In the process, Calvert completely re-edited the film, removing many of Williams' scenes and adding songs and voiceovers, in order to make it more marketable. Two versions were released: One was issued in Australia and South Africa in 1993 as "The Princess and the Cobbler" and the other in the United States in 1995 as "Arabian Knight" (later released under the film's working original name, The Thief and the Cobbler, on home video). The Princess version was distributed by Majestic Films International and Arabian Knight by Miramax Family Films. Neither was a financial success nor met with a positive reception. However, the film's history and intent has given it significant cult status among animation professionals and fans. As many animators from the Golden Age of animation were involved, the development of the film also played a significant role in preserving the knowledge and skill of animation for the newer generation of animators.
Poor-quality bootleg VHS tapes of Richard Williams' unfinished workprint circulated for years. Although there has been no official restoration of the film as intended, filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist completed an unofficial restoration in 2006, known as The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut. This is currently considered to be the definitive available version of the film.
With The Thief and the Cobbler being in production from 1964 until 1995, a total of 31 years, it surpasses the 20 year Guinness record of Tiefland (1954), eventually having the longest production time for a motion picture of all time.
The film was the final appearance of Vincent Price (d. 1993), who recorded his dialogue from 1967 to 1973.
Development and early production on Nasruddin (1964-1972)
Richard Williams began development work on The Thief and the Cobbler in 1964, planning to do a film about the Mulla Nasruddin, a "wise fool" of Near Eastern folklore. Williams had previously illustrated a series of books by Idries Shah, which collected the philosophical yet humorously wise tales of Nasrudin. Production took place at Richard Williams Productions in Soho Square, London. An early reference to the project came in the 1968 International Film Guide, which noted that Williams was about to begin work on "the first of several films based on the stories featuring Mulla Nasruddin."
Like director Orson Welles before him, Williams took on television and feature-film title projects in order to fund his pet project, and work on his film progressed slowly. In 1969, the Guide noted that animation legend Ken Harris was now working on the project, which was now entitled The Amazing Nasrudin. The illustrations from the film showed intricate Indian and Persian designs.
In 1970, the project was re-titled The Majestic Fool. For the first time, a potential distributor for the independent film was mentioned: British Lion Film Corporation. The International Film Guide noted that the Williams Studio's staff had increased to forty people for the production of the feature.
Dialogue tracks for the film, now being referred to as Nasruddin!, were recorded at this time. Vincent Price was hired to perform the voice of the villain, Anwar (later re-named "Zigzag"), originally assigned to Kenneth Williams. Sir Anthony Quayle was cast as King Nod. Price was hired to make the villain more enjoyable for Williams, as he was a great fan of Vincent Price's work and ZigZag was based on "two people Williams hated."
Nasruddin becomes The Thief and the Cobbler
The film went through many name-changes before becoming The Thief and the Cobbler - other names included "The Cobbler and the Thief," The Thief Who Never Gave Up' and Once...
Idries Shah demanded 50% of the profits from the film, and Idries Shah’s sister, who had done some of the fine translations for the Nasrudin book, claimed that she owned the stories. Williams also felt that Omar Shah was stealing from the film's budget for his own purposes. As a result, Williams had a falling-out with the Shah family in 1972, and Williams lost rights to the script.
In a promotional booklet released in 1973, Williams made an announcement about the status of his project: "Nasruddin was found to be too verbal and not suitable for animation, therefore Nasruddin as a character and the Nasruddin stories were dropped as a project. However, the many years work spent on painstaking research into the beauty of Oriental art has been retained. Loosely based on elements in the Arabian Nights stories, an entirely new and original film entitled The Thief and The Cobbler is now the main project of the Williams Studio. Therefore any publicity references to the old character of Nasruddin are now obsolete."
The publicity release, however, failed to mention that almost all of the Nasruddin footage, characters and scenes that did not have Nasruddin himself were retained. While the story's focus and tone was shifted, several characters, including Anwar/Zigzag, were all carried over to the "new" film, which Williams was promising as a "100 minute Panavision animated epic feature film with a hand-drawn cast of thousands."
By 1973, Williams had co-written a new script with his wife Margaret French. Nasruddin was replaced by a cobbler named Tack. The characters were renamed at this point. In the Nasruddin years, Phido's original name was "Brutay", making Zigzag's last words "You, too, Phido?" a reference to the famous "Et tu, Brute?". Zigzag speaks mostly in rhyme throughout the entire film, while the other characters speak normally (the thief and Tack do not speak at all, except for one line for Tack at the very end, voiced by Sean Connery). In an interview with John Canemaker in the Feb. 1976 issue of Millimeter, Richard Williams stated that "The Thief is not following the Disney route." He went on to state that the film would be "the first animated film with a real plot that locks together like a detective story at the end," and that, with its two mute main characters, Thief was essentially "a silent movie with a lot of sound."
