The film originally began life as The Amazing Nasruddin, and was set to be a tale about Mulla Nasruddin, a legendary figure from Near Eastern folklore. The film’s name changed to The Majestic Fool, and then to Nasruddin! and production chugged along very slowly. Eventually, Williams had a falling out with some of the people he was planning the film with, and it was also determined that Nasruddin! was “too verbal” for a proper animated film, so the script was thrown out sometime around 1972. (I’ve actually seen some footage left over from Nasruddin!, and trust me…they were right.) However Williams, having gained a lot of visual reference and inspiration from Middle Eastern artwork and folklore, decided to make an entirely new production based in this world that would ideally become the greatest animated film ever created. Now titled The Thief and the Cobbler, Williams began production on this new project in 1973. Production was extremely slow, and due to Williams not faithfully following the script he had written, scenes were pretty much animated on a whim. Williams made it a point to hire animation legends to work on the project – names like Ken Harris, Art Babbitt, and Emery Hawkins. You might not know who these guys are, but they are all considered legends in the field of animation, and true masters of their craft. The film was conceived as a way to preserve their craft for all generations to come. Williams himself made things a bit of a problem, since he didn’t like the tyranny of scripts or storyboards hindering his creativity and ambition. Because of this, scenes were being animated without any bearing as to where they would end up in the film – many of the scenes involving the Thief doing random things that are in the film exist because Williams wanted to keep his master animators busy while he plotted out the entire film in his head.
After receiving some financial backing from a Saudi Arabian prince in the late ’70s and using it to complete the climax of the film (which contains some of the most intricate, complex and detailed animation ever committed to celluloid), Thief was comprised of about 12 minutes of completed footage. (The prince eventually backed out of the movie after Williams missed two deadlines and went drastically over budget.) Richard Williams put together a screening of the completed 12 minutes to show to potential financiers, and this caught the attention of Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg, who were in the process of prepping for Who Framed Roger Rabbit. They checked out the animation for themselves, and after being thoroughly impressed, they offered Williams the position of Animation Director for Roger. Williams accepted the offer, knowing that he would finally be able to gain financial backing for The Thief and the Cobbler in return for working on such a high-profile project. And, after Roger was released in 1988 and became a huge box-office success which gained him two Academy Awards, it happened. Warner Bros. Pictures gave Williams proper funding, a distribution deal, and a 1991 deadline, and for the first time in the history of the film, it looked like it was actually going to be made. It was during this time that Williams began to truly gain the reputation of being a perfectionist blowhard: he was firing scores of animators left and right, staying extra late at the studio working on the film, and even throwing out entire completed scenes and re-animating them. To make matters worse, he still didn’t have a solid storyboard of the film, meaning the entire thing was pretty much in his head and nobody had any solid foundation to go on. By the time the 1991 deadline rolled around, production still had about 15 minutes of animation left to finish – animation which would take months to complete under Williams’ methods. It was also around this time that Disney began prepping their ad campaign for their new film Aladdin…which was also based on the Arabian Nights tales and bore some VERY striking resemblances to The Thief and the Cobbler (more of that later…believe me, it’s quite a tale). Feeling the pressure, Warner Bros. demanded Williams compile a workprint of the finished animation for the film, and use storyboards to fill in the parts that weren’t completed. Williams begrudgingly complied, and in 1992 the workprint was screened for the studio bigwigs.
NC (voiceover as photographs of Williams are shown): He's said to be one of the great animation directors, having done the Chuck Jones-produced 'Christmas Carol', that trippy '' film, and probably his biggest accomplishment, the animation for ''. Yet before all of that, he started production on 'The Thief and the Cobbler' in 1964. It was released in 1993. What the hell happened all that time? Apparently, the film was independently funded and Williams went on and on saying that this was going to be his masterpiece. Because of this, the film took years and years of perfecting and financing to finally get it finished. In fact, one of the actors (picture of Vincent Price) died before the film even got released! Vincent Price recorded his dialogue over years before it ever saw the light of day. And as of now, it continues to be the longest time it's ever taken to complete an animated picture. Because this turkey was taking so long, the film was bought by the Completion Bond Company and kicked Williams off the project, having it released by Miramax and putting together their own half-assed cut that is still considered to be the cum-bucket of a dick cock.
Arabian Knights briefly appeared in American movie houses, hardly making a dent in the box office. Nevertheless, many in the animation community started to realize that this was no ordinary film, but rather a film assembled from the ruins of Richard Williams' magnum opus, The Thief and the Cobbler, which has now been released to the home video under its original title. While Animation World Magazine usually does not like to review films in their video version after they have been shown theatrically, we thought it would be interesting to have Richard Williams' son Alex take a gander at this version, which he had not seen before, and give us his reactions.