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The idea is to make the best animated film that has ever been made - there really is no reason why not.
Richard Williams, before losing rights to his film

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 it is considered to be the closest one can get to Williams' original vision. A workprint version also exists online.

This movie is an example of:


 "Ow, my bottom! Ow, my top! Greedy things, don't you ever stop?"

  • 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!
  • Card-Carrying Villain: The Thief and Zigzag.
  • Catch Phrase: "Have no fear, Zigzag the Grand Vizier is here." ...Yes, it's ironic.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Princess Yumyum's back-scratchers.
    • Also the tacks that Tack keeps in his mouth.
  • Clark Kent Outfit: Tack is surprisingly tall and muscular when 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.
  • Color Coded for Your Convenience: Zigzag is blue and the Thief is green.
    • The Golden City (or Baghdad, depending on which version you're most familiar with) centering on bright colors like gold and white, while the One-Eyes are black and red.
  • 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.
  • Covers Always Lie: While the cardboard diorama packaged with the DVD has Tack and Princess Yum-Yum riding a Magic Carpet, they never do so in any version of the movie.
  • Creepy Long Fingers: Zig Zag.
  • Cute Mute: Tack, in spades. That is, until the last scene.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "Seeeiizze him! Take him! Seize him! Take him!"
  • Deranged Animation: Taken Up to Eleven in the original version.
  • Design Student's Orgasm: Everything is extremely stylized to the point of being super weird. Lots of Amazing Technicolor Population, Unmoving Plaid and Deranged Animation.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Disney Villain Death: Mighty One-Eye in Fred Calvert's recut. Originally, his death was more family unfriendly.
  • 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.
  • Distant Duet: "Am I Feeling Love?"
  • 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.
  • The Dragon: Zigzag becomes this to One-Eye.
  • 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.
  • Eldritch Abomination: One-Eye certainly isn't human, looks really, really grotesque, and comes out of nowhere, with no description. He's extremely feared by all of the characters in the movie.
  • The End: The words "The End" appear in golden letters. The Thief steals it, along with the rest of the film reel.
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • Evil Chancellor: Zigzag. And apparently an Evil Sorcerer too.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: Mighty One-Eye.
  • Evilly Affable: 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.
  • Eureka Moment: In the Miramax and Allied Filmakers versions. "Attack...attack...a tack. A TACK!"
  • Face Death with Dignity: Oddly enough, Zigzag.
  • The Faceless: The "present" given to King Nod by Zigzag. All we see is a purple arm and an eye with eyelashes about a foot long.
  • Fanfare: "Beautiful! Princess! YumYum!"
  • Five-Finger Discount: The Thief is such an inveterate kleptomaniac, he even picks his own pocket.
  • Foot Focus
  • Four-Fingered Hands: Inverted. Zig Zag has six-fingered hands.
  • 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 black 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 Mombossa".
      • 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".
      • "Now that I have the balls, I'll go see the King!"
      • "I'm taking my balls and leaving!"
    • The messenger's struggled "One-Eye is coming!" before he dies.
  • Gonk: Most of the One Eyes, Zigzag and Roofless' Bandits. Especially Roofless' Bandits.
  • 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.
  • Gravity Is a Harsh Seamstress: Happens to the Thief in one scene.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Golden Balls? One-Eye?
  • Heroic Mime: Tack.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The entire one-eye army is killed by their huge warmachine.
  • Hollywood Density: The Gold Balls are lifted very effortlessly, even bouncing when the Thief falls off the tower.
  • Homage: The Thief does his best Chernobog impression with accompanying theme music when he dons a fake pair of wings.
  • Human Pincushion: The dying soldier who rides to send a message to the king has been impaled with a flagpole and a dozen of arrows. (The animator actually added more arrows in later scenes - nobody noticed!)
  • 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.
    • He even steals from his OWN POCKET in one scene.
  • "I Want" Song: "She is More" in the butchered versions.