Prolonged production (1972-1986)
Williams worked on the production as a side project in-between various television commercial, television special, and feature film title assignments, such as the 1977 feature Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure. Because he had no money or time to have a full team working on the film, and due to the film being a "giant epic", and because this was a learning project, production dragged for decades. In order to save money, scenes were kept in pencil stage without putting it into colour, as advised by Dick Purdum: "Work on paper! Don’t put it in colour. Don’t spend on special effects. Don’t do camera-work, tracing or painting …. just do the rough drawings!”
Upon seeing Disney's The Jungle Book (1967), Richard Williams realised that he had nowhere near the skill in animation that he wanted to have, and that he needed to really learn the craft, if he wanted to hold the audience's interest:
"I was a graphic artist in animation … thought I was ever so clever, until one day I realized I didn’t know a damned thing. I couldn’t suspend disbelief for more than 15 to 20 minutes. I thought I had better go and study ‘how you do it’. So we did … and it was a nasty shock to realize when you thought you were wonderful and were covered with awards, that you didn’t know how to do it, at all."
Williams thus decided to get several veterans from the golden age of animation, such as Art Babbitt, Ken Harris, Emery Hawkins and Grim Natwick, to work on the film in his studio in London and teach him their knowledge and skill of animation. Williams learned also from Milt Kahl, Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston and Ken Anderson at Disney, to whom he made yearly visits. Williams would later pass their knowledge to the new generation of animators.
As years passed, the project became more ambitious. Williams said that "The idea is to make the best animated film that has ever been made - there really is no reason why not." The film features very detailed and complex animation, such as scenes where the entire picture is animated by hand to move in three dimensions: this was achieved without computer-generated imagery. Additionally, almost the whole film has been animated "on ones", meaning that the animation runs at full 24 frames per second, as opposed to the cheaper and more common animation "on twos" at twelve frames per second.
Because Ken Harris was a very fast animator, and the film had no plot since the removal of the Nasruddin character and before the script rewrite, Williams had to invent several scenes for the Thief character (which was designed as a caricature of Williams) in order to keep Harris working. Another artist hired was illustrator Errol Le Cain, who did inspirational paintings and backgrounds, setting the style for the film. During the decades that the film was being made, the characters were redesigned several times, and scenes were reanimated. The Mad Holy Old Witch was designed as a caricature of animator Grim Natwick, by whom she was originally animated. Animation drawings of the Mad Holy Old Witch were later used in Richard Williams' 2000 book The Animator's Survival Kit, revised to change the character's design for legal reasons.
In 1978, a prince from Saudi Arabia named Mohammed Feisal became interested in The Thief and agreed to fund ten minutes as a test, with the budget of $100,000. Williams chose the complex War Machine scene for the test. He missed two deadlines, and the scene was completed in the end of 1979 for $250,000. Prince Feisal flew to London for a screening, and although the scene was done in very high quality (it has been later used as an example of the film's animation quality), he backed out of the production because of missed deadlines and budgetary overruns.
The Thief gains financial backing
In 1986, Williams met producer Jake Eberts, who began funding the production through his Allied Filmmakers company and, according to the August 30, 1995 edition of The Los Angeles Times, eventually provided $10 million of the film's $28 million budget. Allied's distribution and sales partner, Majestic Films, began promoting the film in industry trades, under the working title Once....
After hearing about the rather enthusiastic reaction to a 20 minute screening of "The Thief" that took place at Skywalker Ranch, Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg decided to take a look for themselves and were so impressed that they asked Williams to direct the animation of Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Williams agreed in order to get financing for The Thief and the Cobbler and get it finally finished. Disney and Spielberg told Williams that in return for doing Roger Rabbit, they would help distribute his film. Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, and became a blockbuster. Williams won two Oscars for his animation. The success of Roger Rabbit proved that Williams could work within a studio structure and turn out high-quality animation on time and within budget.
Because of his success, Williams received funding and a distribution deal for The Thief and the Cobbler with Warner Bros. Pictures: They signed a negative pickup deal in 1988. Williams also got some money from Japanese investors.
