The Thief and the Cobbler was directed by Richard Williams (of Who Framed Roger Rabbit fame). At more than 30 years, it holds the record for the longest production time for a motion picture - much of it spent in Development Hell. Also goes under the titles The Princess and the Cobbler and Arabian Knight, depending on which version you're watching. Often considered one of the lost treasures of animation (some critics consider it the greatest unfinished film of all time) the movie began as a pet project which Williams and a few colleagues worked on out of his garage. It was picked up by a studio after Williams won an Oscar for Roger Rabbit, but funding was pulled with just a few months left to go in production. Williams is an incredibly meticulous animator so his work takes a really, really long time to produce, even by animation standards. This amazing attention to detail really shows in the film; but it may also be what doomed it to incomplete status.Here's the plot: In a "golden city" set in a pseudo-Arabian land (although, in one of the versions, they decided to put it in Baghdad,) there are three golden balls atop "the highest minaret." Prophecy has it that if the balls are stolen, the city would fall, unless it was saved by the simplest of souls. The balls are stolen by a sneaky, nameless thief, just as a vicious race of one-eyed men (simply known as the One-Eyes) are about to attack the city. The King of the city sends his daughter, Princess YumYum, out to find a way to stop the encroaching army, and she takes along with her the hero of our story, a meek cobbler named Tack (who has begun to fall in love with the Princess and she with him) as a guide. They are followed along the way by the Thief, who's only in it for the loot.Sadly, the movie was meddled with to death before its release. Williams lost control over the film in 1992 after having worked on it since 1964, prompted by competition with a certain upcoming film, and the film fell into lesser hands who severely edited it, turning it from an adult art epic to a more "mainstream" Disney-esque musical. In a twist of Dramatic Irony, some overseas-edited editions of the film even advertise it as The Mockbuster version of Aladdin. Fortunately, a "Recobbled Cut" is freely available online, and some considered to be the closest one could get to Williams' original vision (Richard himself had no involvement with it and declined to help with it, and when informed of the project in person by its creator Garrett Gilchrist, Richard kindly told him to do his own thing). A workprint version also exists online, which Richard considers the version he's most satisfied with.For obvious reasons, Richard was reluctant to talk about the film for many years, but said that around the time he wrote his book The Animator's Survival Kit, he was finally able to make peace with the films history (despite the book ironically making no direct mention of Thief, but still reusing some animation from the film). Unfortunately, when asked about whether he could finish the film in a Q&A session, Richard said that Thief would be impossible to finish today; while he could have the actual remaining animation done in a year, all of the original artwork and film materials for the film are scattered and lost, and it would be unfeasable to track all of it down or recreate it. And even if that weren't a problem, legal issues involving the film elements would keep a finished version of it from being released anyway. In other words, Thief will always remain "unfinished". Fortunately, Willaims says he's satisfied with the work print edit as it is (which he screened theatrically for one night in Dec. 2013 along with an art exhibit of his work) and has moved on to making other personal projects, including another feature that has been in the works for 15 years, with it's working title being "I Hope I Live To Finish This".
An Aesop: One was tacked on rather awkwardly and out of nowhere in the Miramax cut; the Witch's dialogue of "You have all you need, but it's what you do with what you got" is replaced with some message that Tack has to believe in himself, and one of his last lines in the Miramax cut is "Whenever you see a shooting star/be proud of what you really are. Do in your heart what you know is right/and you too can be an Arabian Knight."
Agony of the Feet: Near the beginning of the movie, Zigzag does this after stepping on one of Tack's tacks.
All There in the Script: The names of Zigzag's minions, Goblet, Tickle, Gopher and Slap, are never mentioned. The same goes for a couple of brigands; Hook and Hoof.
Almost Dead Guy: A messenger who has been shot with many arrows crawls back to the Golden City and coughs "One-Eye!" to the king before he dies.
Amazing Technicolor Population: The Thief is greenish brown, the Evil Chancellor Zigzag is blue, and Tack the Cobbler is a literal white.note though he does tan after spending time outside (the white skin color appears to be related to living indoors until the events of the film.) ZigZag's minions are pink, green, purple and grey. The only people who have anything like normal skin colors are Princess YumYum and her father.
