UPDATE!: On June 1, 2014, “A Moment in Time” was screened in London, with many of the original crew present of his original vision and work prints. Hopefully there might have been plans to re-release it in the United States.
This one of the hardest reviews that I will ever write. Since I was young, this has been my family’s movie (we can quote it from beginning to end). It has brought a lot of joy and laughs for us, but as much as I love what this movie has meant to me throughout my life I can’t ignore what this film could have become and its tragic history. Recently a documentary called Persistence of Vision was released in 2012 which told the story of the long, almost 30- year production of this film and how its director, Richard Williams, intended it to become his masterpiece. After he was dismissed from his own project Warner Bros. hired another director Fred Calvert to patch it up, in order to make it more marketable, and as a result it was morphed into a cheap knockoff of Disney’s Aladdin. After learning all these facts I heard that a “Recobbled” version of the film had been released under a non-profit organization in 2006 and I decided to watch it and see for myself if it truly is a masterpiece.
It is easy to assume that this film copies Aladdin‘s plot. After watching the film as it was intended I would have to disagree. In my opinion the plot for The Thief and the Cobbler is superior to Aladdin‘s. It feels like an old Arabian Tale rather than an engineered blockbuster. The Arabian Nights (One Thousand and One Nights) are a combination of tales that date back to ancient or medieval times collected and modified during the Islamic Golden Age. This film’s plot follows a similar rhythm and flow that persists throughout all these tales. It’s purpose is to entertain of course but through a more traditional Eastern style than many are used to because of hyped up American films. It depicts a battle between good and evil and most importantly a hero who comes from the humblest of origins, destined to save the Golden City by the simplest of means. What makes it superior to Aladdin is how it uses these simple plot elements that play homage to traditional Arabian storytelling to drive the story and not to popular media.
I like each of the character’s individuality and distinct personalities. I have seen so many articles and pictures complaining about their similarities to (again) Aladdin‘s characters and I can’t understand it. None of them, except perhaps Princess Yum Yum, are copy cut-outs of any Disney’s characters from Aladdin.
Tack the cobbler, my favorite character, changed the most by the end of the film. In the beginning, he is depicted as a shy, white skinned, thin young man with hardly any heroic potential, at least in the eyes of those around him. By chance, or perhaps providence, he is taken to the palace to be executed and there he falls in love with the princess Yum Yum, who saved his life from the vizier Zigzag. As I watched him grow I came to love him for his gentleness, purity, and courage. He doesn’t speak till the very end of the movie so his personality was portrayed through his eyes, movements and comically by the tacks he kept in his mouth. For me, not hearing him speak made his transformation from a homely cobbler into a prince more realistic and in a way mystical. When he finally spoke at his wedding to Princess Yum Yum it was as if, suddenly, I realized the great person he had become. This isn’t to say that I don’t like how he was in the film released in 1993, however I think the “Recobbled” version of Tack is more endearing.
Zigzag is an interesting villain to listen to and watch. Voiced by the famous Vincent Price, who recorded his part in the early 1970’s, he like many other villains in films, has the most personality. He talked in rime the entire film and stood out the most because of his curious appearance (for example his toes are extraordinarily long and roll out when he walks) and his quirky mannerisms.
Princess Yum Yum is a very likable character because of her spunky attitude and independent nature. I like the romance between her and Tack because of how simple it is. It is cute to see them blush when he is fixing her shoe and to see how much she loves him without focusing solely on physical encounters and appearances. The only thing I don’t like about her in this version is the voice they chose for her. Besides that I have nothing against her.
Lastly (for time’s sake), the Thief is one of the funniest characters I have ever seen. I was actually disappointed at first when they didn’t put in all of his funny comments delivered by Ed E. Carroll in the 1993 version. This wasn’t a problem for me later in the film but I will probably keep watching the other version just so I can hear his old lines. He is the least involved in the initial story line but he plays one of the most important parts because his actions set into motion critical events. First, when he throws Tack out of his shop, which causes Tack to be arrested; second when he steals Yum Yum’s shoe, which causes Tack to eventually be thrown into prison by Zigzag; third when he steals the golden balls for the first time and fulfills part of the prophesy talked of in the beginning; fourth when he steals the balls back from One-Eye and helps restore order to the Golden City.
The animation is breathtakingly beautiful (see above). To be honest, I had never really paid attention to it until I watched this version. In fact I used to laugh with my family about how weird it looked (like in the chase scene between the cobbler and the thief). It is a shame because Richard Williams animation style is masterful. One sequence that grasped my attention was at the beginning when Tack was in the dungeon fiddling with string. As he finished his creation the golden threads flowed down into the image of the princess. I looked at it very carefully and I wondered how long it took them to animate such a simple yet intricate scene. Other parts of the film, like the above mentioned chase scene, reminded me of old Islamic mosaics that I saw in my history class (Islamic History Muhammad – The Crusades) and at times when I looked closely the imagery was purposefully animated to create optical illusions. I wonder what this movie would have looked like if Richard Williams was able to finish it. As it is, I love watching the animation and I believe it is one of the greatest artistic achievements of our time. The only thing I found hard to follow were the sudden transitions from the finished animated sequences to unfinished pencil drawings. Seeing that no one has been able to finish this film completely, I didn’t mind.
I was so surprised when the music started because it was nothing like the score used in the film I grew up with. Yet it seemed to fit better. In the beginning especially I marveled at how gorgeous it was. Not much is said about the music but I think it played an important role in transforming this film. As a musician I don’t know how to adequately describe this. To put it simply, the feeling or timbre of the music completely changed how I perceived this film. From what I could hear, most of what was taken out of the 1993 version was replaced by more classical sounding music. I actually admired this modification because it changed the film from being the knock-off people think it is to something much deeper. I was also kind of glad that they didn’t have those sing-a- long songs (though I will probably always love them).
I love this film. After watching this version I can say with a surety that it has become one of my all-time favorites. Would I recommend this film to others? Only if you are a fan of traditional animation. Watch this film if you want to see for yourself why they call this film a masterpiece. I hope that in the future someone will finish what Richard Williams started and give it the credit it deserves.
The Thief: Rule number one: Keep your eye on the wire and have feet like a monkey. Rule number two: It’s always good to wear underwear when you’re up this high, otherwise you could attract a sizable crowd. That brings us to rule number three. Rule number three… what’s rule number three? I always forget rule number three. Rule number one: eyes and feet, rule number two: underwear.
Original Cut/ Recobblered Version:
Princess Yum-Yum: I love you.
[Tack takes the tacks from his mouth at last and speaks for the first time]
Tack the Cobbler: And I love you.
[they embrace and kiss]