Beginning on full production (1989-1992)
With the new funding, the film finally got into full production in 1989. Williams scoured the art schools of Europe and Canada to find talented artists. It was at this point, with almost all of the original animators either dead or having long since moved on to other projects, that full-scale production on the film began, mostly with a new, younger team of animators, including Richard Williams's son Alexander Williams. In a 1988 interview with Jerry Beck, Williams stated that he had two and a half hours of pencil tests for Thief and that he had not storyboarded the film as he found such a method too controlling. However, when it came time to storyboard the film shortly after that, Williams completed the necessary boards in high quality and in record time.
Discipline was harsh. "He fired hundreds of people. There's a list as long as your arm of people fired by Dick. It was a regular event." cameraman John Leatherbarrow recalls,"There was one guy who got fired on the doorstep." Williams was just as hard on himself: "He was the first person in the morning and the last one out at night," recalls animator Roger Visard.
At this time Eberts encouraged Williams to make changes to the script. The prince Bubba subplot was removed, resulting in the loss of the following characters: Princess Mee-Mee (Yum-Yum's twin sister), and Prince Bubba, who had been turned into an ogre.
Funders pressured Williams to make finished scenes of the main characters for a marketing trailer. The final designs were made for the characters at this time. The shot of Princess Yum-Yum in the trailer was traced from a live action film - her design was slightly changed for the rest of the film, resulting her to be slightly "off-model" in the scene. Tack was modeled after silent film stars Charlie Chaplin and Harry Langdon. Movement 1 of the symphonic suite Scheherazade by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov was used in promotion of the film.
In Richard Williams' script for the film, the climax was even longer (and slightly different) than in the workprint or final films: After the collapse of the War Machine, Zigzag, at Mighty One-Eye's goading, conjures a larger-than-life Oriental dragon (which dwarfed even the War Machine), which is about to flatten Tack, who once again trusts on his tack to bring down the dragon, revealing it to be nothing more than an inflatable balloon (filled with acrid fumes, which permeates the atmosphere and makes everyone cough, even Mighty One-Eye; That can still be heard in the workprint). Enraged, Mighty One-Eye is going to kill a frightened Zigzag just before meeting his own doom (the same one as in the workprint), but Zigzag is pursued by Tack, Yum Yum and the Brigands and hides from them just before inadvertently meeting his own doom (also in the workprint). Although there were some production designs of the scene with the Oriental dragon, it was never made, as it was found to be too difficult to animate.
Richard Williams loses control of the film (1992)
The film was not finished by the 1991 deadline that Warner imposed upon Williams; the film had only 10 to 15 minutes of screen time away from completion, which at William's rate would have taken approximately six months to complete. Meanwhile Walt Disney Feature Animation had begun work on Aladdin (1992), a film which bore striking resemblances in tone, style, plot and detail to The Thief and the Cobbler; for example, the character Zigzag from Cobbler shares many physical characteristics with both Aladdin's villain, Jafar, and its Genie. Eric Goldberg and Andreas Deja worked on both films, and Disney had made no secret that they were fond of The Thief and the Cobbler; the film had gotten Williams the job as animation director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
With Disney's film release and potential competition to Cobbler's commercial viability, television animation producer Fred Calvert was asked to do a detailed analysis of the production status in early 1991. He had already traveled to Williams' London studio several times to check on the progress of the film, and his conclusion was that Williams was "woefully behind schedule and way over budget". Williams did indeed have a script, according to Calvert, but "he wasn't following it faithfully." Williams was asked to show the investors a rough copy of the film with the remaining scenes filled in with storyboards in order to establish the film's narrative. Williams had avoided storyboards up to this point, but within two weeks he had done what the investors had asked. "They had to twist his fingers to do storyboards, he refused to do them." Williams made a workprint which combined finished footage, pencil test and storyboards which covered the 10 to 15 minutes left to finish. This workprint has been bootlegged, and copies exist.
The workprint was shown to Warner. This rough version of the film was not well received; by September 1992, Warner had lost confidence and backed out of the project, and the Completion Bond Company had seized control of the film. According to Alex Williams, executive producer Jake Eberts also abandoned the project; his comments on record claiming that the altered versions were superior to Williams' version indicate that Eberts had also lost confidence in Williams. Additionally, according to Richard Williams himself, the production had lost a source of funding when Japanese investors pulled out due to the recession following the Japanese asset price bubble.
Production under Fred Calvert (1992-1993)
Fred Calvert was assigned by the Completion Bond Company to finish the film as cheaply and quickly as possible, an assignment he tried to avoid. When the arrangements with another producer fell through, he took the job "somewhat under protest". "I really didn't want to do it," Calvert said, "but if I didn't do it, it would have been given off to the lowest bidder. I took it as a way to try and preserve something and at least get the thing on the screen and let it be seen." Sue Shakespeare of Creative Capers Entertainment had previously offered to solve story problems with Terry Gilliam and Williams, and proposed to allow Williams to finish the film under her supervision. However, her bid was rejected by Completion Bond in favor of a cheaper one by Calvert.
