.[14] Another animator salvaged almost 40 minutes of 35 mm dailies footage from MacCurdy's trash.[32] Meanwhile, Walt Disney Feature Animation had begun work on Aladdin, a film that 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 its Genie, as animated by Williams Studio alumnus Andreas Deja and Eric Goldberg.[33][34]

The Completion Bond Company asked television animation producer Fred Calvert to do a detailed analysis of the production status.[9] Calvert traveled to Williams' London studio several times to check on progress of the film, and concluded that Williams was "woefully behind schedule and way over budget."[2] Williams had a script, but "he wasn't following it faithfully." According to Garrett Gilchrist, however, this anecdote is false,[18] as Calvert and people from the Completion Bond Company were visiting the studio more often towards the end of production. Williams was giving dailies of sequences that were finished or scrapped since the 1980s, hoping to give an indication of progress to Warner Bros.[14] He 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.[6][7] He 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.[9] 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.[14]

On 13 May 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 did not help matters.[29] The studio lost confidence and backed out of production entirely, and the Completion Bond Company seized control of the film, ousting Williams from the project.[6][7] Jake Eberts, then an executive producer, also abandoned the project.[9] Additionally, Williams said that the production had lost a source of funding when Japanese investors pulled out due to the recession following the Japanese asset price bubble.[35] Fans have cited this decision as an example of a trend of animated films being tampered with by studio executives.[36]

Production under Fred Calvert (1992–1993)[edit]

Sue Shakespeare of Creative Capers Entertainment had previously offered to solve story problems with Richard Williams, suggested to bring in 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,[37] whom the company had assigned 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."[27]

It took Calvert 18 months to finish the film,[6] which was turned into a Disney-type musical.[38][39][40] The new scenes were photographed "on twos" rather than "on ones", 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, the Dublin-based studio headed by former Disney animator Don Bluth, animated the first song sequence "She Is More", and Kroyer Films produced the second number "Am I Feeling Love?".[2][6] The animation was subcontracted to Wang Film Productions in Taiwan and its division Thai Wang Film Productions in Thailand, as well as Pacific Rim Animation in China and Varga Studio in Hungary.

Approximately 18 minutes of completed animation were cut by Calvert due to the repetitive nature of the scenes.[2] 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."[2]


After the movie was completed, Allied Filmmakers, along with Majestic Films, reacquired the distribution rights from the Completion Bond Company. Calvert's version of the film was distributed in South Africa and in Australia as The Princess and the Cobbler on 23 September 1993.

In December 1994, Miramax Films, then a subsidiary of Disney (which had already released Aladdin first), bought the North American rights to the film, which had already been rejected by several other American distributors. Calvert recalls, "It was a very difficult film to market, it had such a reputation, that I don't think they were looking at it objectively."[6] Originally planning to release the Princess and the Cobbler version, then-Miramax president Harvey Weinstein decided to recut the film even further[39] and released their version entitled Arabian Knight. This version featured newly written dialogue by Eric Gilliland, Michael Hitchcock and Gary Glasberg, with a celebrity voice cast that was added months before the film's release.

Jake Eberts found that "It was significantly enhanced and changed by Miramax after they stepped in and acquired the domestic distribution rights." His comments on record, claiming that these altered versions were superior to Williams' version, indicated that Eberts had also lost confidence in Williams when the Completion Bond Company seized the film.[9][27] Arabian Knight was quietly released by Miramax on 25 August 1995. It opened on 510 screens,[2] and grossed US$319,723[6][27] (on an estimated budget of $24 million) during its theatrical run.

Home media[edit]

The Allied Filmmakers version of the film was released on VHS in Australia by Columbia TriStar Home Video in 1994.

The Miramax version was set to be released by Miramax Home Entertainment on VHS in December 1995, five months after its theatrical release. However, it was eventually released on 18 February 1997, under its original title The Thief and the Cobbler.[9] A widescreen LaserDisc was also released. The Miramax version of the film appeared on a DVD as a giveaway promotion in packages of Froot Loops cereal;[14] its first DVD release. In 2001, this pan and scan DVD was released through Canadian studio Alliance Atlantis, which, at the time, distributed many of Miramax's films in Canada. It came in a paper sleeve and had no special features, other than the choice of English or French-language tracks. The Miramax version was first released on DVD in Japan by the Daiichi Kosho Company in 2002, using a widescreen copy of Miramax's Arabian Knight version with English and Japanese-language tracks. The Allied Filmmakers version was released on a pan and scan DVD in Australia in 2003 by Magna Pacific. However, it is severely cropped, and there are no additional features on the DVD.

