Richard Williams' Lost Life's Work Restored By One Obsessive Fan ...

Todd Brown, Founder and Editor

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Big thanks to regular Twitch reader Rhythm-X for sending in the following on the fan-driven restoration project of The Thief And The Cobbler, a film multiple Oscar winner and Roger Rabbit animater Richard Williams spent twenty five years working on only to lose control of it when nearing the end, see it used as "inspiriation" for Aladdin, cut to bits in Australia, and then further cut and altered by Miramax. This story is both incredibly depressing in terms of what was done to the film and incredibly inspirational in terms of the extreme lengths a dedicated fan went to restore the film as closely as possible to Williams' original vision. You can find an official forum for the restoration project here and a trailer plus the complete restoration on YouTube. Everything that follows came this way from Rhythm-X ...

Richard Williams magnum opus THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER is perhaps the most notorious animated film never completed. In production independently for decades, designed as an example of the finest traditional animation had to offer, it was fast-tracked when Warner Bros. decided they wanted a piece of the Oscar-winning animator behind WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?. As the production continued on, Warners became nervous about Williams being able to finish the film on time to beat Disney's ALADDIN (which stole a lot from the long in production THIEF AND THE COBBLER) into theaters. What's more, they were nervous about the film itself - no songs, very light on story, a lot of animation for animation's sake - never mind that it was technically some of the most advanced cel animation ever attempted, with three-dimensional renderings thought to be beyond the reach of the inherently 2-dimensional art form. They didn't think it would sell, and they didn't think it would be done on time anyway, so they bailed out. The Completion Bond Company took over the production and immediately fired Richard Williams from the film that had literally been his life's work.

To replace him, The Completion Bond Company hired Saturday morning cartoon veteran Fred Calvert, who promptly began re-shaping Williams' film into a musical. Vastly inferior animation was used to complete the project, loads of Williams animation hit the cutting room floor, previously silent characters found themselves yapping away, and the film ultimately resembled nothing so much as an Aladdin ripoff. It was now called THE PRINCESS AND THE COBBLER, and this version was released in Australia and South Africa.

Then things really got ugly. Something was missing here. Things were not yet as awful as possible, and when you need things to go from bad to worse, there's only one company who can deliver the goods. Enter Miramax Family Films, who clearly smelled the blood in the water surrounding this project. They picked up the US rights to THE PRINCESS AND THE COBBLER, and went about "improving" (as they are prone to do) Calvert's violation of Richard William's life work; call it necrophiliac rape. Still more Williams footage was removed from the film, the characters (including the ones that weren't supposed to talk in the first place) found themselves with DIFFERENT voices, replacing the Calvert replacements, and the character of The Thief found himself saddled with a agonizing running monologue by Jonathan Winters. The Miramax version, called ARABIAN KNIGHT and now explicitly an ALADDIN rip-off, was dumped into a handful of theaters, flopped, and finally turned up on video, bearing the final insult - another title change, this time back to Richard Williams' original title THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER - which this film was clearly not. But workprints of Williams' original version were circulating, mostly in the animation community. Williams, heartbroken, quit animation and wrote a book called THE ANIMATOR'S SURVIVAL GUIDE. He refuses to talk about this film to anyone, to this day.

Now, in the 21st century, where editing a movie is within the reach of anyone with a computer on their desk, a STAR WARS fan named Garrett Gilchrist has combed the world for every bit of footage that he could find (some of which came from veterans of the original Williams crew), and produced what he calls "THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER: RECOBBLED CUT". It's taken from the Miramax version, the Calvert version, the Williams workprint, and other sources that he discovered. The quality, as you would expect, is highly variable. There are scenes taken from a pan & scan DVD, painstakingly overlayed and synchronized with the lesser-quality but CinemaScope ratio workprint. There are scenes that are only storyboards. There are scenes where a character's mouth has been re-animated by hand to synchronize with the original dialog, or lack thereof. It is a tremendous piece of work, the restoration of one man's labor of love, that became another man's labor of love. Though it is imperfect in that some of Calvert's footage is carried over here by necessity, and the workprint Williams footage is low-quality indeed, it is by far the closest we may ever get to seeing Williams' original vision of the film - closer than merely watching the blurry, overcompressed, incomplete workprint that has been making the rounds. The "Recobbled Cut" is circulating in the world of BitTorrent, and for anyone who loves animation it is a must-see of the very highest order. Special features include an informative restoration commentary track, deleted characters section, trailers for the "Recobbled Cut" and the Miramax version, gorgeous "pencil test"-themed menus, and more. The film itself is presented in its original CinemaScope ratio for 99 percent of the running time, with only a handful of shots represented in pan & scan, windowboxed in the scope frame. This is the best and most important "fan edit" ever made, and certainly the only one I'm aware of that is the most definitive possible version of an otherwise unavailable/severely compromised film. Seek it out and witness for yourself the pinnacle of traditional animation. Feel the mystic fumes.

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