In the process, Calvert made several significant changes to the film. Much of Williams's finished footage was deleted from the final release print because of the repetitive nature of the scenes.
"We took it and re-structured it as best we could and brought in a couple of writers and went back into all of Richard Williams' work, some that he wasn't using and found it marvelous...we tried to use as much of his footage as possible."
"We hated to see of all this beautiful animation hit the cutting room floor, but that was the only way we could make a story out of it. One of the problems, there were a number of these situations...in the script, there might be two or three sentences describing the Thief going up a drain pipe. But what he animated on the screen was five minutes up and down that pipe which would ordinarily be five pages of script...These were the kind of imbalances that were happening. He [Richard Williams] was kind of Rube Goldberg-ing his way through. I don't think he was able to step back and look at the whole thing as a story."|Fred Calvert}}
Some of the deleted scenes ended up as being dislpayed during the end credits. Also, Steve Lively was brought in to record a voice and narration for the previously mute character of Tack, and several other characters that already had vocal tracks prepared for them were re-voiced. While having a speaking hero wasn't Calvert's choice, he felt it was a logical decision in order to tell the story. Four songs were added: She is More, Am I Feeling Love?, Bom, Bom, Bom, Beem, Bom and It's So Amazing. Adult content was also toned down: In the scene where the dying messenger warns the king, the spike (from the flagpole) sticking out of his chest was removed. The same thing goes for any audio (or reference) of the Maiden from Mombassa.
It took Calvert 18 months to finish the film. The new scenes were produced on a very low budget, with the animation being produced by freelance animators in Los Angeles (some from Bill Kroyer's Kroyer Films, who is also credited), former Williams animators at Premier Films in London, and Don Bluth animators working under Gary Goldman in Ireland. The ink and paint work was subcontracted to Wang Film Productions in Taiwan, who themselves outsourced most of the work to their satellite studio in Thailand; additional ink and paint work was done at Varga Studio in Hungary. Some work was also done in Korea. The end results have been widely seen as "obviously and pitifully inferior" in quality to Williams's original scenes; the primary concern was to complete the film in as little time and for as little money as possible.
|"[Williams is] an incredible animator, though. Incredible. One of the biggest problems we had was trying our desperate best, where we had brand new footage, to come up to the level of quality that he had set." - Fred Calvert
After the film was taken from Richard Williams, it was turned into a Disney-type musical. The Miramax version has been said to resemble a plagiarism/rip-off of Aladdin.
After the film's completion, Jake Eberts' Allied Filmmakers, along with Majestic Films, reacquired the distribution rights from the Completion Bond Company.
Calvert's version of the film was distributed in Australia and South Africa as The Princess and the Cobbler. Until Miramax agreed to distribute the film, it was refused by many other American distributors . "It was a very difficult film to market, it had such a reputation," Calvert recalls. "I don't think that they were looking at it objectively."
In December 1994, the Disney subsidiary Miramax Films bought the rights. Miramax recut the film even further, and released their own version in the U.S., Arabian Knight,. The voices of Matthew Broderick and Jonathan Winters were added over nearly every scene of the film; Williams' version had been largely dialogue-less. The character of the Old Witch was entirely removed (save for a few lines of dialogue and ghost-like image), as was most of a climactic battle sequence. Fans of the film consider this version unwatchable, as it essentially makes fun of what Williams was trying to achieve. There are also several Aladdin references in the new, added dialogue, which seems like an attempt to make the film seem like a cheap Aladdin ripoff.
Arabian Knight was quietly released by Miramax on August 25, 1995. It opened on 510 screens, and grossed $319,723 (on an estimated budget of $24 million) during its theatrical run.
To this day the film has never been released in any form in the United Kingdom, where the majority of the production took place.
The Miramax Films (1995) version of the film was released on VHS on February 18, 1997 as The Thief and the Cobbler (originally released in theatres as Arabian Knight). A widescreen laserdisc was also released, and a Japanese-dubbed widescreen DVD of the 1995 release.
The first time that the Miramax version of the film appeared on DVD, was in Canada in 2001 as a giveaway promotion in packages of Kellogg's Froot Loops cereal. This pan and scan DVD was released through Alliance Atlantis which distributes many of Miramax's films in Canada. It came in a paper sleeve and had no special features, other than the choice of English or French language tracks.
