The Magnum Opus That Never Was: The Thief And The Cobbler

The Magnum Opus That Never Was: The Thief And The Cobbler

A celebrated director that spent 31 years creating a disastrous film.
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Richard Edmund Williams is one of the most celebrated and prolific animators over the past 60 years. He worked on his first animation film back in 1957, The Little Island, being a director, writer, producer, animator on the whole project, before it was released in 1958 or 59, depending on the source. He would continue working on various live action and animated films, before he truly made it big in 1988 when he multiple credits in the animated classic Who Framed Roger Rabbit, being an animator, director, and the voice of Droopy on the feature. In 1993, five years later, The Thief and the Cobbler was released, another film directed by him. The film takes place in an Arabian city, the Golden City, led by the ever tired and senile King Nod. As the prophecy predicts, if the 3 golden balls uptop of the tallest minaret, chaos and anarchy will sweep the city. It could only be saved by the "the simplest soul with the smallest and simplest of things". From there, a cobbler named tack, and the King’s daughter, Yum Yum set out to save the city, while Grand Vizier ZigZag tries to take over the kingdom, while an invading army comes ever closer to the Golden City’s gates.

This was not loved like Roger Rabbit in the slightest. A film that I have not watched, but has been ridiculed by many, including Doug Walker/the Nostalgia Critic a few decades later, out of the 28 million dollar budget, it only made $670,000 at the box office. What might’ve been unbeknownst the moviegoers in Australia (before it arrived upon America’s shores in 95) was that it went through absolute production hell. Self-funded, he started production on it in 1964. It took 31 years before it got released, due to various setbacks, delays, and WIlliams’ involvements in other projects. Over the three decades, various names were thrown around; Sean Connery, Vincent Price, Felix Aylmer, Steven Spielberg, Anthony Quayle, and even an Arabian Prince were one way or another involved in production. Along with that, several companies were involved in production and distribution, first starting out with Williams’ own production company, Allied Filmmakers, Majestic Films, and Miramax. Artists from three different countries were all involved. It was truly Revolving Door: The Movie.

Many criticized the film for being a cheap knock-off of Aladdin; with strikingly similar plot structures, locations, and character designs, and well, that’s somewhat true. Williams’ was inspired by the novel Arabian Nights, and started coming up with the plot. And while animators came in and out of the door, two of them, Andreas Deja and Eric Goldberg found their way onto Aladdin production, being inspired by their previous project under Williams. Then, as Aladdin was released 3 years before its American release, the production focused onto copying the film that their production originally inspired.

As stated previously, the film did not do well in the slightest. Poor Richards Williams has been working in the animation field for 60 years, 31 of which were spent during the production of this film. That must drive madness into the mind of a man. Though, during production, when at one point when Warner Bros. was involved, a bunch of reels were thrown away into the trash of the company’s head of animation. An animator working there managed to save some of it; 40 minutes, in fact. This’ll become relevant later.

In 2006 a very dedicated animator fan and independent film maker by the name of Garrett Gilchrist managed to start to restore the original film. You see, Richard Williams didn’t want it to be some sort of run-of-the-mill kids film. I doubted he would’ve spent 31 years in torment to get this film developed. He saw it as his magnum opus - a more artistic film targeted towards adults. Gilchrist would make a couple more “recobbled” editions over the years, with ones in 2007 and 2013, as he gathered more and more footage, drafts, and drawings over the years. I’m assuming one of the more useful ones were the 40 minutes recovered from one head of animation’s trash. Though they aren’t 100% what Williams envisioned. Some of the music was added from the other editions, and some plot changes were made, in order to make the story make more sense, according to Gilchrist, though they don’t seem to be anything that major. Best of all, this labor of love was released for three, posted on YouTube where anyone can watch it.

I watched the Nostalgia Critic episode a few years ago, talking about Cobbler, I watched maybe the first 14 minutes before I got distracted. When I saw someone talk about it on my Tumblr feed, I decided to give it a second shot, which was well worth it. Gilchrist is a hero, and the cut is genius. The artwork is very trippy, with optical illusions, contrasting colors to the max, and constantly changing perspective. This is the best part of the movie, I’d say. Just looking at everything. When the thief and the Cobbler start chasing one another through black-and-white corridors that make your eyes question what exactly you’re looking at, it’s pretty amazing.

When the Vizier is introduced, it’s this grand event, with red carpet and celebrations, all being captured at strange 2D angles and perspectives, which you don’t really see. The tips of the shoes of the advisor roll out, and roll back in, with jewels all over it. The character design of the various trumpeters and the cronies of the Vizier are also strange.