Animation Bump: Happens whenever the film switches from Calvert animation back to Williams animation. Williams wanted to push the limitations of what hand-drawn animation could do. Calvert, who took over after Williams was fired for being too expensive, did everything as cheaply and quickly as possible. The differences are very sudden and jarring.
Art Evolution: In the early days, the film used Limited Animation and had even flatter and more stylized character designs. Also, most of the characters were later redesigned several times, causing scenes to have to be modified or even completely reanimated.
"Ow, my bottom! Ow, my top! Greedy things, don't you ever stop?"
And there has to be a mention for the thief and a certain polo ball. You can't help but either pity the poor guy or laugh out of spite. Or both.
Captain Obvious: Much of the dialogue in the Miramax version is this, mainly because it was half-heartedly thrown in for the sole purpose of Lull Destruction. For example, we know Tack's in love with the princess because he makes her face out of thread in a very effective scene. Yet somebody decided he also needed to sing a horrible Award Bait Song about it!
Princess YumYum's back-scratchers were stolen by the Thief early on in the film. When the Thief is about to face dismemberment as punishment for trying to steal something, he slyly grabs the back-scratchers and shakes them violently, giving the illusion that they cut off his actual arms.
Also the tacks that Tack keeps in his mouth.
Clark Kent Outfit: Tack is surprisingly tall and muscular when he stands up straight and half of his clothes have been ripped off in the final fight; this is more obvious in the original storyboards (and VERY clear in a concept drawing◊ in the Recobbled DVD extras), as the animation finished by Calvert (which the Recobbled Cut uses to some extent) is very Off Model. This is probably part of his Coming of Age story, along with getting a handsome tan and starting to talk.
Clutching Hand Trap: At one point the Thief sees a bottle filled with jewels. Unfortunately, the jewels are too big for him to get past the opening. He won't let go of the diamond, even when the palace guards have him surrounded.
Conspicuous CG: Subverted. There are elaborately shaded roses, scenes moving in 3D and way too many details in the climax which all look like they required computer animation - but were all entirely drawn by hand.
Conspicuously Light Patch: Averted. Partly due to the simple style, moving background objects blend perfectly with the background paintings. One example is the wooden stocks the thief is put in.
Cosmic Keystone: The golden balls, at least according to the Opening Monologue. But it seems to be ultimately averted, since they don't ever display any power on their own, and the news of an encroaching army seems to coincide with their disappearance by pure happenstance.
Cute Mute: Tack, in spades. That is, until the last scene.
Deliberately Monochrome: Tack's color palette is mainly white with shades of grey and black, in contrast to the colorful characters and sets around him.
Deadpan Snarker: The thief's inner monologue, as provided by Jonathan Winters for the Calvert and Miramax cuts. Tends to provoke a Love It or Hate It response, with some finding it obnoxious and distracting, while others think it (along with the animation) is the only thing that makes those cuts watchable
Determinator: Nothing can stop the Thief once he spots something shiny.
Subverted at the end of the original, where he and Tack are fighting over the balls, and the Thief just decides that they're not worth it and walks away.
The dying messenger also qualifies.
Diabolus Ex Nihilo: The One-Eyes simply appear into the film without any kind of backstory. They want to conquer and destroy the Golden City, also without any explained motivation.
Dilating Door: The palace door opens and closes horizontally, with the segments fitting together like a jagged jigsaw puzzle.
Disneyfication: A notorious example. After Fred Calvert took over the film, he deliberately edited it into one more in-line with the Disney musical format popular at the time, hence the Award Bait Songs, YumYum becoming a Rebellious Princess, etc. Ironically, Richard Williams originally intended the film to be anti-Disney.
Disproportionate Retribution: Zigzag has Tack arrested, thrown in jail and almost fed to a vulture just because he accidentally stepped on a tack fell from him by accident. And that's only because YumYum convinced her father to spare him; Zigzag wanted to have him beheaded.