The "Princess and the Cobbler" edit was released on a pan and scan DVD in Australia in 2003 by Magna Pacific, according to some sites, additional features on the DVD are unknown.
The Miramax version was first released commercially on DVD on March 8, 2005, in pan-and-scan format. This DVD was re-released by The Weinstein Company on November 21, 2006. Although the information supplied to retailers such as Amazon.com by retail distribution companies said that it would be a widescreen "collector's edition", this DVD was in fact the old 2005 pan-and-scan DVD in fancy packaging.
This fancy packaging, designed and illustrated poorly as a pop-up piece for children, played up the misconception that this is some sort of Aladdin knockoff, by portraying Tack and Yum-Yum on a flying carpet, a scene which only appears in Aladdin.
The 2006 DVD has been found by most reviewers to be unsatisfactory, with the image quality being compared to "a VHS/Beta tape rather than a DVD... and one that’s seen better days". In particular, the color saturation is shockingly bright, ruining any quality the image otherwise has. The Digital Bits gave it an award for being the worst standard-edition DVD of 2006.
Although the second DVD of the Miramax version of this film featured the same video as the first one, this DVD featured trailers and promos for Weinstein Company-produced family films, including Hoodwinked and Arthur and the Invisibles.
A widescreen version of the film, with the Arabian Knight title intact and a trailer for that version, was released in Japan, and is the basis for most of Garrett Gilchrist's Recobbled Cut of the film. The quality isn't ideal- the picture is fairly soft and whites are very blown out, with much detail lost in the highlights.
Arabian Knight is Poorly Received by Critics
Although the film's executive producer Jake Eberts found that "It was significantly enhanced and changed by Miramax after Miramax stepped in and acquired the domestic [distribution] rights," the Miramax version of the film was a commercial failure. Critical response to this version was negative. Film website Rotten Tomatoes, which compiles reviews from a wide range of critics, gives the film a score of 40%. Carn James of The New York Times criticised the songs sung by the princess, calling the lyrics "horrible" and the melodies "forgettable", though he did praise Williams' animation as "among the most glorious and lively ever created". Alexander Williams, son of the original director, criticized changes made by Calvert and Miramax, called the finished film "more or less unwatchable" and found it "hard [...] to find the spirit of the film as it was originally conceived". However, in 2003, the Online Film Critics Society ranked the film as the 81st greatest animated film of all time. In addition, the film won the 1995 Academy of Family Films Award. Richard Williams has not publicly spoken about the film in any significant way since he lost control of the production.
Where's the Artwork?
During the Fred Calvert/Completion Bond Company production of the film, much of the artwork from the film was thrown away. Other artwork fell into private hands. Before losing control of the film, Williams had originally kept all the film's artwork safe in a fireproof basement, as seen in the documentary I Drew Roger Rabbit. It is believed that Disney kept as much of the artwork as possible once Miramax bought the film and reedited it into Arabian Knight- which would mean much of the artwork is currently in a "bunker in Burbank."
Early Restoration attempts
For years, low-quality video copies of Richard Williams' workprint have been shared among animation fans and professionals.
At the 2000 Annecy Festival, Williams showed Walt Disney Feature Animation head Roy E. Disney a faded work print of The Thief, which Disney liked, and began a project to restore The Thief and the Cobbler to as close to Williams' original intent as possible. He sought out original pencil tests and completed footage, much of which was by this time in the possession of various animators and film collectors. The restored work would have been released on a special DVD and given a limited run in theatres once finished. Roy Disney left the Walt Disney Company in November 2003, and the Thief and the Cobbler restoration project was put on hold.
The Recobbled Cut
In 2006, a fan of Richard Williams' work named Garrett Gilchrist created a non-profit fan restoration of William's workprint, named The Thief and the Cobbler: The Recobbled Cut. It was done in as high quality as possible by combining available sources, such as a bootleg copy of Williams' workprint and better-quality footage from DVD and VHS copies of the released versions, as well as 35mm film elements. This edit was much supported by numerous people who had worked on the film (with the exception of Richard Williams himself, who has distanced himself from the film), including Roy Naisbitt, Alex Williams, Andreas Wessel-Therhorn, Tony White, Holger Leihe, Steve Evangelatos, Greg Duffell, Jerry Verschoor and Beth Hannan, many of whom lent rare material for the project. Some minor changes were made to "make it feel more like a finished film", such as adding more music and replacing storyboards with some of Fred Calvert's animation, as long as it fit the flow of what Williams had intended.
