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Arabian Knight
January 13, 2013 1:37 AM   Subscribe

You may remember an animated film from the early '90s. Set somewhere in 'Arabia,' a land of bazaars and minarets, the story featured a bored, harem-panted princess, an orphan boy, a treacherous vizier with bird sidekick, a rotund and oblivious sultan, a blue-skinned magic user, et al. But it wasn't Aladdin - and the movie had started production in 1964 ...

Animator Richard Williams, who would go on to direct the animation for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, started The Thief And The Cobbler, his vision of an animation masterpiece. After it was taken over by the bond company for completion and release, it was turned into The Princess And The Cobbler for the international market, and then further changed (with voiceovers to for formerly silent characters) for the American market, into Arabian Knight.

But some of the original animation remained, and the film has been partially reconstructed.

The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Full Length

Youtube user TheThiefArchive has many videos of various stages of the movie's development, Richard Williams' work, and makings-of features.

The making/unmaking of William's masterpiece was the subject of the documentary Persistence Of Vision. The trailer is on Vimeo and Youtube. Official page.

The Thief blog, with lots of behind-the-scenes stuff.

Animated commercials by Williams.
Richard Williams on Cartoon Brew.

TVTropes: The Thief And The Cobbler
Previously on Metafilter:
The best of YouTube (to date)?
posted by the man of twists and turns (24 comments total) 52 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yeah, I first heard about this in the early nineties in one of the comics fanzines of the time; one of those projects that look incredible but never quite got the resources needed to finish it.
posted by MartinWisse at 2:26 AM on January 13, 2013


The whole project started when Williams illustrated Idries Shah's book The Exploits Of The Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin. Captivated by the tales, Williams was determined to turn them into an animated movie. They eventually became The Thief And The Cobbler, and you can see the character design and illustration style that marks Williams' work.

Williams in Who's Who In Animated Cartoons.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 2:31 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


O man of TAT, the incomparable Mullah needs his own FPP... he may also be related to Sheikh Chilli, both populate grandma's stories in India
posted by infini at 2:41 AM on January 13, 2013


An FPP of Mullah Nasreddin stories would rule.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:12 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Great find, thank you for sharing this.
posted by smoke at 3:16 AM on January 13, 2013


one of those projects that look incredible but never quite got the resources needed to finish it.

He spent nearly 30 years, $30 million, and apparently fired scores of employees. What "resources" were denied him?

While I admire the talent and persistence, I get a little miffed when I read stories like this. All this kind of filmmaking does is cause the powers-that-be to tighten the reigns even more for future aspiring creators.

But man, I can't even imagine the ear-shattering "thud" in his studio the day Disney announced Aladdin. Ouch.
posted by ShutterBun at 3:39 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


WOW!

I need to go to bed two hours ago. You have ruined me. This is absolutely magical. Wow.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:41 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


And a little bit tragical as well.
posted by louche mustachio at 3:55 AM on January 13, 2013


I really wanted to love this "lost masterpiece," but it felt like a bugs bunny short (a good thing) extended to feature length (not a good thing). It was all shtick and no story.
posted by rikschell at 4:26 AM on January 13, 2013


What a wonderful Sunday post; loving it!

I liked this post in The Thief blog about how the princess was drawn from the actress Rekha in the 1978 film "Muqaddar Ka Sikander." (click the photo to see a larger version; the earlier post referred to in the text is here, btw.)

I found that exact film scene with Rekha in a Youtube video. The very pose is at the 4:20 (or possibly the 4:22) mark; I've linked it at 4:16.
posted by taz at 5:10 AM on January 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


damn you MOTAT, I've meaning to make an FPP about this for YEARS, DAMN YOUR EYES>

Seriously it's a gorgeously stylized film, although it might be best to just mute it.
posted by The Whelk at 5:29 AM on January 13, 2013


Gorgeous, gorgeous! I only wanted a peek, but now I'm watching the whole thing. I'm loving every moment!

The animation is matched only by Vincent Price's wonderful work as Zig Zag, the Grand Vizier. What a wonderful film.
posted by tickingclock at 5:39 AM on January 13, 2013


An FPP of Mullah Nasreddin stories would rule.

"Mulla, I want to borrow your donkey."
"I am sorry," said the Mulla, "but I have already lent it out."
As soon as he had spoken, the donkey brayed. The sound came from Nasrudin's stable.
"But Mulla, I can hear the donkey, in there!"
As he shut the door in the man's face, Nasrudin said, with dignity, "A man who believes the word of a donkey in preference to my word does not deserve to be lent anything."
posted by ersatz at 7:30 AM on January 13, 2013 [16 favorites]


Tested had a good piece on this not long ago. They were also good enough to mention Garrett Gilchrist of Orange Cow Productions who is the guy behind the Recobbled Cut, and behind the previously linked TheThiefArchive on YouTube.

He is currently working hard on Mk4 of the cut. For all the ins and outs you can follow his Facebook Group for the project. There he announces livestreams of him working on the film, urges people to record TV screenings of the film for source material, and shares his woes with getting HD transfers of the 35mm footage (mostly in the comments there). Of course the community brings new chances for transfers all the time.

