(In tribute to Richard Williams, 1933 - 2019)
(The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut Mark 4 can be streamed or downloaded on this site)
there was an animator, Richard Williams, who built a name out of fashioning animated shorts.
In 1964 Williams illustrated short stories about the mythical comic figure of Nasrudin which, in 1968, he turned into a film project. When support fell apart (in 1973), he took characters and stories he worked on--particularly his favorite, a thief--and repurposed them into a new production he would end up calling The Thief and the Cobbler.
Williams and his people continued developing the film on and off for some twenty years, using money earned from commercials, television specials, and film credit assignments. He would describe Thief as a "100 minute Panavision animated epic feature with a hand-drawn cast of thousands" that is "not following the Disney route...It has no sentiment and the two main characters (the thief and cobbler) don't speak. It's like a silent movie with a lot of sound." He adds "the idea is to make the best animated film that has ever been made." It was his child, his dream project that he hoped--somehow, someday--to complete; the film's legend grew accordingly.
Steven Spielberg saw footage of Thief, hired Williams as animation director for Who Framed Roger Rabbit?. Rabbit turned out to be an award-winning monster hit, and Williams' golden opportunity; when Warner Brothers offered $25 million to help finish Thief, Williams accepted--but the film had to be finished by 1991.
Williams and his crew labored mightily, sometimes up to sixty hours a week, the filmmaker often firing animators right and left (harsh, but to be fair no one worked harder than Williams; said animator Roger Visard: "He was the first person in the morning and the last one out at night"). When the deadline came and went Williams was forced to present what he had: a workprint with 85 minutes of footage, with pencil tests and storyboards to cover over gaps in the story. He needed six more months to draw the remaining fifteen minutes, he claimed, and the film would be complete.
Warner backed out of their deal. Disney was about to open Aladdin--which, viewed closely, included characters and animated sequences that resembled those in Thief (some of its animators were people Williams had fired) and the idea of competing directly against the mighty Mouse felt like a losing proposition (different scenario if Williams had finished on time, and Warner was able to pre-emptively release the film). In 1992, Williams' dream project of some twenty-four years was taken from him by a completion bond company, which cut footage out and put in (cheap-looking) animation involving musical numbers (because, y'know, Disney). The result was released as The Princess and the Cobbler, and promptly failed at the box-office ($669,276 in receipts against a $28 million budget).
Miramax Films--a company notorious for buying up and mutilating independent pictures before releasing them in the American market--bought Thief from the bond company, mutilated it some more, added celebrity voices to the silent thief and cobbler, released the film as Arabian Knight...which also did poorly with the critics and not much better at the box office.
And so matters remained.