The current version is known as the "Mark Three," which is most notable for making use of a 50-minute series of 35mm film reels, which was salvaged at the time from Jean MacCurdy's trash at Warner Brothers by a veteran animator. The reels mostly predate the Warner Brothers production of the film, and features many scenes of The Thief, including all the Thief's material within the War Machine. Most of the Old Witch's material is also intact. Members of the forum at http://orangecow.org/board , such as Patrick McCart, chipped in so that the reels could be transferred.
So What's Next?
Currently, neither The Weinstein Company or Disney have any plans to restore the film. The 2006 Weinstein Company release of the film on DVD featured a pop-up packaging portraying Tack and Yumyum on a flying carpet, a scene which appears in Aladdin, not The Thief and the Cobbler, suggesting that the Weinstein Company is happy to portray The Thief and the Cobbler as a cheap, embarrassing Aladdin ripoff- an insinuation which couldn't be further from the case.
So, what are the fans looking for?
The current available version of Williams' workprint circulating in fan circles is fairly low quality. It was posted anonymously as a compressed AVI file to the file sharing site Emule sometime in 2006 or earlier. It's in PAL format, running 25 frames per second, but the video itself is running at 24 frames per second, resulting in "ghosting" where nearly every frame is smudged together with another frame. If the original PAL VHS tape which was the source of this AVI file could be found, the quality difference would be a vast improvement.
In addition, a high-quality transfer of a 35mm print of either of the released versions of the film is much needed. The widescreen DVD copy of Arabian Knight which was used as the basis for much of the Recobbled Cut leaves a lot to be desired in terms of quality. The picture is rather soft, and slightly off-center, and white areas are blown-out, losing a lot of detail in the highlights. No high-quality widescreen version of The Princess and the Cobbler has been released, and for the Recobbled Cut, Garrett Gilchrist made do with a pan & scan DVD combined with a timecoded VHS tape of the widescreen version.
A high-quality, perhaps HD, transfer of a 35mm print of either version would be much enjoyed by the fans.
Obviously, if a 35mm print of Williams' workprint exists somewhere, somehow, that would be best of all.
It is also known that the workprint that is available in fan hands was not the final workprint completed by Williams before he was fired. Another workprint was completed which has not been bootlegged, and many scenes were completed which don't appear in their most final form in either workprint.
The Thief and the Cobbler (1992 workprint)
The film opens with the narrator describing a Golden City. According to a prophecy, if the three golden balls on the top of its highest minaret are taken away, the city will fall to destruction and death; however, the city can be saved by the "simplest soul with the smallest and simplest of things". The two titular characters, an unsuccessful but persistent thief, and Tack the poor and lonely cobbler, are both mute and have no dialogue.
When the thief tries his luck at the home of Tack, Tack accidentally sews their clothes together while he is asleep and the thief is leaning over him. They stumble onto the street, and Zigzag the rhyming grand vizier, who is proceeding through the street, steps on one of Tack's tacks. Angered by the pain, he orders Tack to be arrested, while the thief manages to escape. When Tack is being taken to the palace, the thief sees the three golden balls in the courtyard. Zigzag takes Tack before the sleepy king Nod and his beautiful daughter, princess Yum-Yum, who takes a liking to Tack (and vice versa.) Before Zigzag can convince the king to have Tack executed, Yum-Yum saves him by breaking her shoe on purpose and demanding that the cobbler should fix it. Tack fixes her shoe while developing a romantic bond with the princess that leaves Zigzag, who harbors great lust for Yum-Yum, intensely jealous. After he is done, the thief, who has managed to break into the palace through the sewer system, steals the shoe, and Tack chases him through hallways filled with optical illusions. After Tack manages to get the shoe back, he bumps into Zigzag, who notices that the shoe has been fixed and uses the opportunity to lock Tack away in a prison cell.
Outside the city, a race of monstrous one-eyed men, led by the warlord Mighty One-eye, plans to conquer it. Unknown to them, a single soldier of the army they have just defeated is still alive, though mortally wounded, and rides to warn the king. Meanwhile, Zigzag tells his starving pet vulture Phido his plan to marry the princess and take over the kingdom. Phido hates Zigzag due to the fact he does not feed him and treats him badly (accidentally setting him on fire multiple times). The following morning, king Nod has a vision of the Golden City's doom by the one-eyes and calls Zigzag immediately (interrupting his attempt to feed Tack to Phido). When Zigzag has managed to convince the king that they are "safe from any threat as long as the three golden balls are on the minaret", the thief manages to steal the balls after several failed attempts, but drops and loses them to Zigzag's minions. Meanwhile, Tack breaks out of his cell using his cobbling tools while people panic over the loss of the balls. The dying soldier finally arrives and warns Nod about the one-eyes. After seeing that the balls are gone, the horrified king tells his subjects about the dire situation and prepare the city's defense for an invasion. Later that night, Zigzag receives the balls from his minions and attempts to blackmail the king to let him marry his daughter Yum-Yum. When king Nod refuses, Zigzag decides to defect to the one-eyes instead and give them the golden balls.