And for good measure, here is the Nostalgia Critic bashing the several releases of Arabian Knight and praising the Recobbled cut.
posted by Martijn at 7:44 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Finally, a movie for people who thought Jasmine in Disney's Aladdin was too fat.
posted by straight at 8:36 AM on January 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I remember finding a version of this at the local video store in South Africa somewhere in my twenties and being blown away by it. A fantastic piece of work.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:50 AM on January 13, 2013


One Huge Eye has an interview with Williams where he talk about getting started and who he learned from, and I Should Be A Film Critic has a glowing review of the Recobbled cut, along with a bit about how the relationship between The Thief And The Cobbler and Aladdin is totally nothing like the relationship between Kimba the White Lion and The Lion King and of course Disney has no history whatsoever of using frame-for-frame recreations inspiration from little-known films in their major motion pictures.

But that is another story, for another time.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:27 AM on January 13, 2013


I'd love to see an FPP about the Mullah. I've only stumbled across him while reading web-stuff on the Arabic language and Arabic writing. It's like he pops up, makes a clever remark, and then disappears around a corner.
posted by benito.strauss at 11:45 AM on January 13, 2013


that is the pretty much the more of him, yes.
posted by The Whelk at 11:51 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, I thought that this post was going to be pointing us to the new version of the Recobbled Cut. I don't really pay attention to Facebook so I'm not up on the status, despite having donated some money to the transfer efforts.

Honestly at this point I almost wonder if it might be worth doing a Kickstarter for Recobbled. Maybe even to pay some of the still-living master animators to fill in a few scenes. I'm not sure what kind of horrible tangle the rights for this film are in, though. And as far as I know, Williams has not said a single thing about the Recobbled Cut despite surely knowing about it - I know his kids have had good things to say about it, and they can't have not told him.

"The Thief and the Cobbler" is an amazing masterwork, even in its fragmented form - but it's also one hell of a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to be involved in animation. There's a balance that needs to be struck in animation, between the bean-counters who want to get the Product out to recoup the massive amount of money that goes into making a feature cartoon, and then there's the visionary, who will spend all the time in the world in pursuit of Perfection, if allowed. If you have dreams of being in animation someday, learn from this. Yes, the stuff that happened after the film was yanked out of Williams' hands and hacked into a pile of Disneyesque drek is horrible and shortsighted, and conspiracy theories involving Disney and the strong similarities of their "Aladdin" are not exactly unbelievable. But if Williams had been able to let himself create a film that was merely amazing instead of PERFECT, he might have actually delivered the thing back in the mid-eighties.

I dunno. It's complicated. I've seen what happens when the obsessive pursuit of PERFECT gets out of hand; I was a minor studio minion for "Ren & Stimpy Adult Party". Watching that spin out of control taught me a lot. Ultimately I think to make amazing cartoons for the ages, you need a strong vision in the director… and an equally strong producer, who can go toe-to-toe with the director and force them to perform triage on their desires when the deadline's been blown twice already and it's still not done. And who cares just as much about making good cartoons as the director does, and largely agrees on what those are.
posted by egypturnash at 12:45 PM on January 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


I Should Be A Film Critic has a glowing review of the Recobbled cut, along with a bit about how the relationship between The Thief And The Cobbler and Aladdin is totally nothing like the relationship between Kimba the White Lion and The Lion King and of course Disney has no history whatsoever of using frame-for-frame recreations inspiration from little-known films in their major motion pictures.

Well, there's no frame-by-frame recreation mentioned there, although there is a definite resemblance between Aladdin's Genie and Zigzag (and a lesser one between Zigzag and Jafar). And, of course, some mention of how the numerous people fired by Williams may have gone on to work on Aladdin, sans evidence. Me, I'm with egypturnash in that, if the guy had managed to buckle down his own ego and get the film done in the grace period after Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it would have been a different story entirely, although Disney would have likely gone ahead and done Aladdin anyway.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:08 PM on January 13, 2013


Disney's "Aladdin" definitely came from this. I mean, did you see that yawning blue vulture face that initially appeared (and was shown again later) before going into Zigzag's lair? Certainly reminded me of a certain cave entrance...
posted by DisreputableDog at 10:46 PM on January 13, 2013


Really glad to see this here. I watched the Recobbled Cut a few years earlier, and though I didn't think the film was very good as a narrative work, some of the scenes were animated unbelievably well -- and in fact are probably some of the finest examples of hand-drawn animation in history. The staircase scene and the zoom into the kingdom come to mind.

I can't imagine how heartbreaking it must be to see the project that you've poured everything into for 30 years get torn up by corporate interests and reassembled into a shitty musical pastiche.

Richard Williams has recently released the Animator's Survival Kit book and DVD series, which is frequently cited as one of the best references for traditional hand-drawn animation out there. He also did a short called "Circus Drawings" which I've been desperately trying to find.

I wish he had another full-length feature in him, but the dude's almost 80 years old. Still hopeful, though!
posted by archagon at 12:39 PM on January 14, 2013


The Thief Who Never Gave Up documentary, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6,
posted by the man of twists and turns at 4:18 AM on February 3, 2013


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