Does This Remind You of Anything?: Some have accused Disney's Aladdin of being a rip-off of this film. While the plots are dissimilar, the animators of Aladdin have admitted to watching clips of the film and basing their own character designs, such as the Genie and Jafar, off the ones in this film. Which later led to critics thinking this film, which was released later, was ripping it off. Of course, the Miramax cut did in fact rip off certain elements of Aladdin during the process of Disneyfying it.
In an establishing shot of the city, take a look at its tiered shape. Then take a look at how it's positioned close to a river and a set of dark mountains. Then go and watch The Return Of The King.
Easter Egg: During the epic war machine sequence, at one point if you look VERY carefully, you'll notice that the Thief's flies actually have little robes on them - and their heads are the same as the Thief's.
Epic Tracking Shot: Several examples. There is one scene where the camera zooms out from King Nod's mouth to a view of the city and vast lands around it. People who worked on this film used to call it "mouth to mountain".
The Thief's first scene has him sneak up behind an old woman, and prepare to pick her pocket...and then she tosses him around like a ragdoll.. It firmly establishes both hisroleandhers for most of the film.
Zigzag's entrance is a masterpiece of Show, Don't Tell (in the original, anyway). Even before you see him, you learn from the parade announcing him that he's a high-ranking, powerful, narcissistic and draconic man.
Everything Trying to Kill You: Happens to the Thief. An old lady turns out to be a martial artist, a bed turns out to be a pack of giant, angry guard dogs, the polo players constantly hit him... and the giant war machine has such things as a giant flyswatter, a giant broom and a giant iron.
Faux Affably Evil: Zigzag. He gives a massage and a concubine to king Nod, not out friendliness but to keep him busy. Also possibly the reason he speaks in rhyme - his words are pleasant on the outside but empty inside.
Fun with Flushing: The Thief's first attempt to break into King Nod's palace lands him in the royal toilet. While trying to get out he accidentally pulls the rope and is flushed back into the castle moat.
Funny Background Event: While Zigzag is speaking during the polo match, the Thief is getting flung back and forth by the mallets because of the "devil ball."
Gainaxing: Princess YumYum at times and also the Witch and the One Eye's dancing slaves.
Get Out: King Nod to Zigzag after Zigzag tries blackmailing his way into marrying YumYum (original cut).
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Since "Thief" was intended for an adult audience, there are a few instances of this in the original version.
King Nod having sex with the "Maiden from Mombassa".
The way Zigzag introduces her and the reactions of the King and YumYum imply that Mombassan women have a reputation for being animals in the sack.
Phido the Vulture screaming "MY ASSSSS!!!" after getting spanked.
Where Zigzag's minions place the balls as they carry them away...
Many times when someone mentions the balls. In one scene, Zigzag gets his groin hurt and grabs it in pain the instant king Nod mentions "balls".
Goofy Print Underwear: Zigzag has pink boxers with purple "Z"s under his robe, as seen when he pops up through the floor of the throne room in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it visual gag.
Gory Discretion Shot: During Zigzag's death scene, he falls into a pit and is eaten alive by a pack of crocodiles. All that can be seen is a silhouette and a pair of eyes being munched by the crocs' teeth, until all that remains is his still talking head, which is then eaten by his pet vulture. It cuts to complete darkness as his head is eaten.
Harpo Does Something Funny: Williams didn't use storyboards, and instead encouraged his animators to invent stuff themselves. He did have a script, which he only followed very loosely. Ken Harris, the main animator of the thief, was so fast in animating that Williams constantly made up very rough ideas and situations for the character in order to keep him working. Williams finally created storyboards for the whole film in 1992, when he was forced to make a workprint.
This ultimately may have been the film's downfall, as the lack of planning lead to Williams being unable to complete it on time and having it turned over to the completion company.
How Unscientific!: The film doesn't seem to contain any magic — the golden balls don't actually do anything, and everything Zigzag does is rather obviously done by small smoke bombs and sleight of hand — except for the Witch, who is an actual sorceress.
I'm Going To Disney World: In the Miramax edit, when the Thief steals the three golden balls from the top of the palace, as he struggles to slide the third and largest ball off of the spire.
Thief's inner monologue: "And with you... ohoho... I'm... going to Disneyland!"