Nod sends Yum-Yum, her nanny and Tack on a perilous journey to ask for help from the Mad And Holy Old Witch, who lives in the desert. The heroes meet a band of dim-witted brigands in the desert, whom Yum-Yum declares as her royal guard. Together they travel to the hand-shaped mountain where the witch lives. The witch says that Tack is able to save the Golden City, and gives him the advice: "Attack, Attack, ATTACK! A tack, see? But it's what you do with what you've got!". Meanwhile, Zigzag goes to the Mighty One-eye and impresses him with his skills as a sorcerer and by taming the alligators that the one-eyes throw him to. They then prepare to attack the city.
The protagonists return to the city while the one-eyes' huge war machine is approaching. Remembering the witch's riddle, Tack steps forward and shoots a single tack into the enemy's midst. The tack starts a Rube Goldberg-esque chain reaction that causes the war machine to slowly collapse, destroying the whole one-eye army in the process. When trying to escape, Zigzag falls into a dark pit where he is ambushed by the alligators and Phido. Because Zigzag has not kept his promise to feed them, they eat him alive. The Mighty One-eye, who had been watching from a nearby cliff, is killed by his own slave women. The thief, while evading many deathtraps, steals the balls from the war machine, but they are taken from him by Tack: The thief, who has had various misadventures throughout the film, finally gives up and lets him have them. With peace restored and the prophecy fulfilled, the city celebrates as Tack and Yum-Yum marry; before their kiss, Tack speaks for the first time in the film, saying "I love you" to Yum-yum in a surprisingly low and deep voice. The movie ends with the thief stealing the entire film and running away.
Changes made in The Princess and the Cobbler (1993, Majestic Films)
The version by Fred Calvert is considerably different from Williams' workprint. Four songs have been added - the film originally had none. Many scenes have been cut: These include the thief attempting to steal various objects and a subplot where Zigzag tries to feed Tack to Phido. Also removed are any references to the "bountiful maiden from Mombassa", whom Zigzag gives to king Nod as "a plaything" in the workprint. Tack, who was (almost) mute in the original, speaks many times in the film and narrates most scenes in past tense as an older Tack: The original had narration only in the beginning by a voiceover. Some subplots have been added; In one, Yum-Yum is tired of doing nothing and wants to help her father: She volunteers to be sent to the perilous journey in order to prove herself to be more than "just a pretty face". Another subplot is that there is a social class romance between Tack and Yum-Yum: The Nanny scolds Yum Yum for liking a lowly cobbler so much, and is very negative towards Tack. In the original, her behaviour is very different and much more positive. Also, there are several lines of alternate or removed dialogue.
Additionally, the following scene-specific changes have been made:
- In the scene where Yum-Yum is introduced, she tells Nanny that she is tired of living a life of "regal splendor" and sings the first added song of the film, "She is More".
- The scene where ZigZag's plans are revealed to the audience has been moved to an earlier point of the film (just after Tack is assigned to fix Yum-Yum's shoe).
- After ZigZag puts Tack in his cell, Tack and Yum-Yum sing the second song, "Am I Feeling Love?".
- The one-eyes are revealed at the very beginning during the opening narration. The scene where the One-Eyes would have been first introduced in Williams' version has been changed to a nightmare for King Nod, who then calls Zigzag immediately. The king had a nightmare in the original, too, but more abstract and later in the film.
- The reason for the King refusing to let ZigZag marry Yum-Yum is that he finds it ridiculous that his minister, who is a sorcerer, should wed a princess, who is only allowed to marry someone pure of heart.
- The brigands are a troupe of loafers who were sent twenty years ago by the King to guard his borders. Because none of them are literate, they do not know when to return and have become bandits. They sing the song, "Bom Bom Bom Beem Bom" to describe their situation.
- The Witch first appears as a floating eye, instead of being initially inside a tiny urn.
- The Witch's riddle is: "When to the wall you find your back; a tack, a tack, a tack!"
- The way the slave women kill the Mighty One-eye is changed: In the original, they chant "throne" and sit on him (He had been using them as a living throne). In this version, they throw him off the cliff.
- During the collapse of the war machine, Tack and Zigzag have a fight. The fight ends with Tack sewing Zigzag's robe.
