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I finally got the chance to see The Thief and the Cobbler (version 4 of the "Recobbled Cut"), to satiate my curiosity over this legend of animation. And, indeed, it is a tragedy that the movie was never completed — it is a richly animated thing of beauty, an unforgettable work of art that truly earns the A-word, where Richard Williams' love and sacrifice is evident in every scene, every step, and every gesture.
Unfortunately, for all the attention placed on the art, there's almost none placed into the story and the characters. Taken as a whole, Cobbler is a 90-minute Excuse Plot to take the viewer from one lavish scene to the next.
Consider Tack the Cobbler, who is now my go-to example of a Pinball Protagonist — for the first two-thirds of the movie, he's largely dragged around by other characters from one situation to the next. What little action he takes feels largely perfunctory, and he ends up being a Generic Guy — which makes his abrupt bout of (off-screen) heroism in the climax feel like an unexpected Ass Pull.
The other characters fare little better, most of whom are generic stereotypes with a single additional trait. King Nod is an ineffectual Sleepy Head with a touch of Papa Wolf, Princess YumYum is the Only Sane Woman who doesn't do anything beyond giving an infatuation excuse to drag Tack to the next scene, ZigZag is an Evil Chancellor who's simply evil For the Evulz, and Mighty One-Eye is a Paper Tiger whose mighty army is felled by the most beautifully animated set of Disaster Dominoes ever seen. The unnamed Thief is the closest person this movie has to an actual character, but even then he's simply a Cute Mute in the vein of Harpo Marx or The Tramp, who is destined to remain a Butt Monkey just to get him into another beautifully-animated escapade.
Don't get me wrong, this is a movie that's worth watching if you have even a modicum of interest in animated art or moviemaking. Just be prepared for what it is, a long string of truly lovely scenes, jaw-dropping animation, subtle slapstick, and a hackneyed Excuse Plot with vapid characters.
I remembered having seen the Miramax cut as a kid. It... didn't leave an impression on me; the added musical numbers are forgettable, the added exposition was boringly unnecessary and although the visuals in the film can still be amazing, it is all too obvious about which is genuine and which segments/elements have been shoehorned in for the cut.
I've gotten around to watching the Recobbled Cut almost immediately after watching The Nostalgia Critic's review of the Miramax cut and hearing him encourage viewers to check out the Recobbled cut for themselves. I've concluded that after watching it, it is a DRASTIC improvement. It's also pretty amazing to see some of the storyboard elements where elaborate objects have been done entirely by hand. One element that really brought the story of the film forward are the visuals; the scenery is impeccably done (case in point, the chase scene and the One-Eyes' invasion). The characters certainly helped too, and especially the thief. There really isn't any need for the added exposition, and it's delightful to see him for instance walking through the destruction around him.
This animated film is indeed a tragic case of how a labor of love was taken away from the hands of the artist (which in this case is Richard Williams) and incorporated with additional elements that make the finished product less appealing than what he envisioned. It was more than thirty years in the making, and the perfectionist vision may be part of why it was taken away and subsequentally disowned by Williams himself upon its release.
To sum up my thoughts on this film (the Recobbled cut that is), it is worth a look by any animation affacionado interested in seeing a bit of history. It may not be perfectly what Williams had in mind, but it's most likely as close as we are going to get, and it's a real shame that deadlines had contributed to the film's undoing. For anyone wanting to see this, you can start here.
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