Impossible Thief: Stealing the Golden Balls while the death machine collapses, stealing The End, stealing the film from the projector? There's a reason one of the working titles was The Thief Who Never Gave Up.
Karma Houdini: The thief never gets punished for his incredible acts of larceny. He does hand over the balls at the end, but presumably doesn't return anything else.
The One Eye Leader's fate is left unanswered in the Miramax version, thus it is assumed he manage to return without being punished for his actions
Laser-Guided Karma: The polo ball seems to have a mind of its own, doggedly chasing the thief around as the polo players whack both it and him.
Know When to Fold 'Em: At the end of the workprint, the thief, with Tack pinned over a pit of doom and the golden balls within reach, finally decides he's been through more trouble than they're worth and leaves in a huff.
Large Ham: King Nod. Complete with incongruous close-up shots of his face and mouth.
"The BALLS are GONE! My KINGDOM will COME to destruction AND DEATH!"
And of course, there's Zigzag, played by Vincent Price in his usual delicious hamminess ("FAT! FAAAAT! FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!")
The Mighty One Eye too can count.
Laughably Evil: Zigzag. Almost everything he does is horrible, yet he's still one of the funniest characters in the film.
Limited Animation: Completely averted. Despite the complete stylization which was original for the time he began work on it, Williams painfully crafted it cel-by-cel at a high frame-rate.
Early in the production, when Williams didn't have good animators yet, the film did have limited animation. Here is a very early clip (when the story also was completely different).
Lull Destruction: The Calvert cut added narration from an older Tack to the film, while the Miramax cut gave him full voice acting and narration from Matthew Broderick. The Miramax cut also added many more voices, including a constant inner monologue for the Thief (done by Johnathan Winters). In addition, many characters, such as YumYum, have significantly more dialog added. The original intention by Williams was to create several purely physical characters for the animators to have total freedom with, something that Calvert and Miramax apparently decided was a problem because Viewers Are Morons.
Multilingual Bonus: The signs leading to the Great Ruby Temple are in several languages, including English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, Arabic, Japanese, Russian, and Greek.
Natural Spotlight: There's a subtle one when Tack the Cobbler is seen the first time, shining on him. It's probably used to signify his pure nature. Particularly egregrious as is seems to come through the ceiling.
Never Mess with Granny: YumYum's nanny, Up to Eleven. When the Thief tries to steal some bananas from her, she proceeds to beat the crap out of him and barely even looks at him while she does it.
Never Smile at a Crocodile: When the Mighty One Eye throws Zigzag into the alligator's pit he manages to befriend them and use them as sledge horses. Later thought they finally manage to eat him for good.
Not Distracted by the Sexy: The Thief comes across YumYum bathing and only says "Oh, its only a naked woman". But he gets excited to see she has a jewel encrusted golden scratcher.
Off Model: Happens pretty often, as one could expect from an animated film in production for decades and, in the case of the Calvert version, by several different animation studios around the worldnote The animation itself was largely handled by members of Sulivan-Bluth Studios in Ireland, Kroyer Films in America and Premier Films in the UK. With Wang Film Productions in Taiwan handing the bulk of the ink and paint, which in turn went to their Thailand-based studio. It doesn't help that Calvert outsourced the remaining animation work to cheaper studios, creating a drastic difference in quality between the original Williams-animated scenes and his scenes.
A very noticeable instance is YumYum as Zigzag says .”..of course, oh rose of the land, your slightest whim is my command..." This is because the footage was recycled from an older test reel Williams had created to pitch the film to potential investors.
The Oner: Some shots are over one minute long. Some examples are the dying soldier slowly crawling towards his horse, and the thief tightrope walking. Some of them have hidden cuts to make animating them easier.
Papa Wolf: The King in the original cut. When Zigzag fools the King into thinking he can "magic the balls back," he requests Princess Yumyum's hand in marriage as compensation. The king vehemently refuses to send off his daughter to him. Note that, as far as the king is concerned, this is his only chance to get the balls back and keep his kingdom safe. It's honestly rather Bad Ass of the King to do so.
