This post, which you are currently reading, is on the Miramax Release of “The Thief and the Cobbler,” which is the one that I imagine most people will leap for since it’s at video stores and streaming on Netflix. Please don’t post comments about how much better the recobbled cut is because I haven’t seen it and I chose to write about the Miramax release for a very specific reason.
“The Thief and the Cobbler” has a very lengthy and sad history. Animator Richard Williams decided to start working on “The Thief and the Cobbler” in 1964, intending to make it his masterpiece. Williams then went on to direct the animation for “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” and started to work with a studio to release “The Thief and the Cobbler.” He couldn’t complete the film on time and control was taken away from him. In 1995 the film was released by Miramax as “Arabian Knight,” although it was changed back to its original title for the home video release, and the film was derided as a rip-off of “Aladdin.”
In ancient Baghdad, Tack (Matthew Broderick) is apprenticing as a cobbler when he gets messed up with a thief (Jonathan Winters) who has broken into Tack’s home. The two fall onto Zigzag the Grand Vizier (Vincent Price), who accuses Tack of attacking him. To save Tack, Princess Yum-Yum (Jennifer Beals) breaks her shoe and has Tack repair her shoe. Once again, the thief tumbles into Tack, who then tumbles into Zigzag and is thrown in jail. Yum-Yum has Tack released just in time for the three golden orbs to be taken by the thief. According to legend, the golden orbs protect Baghdad and without them, the city is vulnerable to the evil One-Eye (Kevin Dorsey). To take advantage of this, Zigzag travels to One-Eye with his loyal but abused vulture Phido (Eric Bogosian) to work together to take down Baghdad. Meanwhile, Yum-Yum and Tack travel to find One-Eye’s sister to save the city.
Knowing that the version I watched isn’t the one that Williams had planned, it is easy to see where Fred Calvert, who took over the project, added things in to make it a more marketable and mainstream movie. In the initial version, the thief is mute and in this version, he has a lot of thoughts the audience gets to hear. Many of these thoughts are anachronistic jokes and they don’t really fit in the film. But ultimately it isn’t the jokes in the monologues of the thief that grow tiresome, but the fact that he has so many monologues. Hear from the thief gets to be annoying after a certain point.
It’s also clear to the viewers that songs were added to make it more like other children’s movies. Not every children’s movie made by studios other than Disney can have great songs, but “The Thief and the Cobbler” has the least memorable songs in any animated film I’ve watched. Whenever I watch this film, I expect to have a song sung by the brigands in the film stuck in my head the next day. But I finish the film and I can barely remember the tune. I the songs posses a quality which causes the viewer to assume Calvert found Robert Folk, who wrote the songs, and had him half-ass some songs for the film.
These are the two biggest problems with the film. The film is a must watch because of the fantastic design Williams had for this project. It has some of the most fascinating animation I’ve seen in any animated film.
I’d also argue that for being an overtly menacing villain, Zigzag is an excellent villain. He’s voiced by Vincent Price and speaks entirely in rhymes. In a way, Zigzag feels like a very traditional villain, but he has a position that allows him to influence people as well as a great skill at magic. We also see bits of his cruelty throughout the film. He dislikes Tack, abuses Phido and takes advantage of thief to get the gold orbs.
I’d also throw in Princess Yum-Yum as a good role model. She’s is clever and uses that to save Tack from Zigzag early in the film. She’s also very intelligent and a good diplomat as she negotiates in the film with brigands and helps save the city. She cares very much for the future of Baghdad and its safety, but also has a strong relationship with her father. In a way she reminds me a bit of Kida in “Atlantis: The Last Empire,” which came after this movie. This isn’t to accuse “Atlantis: The Lost Empire” of borrowing from this film, but it’s an interesting similarity.
Even with its flaws, “The Thief and the Cobbler” is worth a viewing because of the story and animation. It’s an odd film during this time period as it has an original story, but the story is a fascinating tale that feels like it could have come from an old legend.