A commercially released North American DVD of the Miramax version was released by Miramax Family on 8 March 2005. This was basically the same as the Froot Loops cereal DVD, albeit with a new menu design and the addition of trailers for My Scene Goes Hollywood: The Movie and Pokémon: Destiny Deoxys. This DVD was re-released by The Weinstein Company Home Entertainment on 21 November 2006. Although the information supplied to online retailers said that it would be a new special edition, it was in fact only a reissue of Miramax's earlier DVD with revised packaging and a new set of trailers. The 2006 DVD was found by most reviewers to be unsatisfactory, with the only extra features being trailers for other Weinstein Company family films.[41][42] The Digital Bits listed it as the worst standard-edition DVD of 2006.[43] The Miramax/Weinstein DVD was re-issued again on 3 May 2011 by Echo Bridge Home Entertainment, an independent DVD distributor who made a deal to release 251 titles from the Miramax library until the deal expired in 2014.[44] These releases are now out of print as further scheduling of the Region 1 release has yet to commence as of 2022.[citation needed]

Lionsgate released the Miramax version on DVD in the United Kingdom on 13 February 2012.[45] The film had previously never been released in any form there,[46] ironically where the majority of the production took place.


During production under Allied Filmmakers, four musical numbers were added: "It's So Amazing", "Am I Feeling Love", "She Is More", and "Bom Bom Bom Beem Bom". Note that these songs are only present in both the Princess and the Cobbler version of the film and the Arabian Knight version of the film.

All lyrics are written by Norman Gimbel; all music is composed by Robert Folk.

1."It's So Amazing"Bobbi Page & Steve Lively 
2."Am I Feeling Love"Bobbi Page & Steve Lively 
3."She Is More"Bobbi Page 
4."Bom Bom Bom Beem Bom (We’re What Happens When You Don't Finish School)"The Brigands 


The Miramax version of the film was a commercial failure and received mixed reviews.[39] Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 56% based on eight reviews.[47] Caryn James of The New York Times criticised the songs sung by the princess, calling the lyrics "horrible" and the melodies "forgettable", although he did praise Williams' animation as "among the most glorious and lively ever created".[34] Animation historian Jerry Beck felt that the added voiceovers of Jonathan Winters and Matthew Broderick were unnecessary and unfunny, and that Fred Calvert's new footage didn't meet the standards of Williams' original scenes.[39] The Miramax version has been said to resemble a rip-off of Aladdin.[34][40][48] However, in 2003, the Online Film Critics Society named the film the 81st greatest animated film of all time. In addition, the film won the 1995 Academy of Family Films Award.[49]

Alex Williams, the son of the original director who also worked on the film before it was re-edited, criticised changes made by Calvert and Miramax, called the finished film "more or less unwatchable" and found it "hard to find the spirit of the film as it was originally conceived".[9] For years, Richard Williams was devastated by the film's production and had never publicly discussed it since then.[50] In 2010, however, he discussed the film during an interview about his silent animated short Circus Drawings, a project he shelved in the 1960s before he started work on The Thief.[51][52] He later participated in Q&As for screenings of his 1992 workprint at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater on 10 December 2013[53] and at the BFI Southbank in London on 1 June 2014.[31] Williams also said he has never seen the Calvert and Miramax versions of the film, saying, "I'm not interested, but my son, who is also an animator, did tell me that if I ever want to jump off a bridge, then I should take a look."[54]


The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers, three Irish animated films that based their style on traditional native art, had The Thief and the Cobbler cited as one of their main inspirations. Tomm Moore, the director of all three films, said, "Some friends in college and I were inspired by Richard Williams's unfinished masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler and the Disney movie Mulan, which took indigenous traditional art as the starting point for a beautiful style of 2D animation. I felt that something similar could be done with Irish art."[55]

Restoration attempts[edit]

Richard Williams' workprint was bootlegged after Calvert's versions were released, and copies have been shared among animation fans and professionals for years.[6][9][39] The problem in creating a high-quality restoration is that after the Completion Bond Company had finished the film, many scenes by Williams that were removed disappeared—many of these had fallen into the hands of private parties.[38] Before losing control of the film, Williams had originally kept all artwork safe in a fireproof basement.[17] Additionally, there are legal problems with Miramax.[38]

At the 2000 Annecy Festival, Williams showed Walt Disney Feature Animation head Roy E. Disney his workprint of The Thief, which Roy liked. With Williams' support,[39] Roy Disney began a project to restore The Thief and the Cobbler,[38] seeking original pencil tests and completed footage. However, due to the lackluster reception of most hand-drawn animated films released during the early 2000s, as well as his tough relationship with then-Disney CEO Michael Eisner, Roy left the Walt Disney Company in November 2003, and the project was put on hold.[39] Disney film producer Don Hahn was later made the project supervisor of the restoration. However, after Roy's death in 2009, the project was officially called off.

