Once upon a time, an artist named Richard Williams decided to make a film - an animated fantasy set in the world of the Arabian Nights.
Now, fifty years later, and over twenty years after production famously shut down, Richard is screening that film publicly in Los Angeles, for the first time ever.
On Tuesday, December 10th, with thanks to the Academy, an audience will see the unfinished The Thief and the Cobbler with Richard Williams in attendance, now aged 80 years and perhaps animation’s most respected and legendary teacher.
Richard Williams will always be controversial. He was difficult to work with, stubborn and single-minded. It seems in retrospect that he was only interested in making this one film, which he intended as his masterpiece. It may have ruined his career in some ways, but it also built his legend. That legend lives on, and so does the film itself.
This is a triumph not only for Dick Williams himself, but for those other brilliantly creative souls who worked on the film and lived to tell the tale. Perhaps on tuesday old wounds can be put to rest, as the film has its one day in the sun. Perhaps the first of many.
Richard’s version of A Christmas Carol will also be screened, for which he won his first Oscar. He won another two for Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
Seven years ago I put out a restoration called The Recobbled Cut, intended to rehabilitate the reputation of this film, which famously was only available in nearly unwatchable poor-quality VHS bootlegs, and versions finished without Williams’ involvement which had turned the film into a laughing-stock.
Since then I’ve maintained The Thief Archive, dedicated to preserving the animated work of Richard Williams, and keeping the flame of this underappreciated body of work alive. I’ve been privileged to speak with and gather material from many brilliantly talented people who worked with Dick over the years.
Over the past two years I created the Recobbled Cut Mark 4, intended to restore the film on a frame by frame basis in HD, once and for all. A version of this was released in September via Youtube and torrent.
I was intending to continue work on this edit, but with Dick’s own copy screening, the Recobbled Cut may have reached the end of the road.
Dick Williams is loved and hated, but he is first and foremost respected. He is one of the great animators to ever work in Hollywood, and those who worked for him and worked hard to meet his demanding standards of quality have never really gotten the respect they deserve. To all of you, and the work you’ve created, a round of applause is due. This night is for you, and a sign that good work stands the test of time, regardless of the politics and personalities that can derail a project in Hollywood.
It is one of the curious things about Richard Williams and the Cobbler that people continue to talk cobblers about him, and the film. Dick has gotten a bad reputation over the years. So it’s well worth pointing out that he was right. In the 70s and 80s, Richard demanded a level of quality and precision of his studio’s animated work that led many to call him impossible or insane. But that level of precision, or even higher, became the accepted standard at Disney in the 90s and 2000s. The lax quality control standards of the 70s and 80s faded away. But to this day there’s never been another film quite like The Thief and the Cobbler, or indeed Who Framed Roger Rabbit, or A Christmas Carol.
So here’s a toast to Dick and Roy and everyone at Soho Square.
If you’re in the area, tickets are still available. Stop on by for a moment in time that’s been a long time coming. Fifty years. Oh, once upon a time …
It’s about that time again, for Richard Williams’ Oscar-winning animated version of A Christmas Carol, starring Alistair Sim.
16mm HD transfer courtesy Peter C. Produced by Chuck Jones. Richard Williams is better known as the animation director of Who Framed Roger Rabbit (for which he won two Oscars) and The Thief and the Cobbler. See more of his legendary animated work at Youtube channel TheThiefArchive.
It’s hard to know what to say. What can I say, except thank you. Thank you all.
I bought a plane ticket the other day. A ticket to see Richard Williams present his cut of The Thief and the Cobbler for the first time ever in public, over twenty years after production shut down. And maybe that’s what this has all been leading up to, ever since making that first Recobbled Cut in 2006, or watching the film for the first time in 1998, or seeing the trailer in 1995, or first hearing about the film in 1989 …
I could only afford this due to the amazing generosity of 44 people, who donated a startling amount of money to make this possible. And I still don’t know what to say.
I was reluctant to ask for any kind of charity. But it was killing me that I couldn’t be there. I didn’t really expect that people would donate, but felt it couldn’t hurt to ask.
This isn’t the first time, either. People donated so that we could transfer the 35mm film of The Thief, Raggedy Ann and The Little Island in 2007, and again in HD for the Mark 4. With your help we’ve done amazing things, I think, and preserved Richard Williams’ legacy in a way that makes it freely accessible to the entire internet.
I wouldn’t have spent seven years building The Thief Archive, and two years editing The Recobbled Cut Mark 4, without your support. Knowing that there were people out there who cared and appreciated the hard work and care I put into all of this, it made all that time worthwhile. I couldn’t have done any of it without you. Without your help, your enthusiasm. Without you cheering me on. I’ve made friends, and felt I was making a legitimate contribution to cinema.
I don’t think of this as a “fan edit,” or any other reductive term you could apply. It was something that needed to happen. It happened. I made it happen, but all thanks to you.
I’ve met amazing people. Incredible, talented, brilliant animators. I’m not fit to shine their shoes, but I can shine this film.