- When One-Eye's army has been broken, the thief emerges and (pricked by conscience) willingly hands the Golden Balls to the King. When Tack and the Princess marry, there are flashbacks of all their times together up to that point, while the song "It's So Amazing" plays. Tack mentions that the thief gave him his word that he would never steal again.
- Because Tack now has a voice throughout the film, the gag where he has a deep voice has been removed.
Changes made in Arabian Knight (1995, Miramax)
The Miramax version includes all changes made in The Princess and the Cobbler, and adds the following:
- Several previously mute characters were given voices, most notably the thief (as Tack explains in this version, the thief is "a man of few words, but many thoughts"). Other characters that have added voices are Phido and the alligators.
- The Golden City is called Baghdad, though Tack is the only character who calls it that.
- The Witch is the benevolent twin sister of the evil One-Eye.
- The scenes with the witch in her human form are removed in this version of the film, leaving only a floating eye and a ghostlike image.
- The Witch's riddle is extended to: "When to the wall you find your back; a tack, a tack, a tack! Belief in yourselves is what you lack! A tack, a tack, and never look back!"
- Most scenes featuring the One-eye's slave women have been removed, although he can still be seen sitting on them.
- The scene where the Mighty One-eye dies has been removed, and he appears to be alive when his machine is shown burning (as he can be heard saying "My machine!"). Whether or not he dies afterward is unknown, although it is implied by Tack that he did - Tack says that "One-eye and his army were defeated for all eternity."
- The ending has been recut. At the end, Tack becomes Prince and the first Arabian Knight. The song "It's so amazing" has been removed. During the wedding, the thief attempts to steal the balls again. Tack ends the story by saying: "So next time you see a shooting star, be proud of who you really are. Do in your heart what you know is right, and you too shall become an Arabian Knight." Tack also mentions that the thief eventually remains in jail for years, but when released, becomes the Captain of the Guards.
- The end credits for the Miramax version featured the songs It's So Amazing, the short version of Bom, Bom, Bom, Beem, Bom, and the Arnold McCuller/Andrea Robinson version of the song Am I Feeling Love?, but the end credits for the Majestic Films version only featured the songs Bom, Bom, Bom, Beem, Bom (without most of the lyrics) and the Arnold McCuller/Andrea Robinson version of the song Am I Feeling Love?.
|Character||Original version||Majestic Films version||Miramax version|
|Zigzag the Grand Vizier||Vincent Price|
|Cobbler||Sean Connery||Steve Lively|| Matthew Broderick (speaking)|
Steve Lively (singing)
|Narrator||Felix Aylmer||Matthew Broderick|
|Princess Yum-Yum||Hilary Pritchard||Bobbi Page|| Jennifer Beals (speaking)|
Bobbi Page (singing)
|The Thief||Unknown (never speaks)||Ed E. Carroll||Jonathan Winters|
|King Nod||Anthony Quayle|| Clive Revill|
Anthony Quayle (speech scene)
|Princess Yum-Yum's Nanny||Joan Sims||Mona Marshall||Toni Collette|
|Mad Holy Old Witch||-||Chief Roofless||Windsor Davies|
|Mighty One-Eye||Paul Matthews||Kevin Dorsey|
|Phido the Vulture||Donald Pleasence||Eric Bogosian|
|Dying Soldier||Clinton Sundberg|
|Maiden from Mombassa||Miriam Margolyes|
|Brigand||Richard Williams (animator)|Richard Williams (uncredited)|
|Speaking Brigands|| Joss Ackland|
| Geoff Golden|
|Singing Brigands|| Randy Crenshaw|
Robert Joyce|Bob Joyce
Rick Charles Nelson|Rick Nelson
|"Am I Feeling Love? Pop Singers'|| Arnold McCuller|
Andrea Robinson (singer)|Andrea Robinson
|Additional Voices|| Ed E. Carroll|
In the original version of the film, the thief is heard making short grunts/wheezes in a few scenes - though not as many as in the Majestic Films version. It is unclear who provided these sounds, but it is known that Ed E. Carroll did the additional ones for the Majestic Films version.
Although Sir Anthony Quayle's voice was mostly redubbed by Clive Revill in the re-edited versions of the film by Miramax and Majestic Films, Quayle's voice (uncredited) can still be heard for an entire scene when King Nod gives a speech to his subjects.
Joan Sims' voice for the Witch was partly redubbed by Mona Marshall, but many lines spoken by Sims were retained when she first fully materializes and when she receives her chest of money all the way up to the part when she's in a basket lighting a match to the fumes.