Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Magnificent Ambersons of Cartoons

Here's an interesting thread on what appears to be the newest attempt to reconstruct Richard Williams' animated feature The Thief and the Cobbler. It's a very elaborate bootleg, but apparently of much better quality than scratchy workprint versions of the film that float around.

This feature is the great massacred legend of animation, as famous in its own way as Greed or The Magnificent Ambersons for the studio butchery it suffered. As Eddie Bowers explains, Williams spent over 20 years working on this feature film, borrowing time and money to work on the film whenever possible. Finally he secured a distribution deal with a studio to complete the film, but the studio took the film away from him, re-cut it, re-dubbed it, and re-titled it Arabian Night to make it seem more like an Aladdin knockoff. The product that was released to the public was beautifully animated, since most of the animation was directed by Williams, but it wasn't anything like what it was supposed to be.

The goal of a complete, fully-restored, official release of The Thief and the Cobbler remains a possibility, but, as Wikipedia details, there are problems involving rights, payments, and the preservation of the necessary material. The end result is that animation has its own legend of studio hacks tearing an auteur and his dream project to shreds, and the mystery of what the "real" movie would have been like if the creator had had his way.


Garrett Gilchrist said...

Thanks for mentioning my restoration of The Thief and the Cobbler! Greatly enjoy your blog.

Those interested can email me - tygerbug (at) yahoo.com.

Anonymous said...

This version of The Thief and the Cobbler misses one of the most amazing scenes in the movie, which I saw on English television when I was visiting London in the fall of 1988. I suspect it was an episode of "The South Bank Show" hosted by Melvin Bragg. Anyway, the scene must have been an expanded version of the atmospheric but very short introduction that the recobbled version starts with. In it, one has the powerful, incantatory narration while looking from a distance at the golden city. The camera or shot moves into the city in an amazing, surreal, hallucinatory and spiralling way, as if created with the most complex dolly shot in all of history, although it's all done by animation, of course. It was absolutely magical. I thought the narrator for that scene was Vincent Price, which would explain the drawings of the wizard's hands which one sees in the recobbled version's opening.

If I had to review the film: First of all, it's great to see this masterpiece, or the remains of a masterpiece, in some sort of recognizable form. I saw the execrable American butchering in the 1990s, and every moment, every second of that made me squirm with displeasure. Here, I'd say that the best parts are the scenes of evil, with their deep, saturated colors and visionary power. The comical and heroic characters generally have a cutesy feeling, and a lot of the shots of the golden city, all candy-colored pastel and soft-focus drawing, look rather dated in a 1960s/1970s way. But the scenes of evil are undying classics.

If you are not burning a CD and you simply want to view the movie, you only need to download 4 .vob files from the numerous files in the bittorrent: vts_01_1.vob, vts_01_2.vob, vts_01_3.vob, and vts_01_4.vob. That should save you some on download time.

Then you might want to do what I did, which was to convert the .vob files to .mpg files. I used my free file conversion software from eRightSoft, and then watched the files with Windows Media Player, which all worked out fine.

If someone has better movie making software than I have, or is more skilled than I am, maybe it would be a good idea to make the four .mpg files, then splice them together and then post the film as a zipped file at Rapidshare.