It was Thanksgiving yesterday. I’ll be celebrating it tomorrow. I’ve had to distance myself from my family. I’ll spend it with friends, I suppose.
It’s a time to think about what you’re thankful for.
I am thankful for you.
I probably haven’t said that often enough.
Very few things in my life have gone the way I’d hoped. As a writer, artist, filmmaker, creative person, you’re always hoping that people will notice, and that your work will get the attention it deserves. It generally doesn’t. I am generally content to keep my head down and not overly promote or explain myself, putting years of my life into creative work that I believe is good but which very few people will ever see.
Dick Williams was and is one of the all-time geniuses of animation, and even with his fame and success and brilliance, in many ways his best work never got the attention and respect it deserved. I feel we managed to right a wrong here, in our small way. I’ve felt something changing in the past couple of years, with respect to the legacy of this film. I had heard rumors that Dick might be planning something. I’d hoped to be involved, but I knew that was unlikely.
In 2006 I made a little fanedit of The Thief and the Cobbler. I made it for myself, really, so that I could have a version of the film which was watchable and complete. I knew that almost no one on the forums where I was posting would have heard of the film. I assumed the edit would be seen by only about fifteen people. And I was fine with that. I did it because it was worth doing.
What surprised me, in the end, was not how many people saw it, but how much they cared - genuinely cared - in the very best sense of the word. How they understood what a crime had been committed upon this film, and how they wanted to see its tarnished legacy restored, and the film gain some respect in the history of animated cinema, as something more than a direct-to-video Aladdin knockoff.
Maybe this is it, then. Maybe this is the end of the road. Whatever Dick’s been up to, whatever he has planned, I’ll be there to see it in person. To meet the man, briefly. And I know that in a way you’ll all be there with me. This is a great moment for the film. A triumphant moment. And that triumph is yours too. Because you believed. You believed that good art, real art, art created with passion and a drive to innovate and do something better, is stronger than anything the business of entertainment might do to crush it. True art survives. And so do true artists. The Thief and the Cobbler exists. It happened. It survived.
I may never Recobble again. I’ve been working on Muppet stuff these past couple of months. Always restoring other people’s films when I ought to be making my own. I guess I was waiting to see what Dick would do, or announce.
I released the most complete Recobbled Cut Mark 4 in September. There’s a lot that’s still unfinished about it, but maybe it’s the last one. It probably isn’t, but it could be. For the first time, I honestly don’t know. I look forward to finding out.
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Bob Cratchit, a poor, underpaid clerk at the counting-house of Scrooge and Marley, has lost his youngest son. He is alone and freezing to death on a cold Christmas Eve, when he is visited by three spirits ….
"A wonderful new take on the characters from A Christmas Carol." - Carabosse’s Library
"Thought-provoking … Like being given a new dose of Dickens." - Lara Burnett
"Beautifully written, intelligent, bold and a real surprise." - Steven Drachman (Author, The Ghosts of Watt O’Hugh)
On December 10th, Richard Williams is screening his workprint of The Thief and the Cobbler for the first time ever. I’ve spent seven years restoring the film and Richard’s other work, but I’ve never seen it like this. Almost no one has. I’d like to be there. You can help.
We’re at 63% of goal with a week left! I am overwhelmed by all the support, and I thank you all from the bottom of my heart. We’re not there yet - no money is taken if the goal isn’t met. Spread the word if you can.
50 years ago today, Britain’s favorite fantasy TV series, and television’s most enduring science fiction hero, were born. Doctor Who, that eccentric time traveller, has been battling monsters and winning over audiences since 1963.
The show asks very little of its viewers. Traditionally, there isn’t a whole lot of continuity. All you need to know is that The Doctor and his companions are going to arrive somewhere, in his blue police box, The TARDIS. That something is going to be very wrong there. That there will almost certainly be monsters. And that The Doctor will make it all right again.
A sort of intergalactic Sherlock Holmes battling the scum of the universe with only his own intelligence and innate sense of right and wrong, the Doctor stands for the best in all of us. The role of the Doctor is an actor’s dream, and each new Doctor has won legions of fans who say, “You were my Doctor.” Generations have grown up with the character, and after 16 years off the air the series returned in 2005 and is now more popular than ever.
Today, a feature-length anniversary special airs all around the world- also in theaters and in 3D, if you’ve got it. All the living Doctors have taken part in the festivities in some form or another (or almost all, anyway), and those who’ve passed on are very much here in spirit. We’ve seen more new episodes starring Patrick Troughton this year than we’ve seen starring Matt Smith. And if rumors are to be believed, we’ll be seeing a lot more.
There are many who’ve gotten sick of the show’s current writer, Steven Moffat, and don’t believe that he can deliver a great anniversary episode. But regardless of the quality of today’s film, Doctor Who fans have a lot to celebrate this year.
Here’s to the next fifty.
It’s been said so many times that the Kennedy assassination stole America’s innocence. But perhaps it did the opposite. For 50 years, Kennedy has largely been depicted as a cartoon character without faults, as a child would see him. And so many of those who were children in 1963 remain children today.