In 2006, Garrett Gilchrist, a filmmaker, artist and fan of Williams' work, created a non-profit fan restoration of Williams' workprint, titled The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut. It was done in as high quality as possible by combining available sources at the time, including a heavily compressed file of Williams' workprint and the American DVD release of Arabian Knight, which would later be replaced with higher quality footage from the Japanese DVD release. This edit was much supported by numerous people who had worked on the film (with the exception of Richard Williams himself), including Roy Naisbitt, Alex Williams, Andreas Wessel-Therhorn, Tony White, Holger Leihe, Simon Maddocks, Neil Boyle, and Steve Evangelatos, many of whom lent rare material for the project. Some minor changes were made to "make it feel more like a finished film", like adding more music and replacing some bits of audio and storyboards with those from the Princess and the Cobbler version of the film.[56] Certain scenes, like the wedding ending, had to be redrawn frame by frame by Gilchrist due to flaws in the footage. Gilchrist described this as the most complex independent restoration of a film ever undertaken. This edit gained positive reviews on the Internet. Twitch Film called it "the best and most important 'fan edit' ever made".[50]

The Recobbled Cut has been revised three times in 2006, 2008, and 2013. Each version incorporated further higher-quality materials donated by animators from the film, including two rare workprints from the Fred Calvert production that contained footage not available in the released versions. The "Mark 3" version released in 2008 incorporated 21 minutes from a 49-minute reel of rare 35 mm film. Gilchrist's latest version, "Mark 4", was released in September 2013 and edited in HD. "Mark 4" features about 30 minutes of the film in full HD quality, restored from raw 35 mm footage which Gilchrist edited frame by frame. Artists were also commissioned to contribute new artwork and material.[57] Gilchrist's YouTube account, "TheThiefArchive", now serves as an unofficial video archive of Richard Williams' films, titles, commercials, and interviews, including footage from the Nasrudin production. Williams said that while he never saw Gilchrist's Recobbled Cut, he acknowledged the role that the fan edits had played in rehabilitating the film's reputation.[58]

Academy preservation[edit]

Williams stated that his unfinished version, from 13 May 1992, is now archived and digitally duplicated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. "The Academy has it, it's in a 'golden box' now and it's safe," Williams said.[30] The unfinished version, along with a selection of Art Babbitt's animation from the film, has been placed in an archive collection named "The Art Babbitt Collection".[59] A collection of artwork from The Thief is also stored in Disney's "Animation Research Library" in the Feature Animation building.

The unfinished version was screened at the Academy's Samuel Goldwyn Theater under the title The Thief and the Cobbler: A Moment in Time, on 10 December 2013, with Williams in attendance.[60][61] Also attending the screening were other notable filmmakers, animators, composers, critics, actors, and directors like Eric Goldberg, Chris Wedge, June Foray, Alan Menken, David Silverman, Phil Roman, Art Leonardi, Tom Sito, Mark Kausler, John Musker, Ron Clements, Theodore Thomas, Charles Solomon, Bob Kurtz, Martha Sigall, Kevin Kurytnik, Carol Beecher, Jerry Beck, Yvette Kaplan, Carl Bell, Andreas Wessel-Therhorn, Kevin Schreck, and Garrett Gilchrist. After the screening Williams discussed the origins of the film and its production history.[53] On 1 June 2014, "A Moment in Time" was screened in London under the British Film Institute, with many of the original crew present.[31] On 25 November 2018, during another screening in London, Williams suggested the possibility of a Blu-ray release with the BFI. Williams said the European rights to The Thief were still available in order to release it, but the North American rights he felt were currently too complicated to also release the Blu-ray there.[62] Williams died shortly after on 17 August 2019 at the age of 86, without ever seeing a finished version of The Thief and the Cobbler as he had originally envisioned.[63]


Persistence of Vision is a documentary by Kevin Schreck, about Richard Williams and the production of The Thief and the Cobbler, which the film calls "the greatest animated film never made". Because Williams did not participate in the documentary, it is instead a documentary from the perspective of animators and artists who had worked with Richard Williams and his studio during the film's lengthy production. Williams is featured in the documentary, through archival interviews. Garrett Gilchrist and Helge Bernhardt of the Recobbled Cut and Richard Williams Archive provided rare materials to Schreck for his production, which was funded via Kickstarter.

First premiered in 2012 at the Vancouver International Film Festival, it has received many awards at festivals and received very positive critical reception. Williams was given a copy of the film before he passed away, but said he "doesn't plan on watching it".[64]

See also[edit]

Other animated films with long production histories[edit]

  • The Overcoat, an unfinished Russian animated film, in production since 1981.
  • The King and the Mockingbird, a French animated film, produced in two parts (1948–52, 1967–80), initially released in recut form, but eventually finished as per director's wishes.
  • The Tragedy of Man, a Hungarian animated film, produced in 1988 and premiered in 2011.
  • Mad God, an American stop-motion animated film, started circa 1990, and premiered in 2021. There was a 20-year hiatus.


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External links[edit]