Though what I love the most is the design of the invading army at the climax of the film. It’s all black and red, which giant machinery, mixing an industrial modern feel with complex contraptions for war, with a more medieval feel, with gargantuan catapults. And as the climax happens you see how the machinery works, with a Rube Goldberg machine feel to it, while the thief runs through it all, trying not to get killed. The ending of the film is cliche, but I was truly amazed by just how everything looked. The only criticism I can give involving the animation is sometimes how the characters move awkwardly at points, but I’ll put that on the production, and they couldn’t be worked on.


This film is beautiful, and if you want to check it out, you can find the full cut here.
Cover Image Credit: Flickr

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To the guy that shot my brother...

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To the guy that shot my brother,

On January 9, 2019 my families entire life changed with one phone call. The phone call that my little brother had been shot in the face, no other details. We didn't need any other details. The woman on the phone who called us in full panic told us where he was so we went, as soon as possible. I don't think it helped that not even 10 min prior I talked to Zach on the phone.. kind of irritated with him, and the ONE TIME I didn't say 'I love you' as we hung up. Could've been the last time we ever spoke.. I remember pulling up to the hospital thinking 'this can't be real' 'it's not our Zach' 'this is just a dream Sarah, WAKE UP' I'd close my eyes really tight just to open them, I was still in the hospital emergency parking lot. I could still hear the ambulance sirens coming. It was all real.

The day our life's changed was definitely a test of faith. A test of how strong we were, as a family. I sat in that waiting room ready to see the damage that has been done to my sweet baby brother. Because at that point we had no idea how lucky he got. That glimpse of seeing Zach will haunt me forever. How helpless I felt in that exact moment frequently wakes me up from these horrific dreams I've been having ever since that day. That is a moment burned into my me and families brain forever.

You always hear about these things in the movies or on the news, a house being shot up, someone shooting another innocent person, not to care if they died on your watch. But we found ourselves on the news.. We have been confined to the hospital since that day. Running on barely any sleep, taking shifts of sleep so we don't make ourselves sick taking care of Zach. Watching him suffer. Undergoing surgeries, to repair the damage you did.

Before I proceed let me tell you a little something about the man you shot.

Zachary Keith Wright. A blonde hair blue eyed boy. Who could potentially be the most annoying human on the planet (possibly coming from his sister). A man who loves his God first, loves his family second. Perfect by no means, but almost perfect to me. A 19 year old who was to graduate high school this month. After graduation he was prepping to leave for Marine boot camp in the summer.. being in the military has been Zach's dream since he could talk. Literally. Running around, playing war with underwear on our heads, and finger guns. Some would say we looked like natural born assassins.. growing up he has been a country boy. Let me tell ya country to the core. He loves this country like he loves his family. He believes in helping people, taking charge in what's right, and never leaving a brother behind. He's lived by that his whole life. Until now....

The day you shot him. The day not only did you change my brothers life, you changed his families life too. The day you almost ripped my brother out of this world... for what? A misunderstanding? Because you've let something take ahold of your life that you can't let go you're willing to kill someone innocent over? Luckily for him, his guardian angels were protecting him in your time of cowardice. There were 3 times that day he should've died, the time you shot him, the time you tried to shoot him again as he stared you directly in the face, (even tho he couldn't talk I know you could read his eyes, and he still intimidated you. That's why you tried to pull the trigger again) and the time he was running out of the house. But he lived. A man who was shot in the face, didn't lay there helpless, didn't scream in agony. That MAN walked to the neighbors to get help. Why? Because he's a MAN, and because he's on this earth for a reason.

It's gonna sound a little strange not only to you, but the audience who is reading this. I must say thank you. Even in this situation, this was the best outcome we could get. He gets to live. He will make a full recovery. He will graduate. And he will go off into the Marines. You united my family together. Closer than ever. Thank you. You tested our faith and brought us closer to our God. Thank you. Because of your moment of weakness, you showed us what prayer could do. Heal anything. Thank you. This was a bump in the road, and a helluva way to kick off our year of 2019. But here we are.. all laying in the hospital. I'm looking around as mom is sleeping in her recliner chair exhasted but still here, Zach his awake playing his xbox all hooked up to machines, fighting to heal and get better. And of course I'm writing this letter to you.

See you in trial,

From the girl whose brother you shot.

'Fight the good fight' - 1 Tim 6:12 🤟🏼💙

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