Perspective Magic: When there is a scene with tiled patterns, perspective is often played with.
The original, unfinished version of the film by Richard Williams. He put together a workprint in 1992 before he was forced to leave. The Recobbled Cut is a restoration of this, with only some cosmetic changes (adding more music and replacing storyboards with Calvert's animation where it didn't differ too much).
The Princess and the Cobbler in 1993 by Fred Calvert, which removed a bunch of scenes, added songs, a voice for Tack and a large amount of Off Model animation.
Arabian Knight in 1995 by Miramax, which removed even more scenes and added voiceovers for pretty much every scene; most notably Jonathan Winters as the Thief.
First is the introduction of the One-eyes: After the camera pans up to view the three golden balls that protect the city, the screen suddenly turns red, menacing music starts playing and the camera travels past vast areas of land to reveal the One-eyes in the middle of thousands of human corpses.
The second time is when the enormous war machine is collapsing, Justified by the fire.
Rule of Animation Conservation: Averted, in that money was no concern for Williams. A lot stuff that didn't need to were animated. His rule of thumb was more like: "If it can be animated, it will be, regardless of how difficult or unnecessary it is."
Rump Roast: This happens to Phido the vulture several times.
Scenery Porn: The original cut has this in full since the creator spent over quarter of a century working on each frame of animation.
Sealed with a Kiss: The second-to-last shot in the film (last being the Thief stealing the film) has this between Tack and YumYum during their wedding.
Took A Level In Bad Ass: Tack. By the climax, not only does he manage to take down the war machine with a single well-aimed tack, but he also goes to face off with Zigzag in a (mostly-offscreen) physical fight, resulting in his stitching Zigzag up and rendering him harmless—and he does the latter while being strangled. That's pretty damn tough.
Toothy Bird: When Phido eats Zigzag's head he sports a beak full of serrated teeth.
Underlighting: Just one of the very many animation special effects used to no end. Things made to glow this way include the golden balls, all fire, beams of light, Zigzag's flashy smoke bombs, brightly lit areas, and many more...
Unmoving Plaid: Pretty much any scene with tiled floors. This is due to the style being based on ancient persian miniature paintings, which did not have correct perspective. Averted whenever the animators decided to rotate the scene around.
Villain Protagonist: The Thief. While he's not the Big Bad, he isn't exactly a good guy either, considering the whole mess is his fault. Miramax apparently felt pity for him and made him an Accidental Hero when the King believes that he recovered the golden balls for the city and he gives the balls back out of guilt (and not wanting to be attacked by the King's guards).
Villain Team-Up: Zigzag goes to join the Mighty One-Eye after being refused to marry princess Yum-Yum.
"We'll see who wins at the end of the day! We'll see who ends up grieving! I'll go to the One-Eyes right away! I'm taking my balls and leaving!"
While Tack and YumYum are consulting the Witch, the Thief is trying to get a giant ruby on a tower by flying with palm frond wings. He ends up crashing into the Witch. But since the re-cuts eliminate nearly all the footage of the Witch, the Thief's fate is left literally up in the air.
Played straight in the edits, but averted in the original cut. Tack is seen feeding a mouse while he's imprisoned, and we later see that he's sneaked the mouse out with him when he escaped (these shots are present in all versions of the film). While it's never seen again in the edits, in the original cut he removes the mouse from his pocket and gives it to YumYum before he goes to face One-Eye's army.
The Recobbled Cut, however, does play the trope in one case: In the original storyboards, the mouse shows up in the final kissing scene. Calvert removed the mouse, and the Recobbled Cut uses that animation.
The edited versions of this movie contain references to Arabian Knights...for absolutely no reason since the main character actually becomes a prince. Also YumYum's song about wanting to be something more than a princess goes absolutely nowhere.
In the Miramax version of the film, Mighty One-Eye's fate is never shown.
In the Miramax version, the last we see of Zigzag's henchmen is an odd scene where he ambiguously threatens them, and it looks almost as if he stabs them in the face the second after the camera fades out. In the recobbled cut, they appear briefly to show shock and remorse for what's happened, and it's clear that Zigzag was simply scaring them in the earlier scene.