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Last-Second Word Swap: "Oh fffffffffffffffffPhido!" (original version).
  • 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.
  • More Dakka: The One-Eye's War Machine is NOTHING BUT DAKKA.
  • More Teeth Than the Osmond Family: The entire One-Eye race has rows upon rows upon rows of sharp, yellow teeth.
  • 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. Seriously. When the Thief tries to steal some bananas from her, she proceeds to beat the crap out of him. And she 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.
  • No Kill Like Overkill: The One-Eyes War Machine.
  • No Mouth: Tack, whose mouth is represented by the tacks he holds in his mouth.
  • The Noun and the Noun
  • 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, [1]. 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.
  • Perspective Magic: When there is a scene with tiled patterns, perspective is often played with.
  • Platform Hell: The thief ends up in one in the climax. Unfair deathtraps, Spikes of Doom and a constant Bullet Hell are everywhere, and he survives them only by sheer dumb luck (not so for the various mooks dying horribly). It would probably make an awesome videogame.
  • Plot Coupon: The three golden balls.
  • Rebellious Princess: YumYum shows shades of this in the original, but it was Flanderized big time in the edits.
    • It also turned her into a Jerkass. At least Jasmine could back up the fact that she had brains inside a pretty body and didn't just sing and spin.
  • Re Cut: There's three versions of the film:
    • 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.
  • Red and Black and Evil All Over: The whole army of the One-Eye uses these colors to overkill. Even their eyes are red.
  • Redubbing: The Allied Filmmakers and Miramax editions redubbed the main British voices with American ones.
  • Red Filter of Doom: Twice.
    • 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 enourmus war machine is collapsing, Justified by the fire.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Zigzag speaks this.
  • Rube Goldberg Device: Tack unwittingly starts one with One-Eye's immense and intricate war machine in the film's Final Battle.
  • Scenery Porn
  • Serrated Blade of Pain: The One-Eye weaponry combines this with Spikes of Villainy.
  • Skewed Priorities: What would our dear thief rather do: steal three priceless golden balls, or run away from the blazing inferno/death trap of a war machine sitting in his way? Just guess.
  • Sphere Eyes: Some of the characters, given their really cartoony appearances.
  • Spike Balls of Doom: One-Eye's army has these in their weapon arsenal.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The War Machine of the One-Eyes.
  • Star Scraper: ZigZag has a tower that is ridiculously tall. The minaret with the three golden balls is supposed to be the tallest in the city, but seems fairly normal in comparison.
  • Sticky Fingers: Take a wild guess.
  • Stoner Flick
  • Strolling Through the Chaos: Happens to the thief in the climax. One of the funniest moments in the film, and lasts around eight minutes.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The Thief (by Jonathan Winters) and Phido (by Eric Bogosian) in the Miramax version.
    • Technically, Phido spoke in squawks provided by Donald Pleasence, and he was still dubbed in anyway.
  • Talking Animal: The Miramax cut gave Phido and the alligators several lines each for truly inexplicable reasons.
  • Technicolor Eyes: Everybody who has irises have them in different color. Tack has blue, Zigzag has green, king Nod has reddish brown, the nanny has desaturated brown,...
  • Traveling Pipe Bulge: The thief does this extensively while trying to sneak into the castle.
  • 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 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!"

  • Visual Innuendo: The bit where the Thief steals the Golden Balls for the first time and hides them under his clothes.
  • Visual Pun: Zigzag holds up the tack he stepped on while saying that Tack "attacked" him.
  • The Voiceless: Tack and the Thief. At least, originally. Though the Recobbled version adds a single line.
  • Wallet Moths: The Thief steals the Cobbler's money purse to find it woefully empty, save for a few moths.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: In the re-cuts of the movie:
    • While Princess YumYum is bathing, the Thief steals two of her back scratchers. In the re-cuts, nothing comes of it. In the original version, the Thief uses them to escape having his hands cut off.
    • 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.
  1. 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