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"The Thief and the Cobbler:" stolen and repaired

The deserved success of "Up" and other Pixar CGI epics unfortunately overshadows the visual glories of animated films made the old fashioned way, laboriously by hand. Films like "Pinocchio,"  "Dumbo," "Snow White." And "Aladdin?"  Well maybe not so much "Aladdin," if only because it was in part responsible for deep sixing one of the most ambitious and dazzling feats of animation ever attempted, Richard Williams's "The Thief and the Cobbler."

In 1989 Warners gave a green light to Williams, who has won three Osars including one for "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" (1988)  to finish the picture, which he had already been working on mostly at his own expense for decades. But in 1991 Disney decided to make "Aladdin," which drew on much of the same story "Thief." So Warners pulled the plug on the project. They passed the 90% of it that had been finished to another director who eviscerated and dumbed it down and then they sold it to Disney's Miramax division who redubbed it into a farcical parody.

It's the "Greed" of animation. And like the people who restored that lacerated masterpiece, 29-year-old starving animator Garrett Gilchrist painstakingly retrieved all the surviving footage of "Thief" and put together a remarkable (though unofficial) fan restoration.

 Former "Phoenix" contributor Steven Drachman was kind enough to arrange to get me a screener, and I was impressed to put it mildly. Even on the small screen the eclectic, protean, inexhaustibly inventive imagery dazzles. The story, which is set in a Persian-like fairytale land and is about a cute young Cobbler named Tack who catches the eye of both an evil Vizier named ZigZag (voiced by Vincent Price) and the lethargic King's beautiful daughter Yum-Yum and must help save the Kingdom from an evil warlord named One Eye, calls to mind not just "Aladdin" but also elements of "Lord of the Rings." The visuals, however, tap into the history of art and media for the past thousand or so years, a kaleidoscope that ranges from Indian miniature paintings to Looneytunes, with forays into MC Escher, Op Art, Van Gogh, Arabic geometric design,  German Expressionism, Symbolist painting, Rube Goldberg, "Yellow Submarine" and many more than I can identify. All combining into an integral, original vision that is not only gorgeous but also laugh-out-loud hilarious. The concluding confrontation between the good, the bad and the ugly makes Peter Jackson's Tolkeinesque showdowns look like Wrestlemania.

It seems to me that Warners and Disney missed out on a good thing. You don't have to. The restored version  (not the crappy Disney hatchet job) is available on YouTube and is downloadable and pops up occasionally at film festivals. Also, Williams himself is alive and kicking; maybe he could someday finish his own version, that is, if Disney deigns to relinquish the rights and open the vault. We can dream, can't we?

There is a web campaign to make this dream come true, and for further information about the film, its availability, and the campaign for an official restoration can be obtained from Gilchrist himself at Gilchristgarrett at

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