"The Greatest Lost Film Of All Time Now Available For Free Download" - sort of.
You've heard all of the horror stories about Miramax, right? How they bought films and shelved them, released them years later, if at all. And how the Weinsteins would wield scissors willy nilly, butchering masterpieces left, right and centre?
They truly have been guilty of crimes against cinema. But what they did to The Thief and the Cobbler was, I'm afraid, their biggest crime of all.
Richard Williams is probably best known these days as the animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, but he was, I'm quite confident, the greatest ever director of "traditional" hand-drawn animation. Working with a handful of master animators including Ken Harris - most probably the greatest ever animator - Williams began to realise his feature film The Thief and the Cobbler in the late 60s. It was a hugely ambitious, epic fantasy, and I'll probably be better off letting the trailer below do the talking. Suffice to say, an uncompromised Thief would have challenged such masterworks as Brazil, Pinocchio, Vertigo or Toy Story 2.
To cut a long story short, Miramax got their hands on the uncompleted film in the 90s, then had it completed - but with rather unsatisfactory new animation and pointless new expository scenes. The main characters of Tack the Cobbler and the nameless Thief were given voices, whereas Williams had masterfully conveyed their every emotion and thought through their expression and motion. New characters were charmless, the ambition was somewhat curtailed, and William's integrity was dumped on. From a very great height.
In all honesty, watching the two hacked up versions, The Princess and The Cobbler and Arabian Knight, was the most heartbreaking viewing of my life.
I met Williams only once, in the early part of this decade, while he was giving a wonderful animation masterclass. He had happily discussed, often brilliantly dissected, just about everything he had worked on until that date - but not this film. In fact, it was almost as though The Thief and The Cobbler had never happened. I spoke to him just for a minute, and dared allude to the corruption of his masterpiece, not naming it, just hinting. His face didn't change, but something way back in his eyes did. I changed the subject myself for fear of causing too much hurt.
Tragedy. But now, thank heavens, a restored version of the film is available online. It's not the film Williams would have made, but it is a lot closer than I had ever hoped, certainly. Perhaps by downloading it in droves we can force the hand of whoever grabbed the rights in the Disney/Miramax shakedown and a true restoration will occur.
You have various viewing options. To see the improved version in pieces, you can go to You Tube, and watch it in chapters. Better still, a DVD quality version is available from various bit torrent sites, such as mininova or demonoid. And once you have downloaded it and marvelled at it, seed it yourself and spread this wonderful film for all to see.
There is also a nice, hi-res cover that you can print out for your download.
Garret Gilchrist, the dedicated restoration artist responsible for this painstaking reconstruction has provided me with a link through which you can learn more about just what he set out to acheive here, and why, as well as another about the history of Richard Williams work and The Thief and The Cobbler.
(A better quality version of this trailer can be downloaded, too)