The Thief and the Cobbler (1993?) An Unfinished Masterpiece


Aaaaa1UPDATE!: 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. 

cobbler 9

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.



1993 Version:

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:

[last lines]

[original 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]

紅の豚 Kurenai no Buta (Porco Rosso) 1992

Porco_Rosso_(Movie_Poster)  When I was a young child I had the pleasure, without even knowing it, of growing up with one of Hayao Miyazaki‘s most famous films My Neighbor Totoro (1988). My mother remembers how upset I was when she gave the film away, and to this day it remains one of my favorites. That being said, when I was seventeen I started watching and exploring Miyazaki-san’s other films out of curiosity. Over the last five years I have come to love all of his movies, but it took time for me to appreciate each one. This film in particular I have come to cherish because of its gentle nature and bright humor, but I had quite a negative opinion of it before I watched it. At first I refused to acknowledge this film because it looked ridiculous, but against  my “better” judgment I saw it with my family when they bought a copy of it at a yard sale. I discovered that I shouldn’t base my opinions on what I see on the surface of a cover and that this film, like people, was much more complicated than it initially appeared.



Hayao Myazaki’s animation style is one of the most beautiful, dynamic and artistic I have ever seen. Throughout all his films, even ones as old as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (1984) and  Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), there is a rich, vibrant wholeness, or liveliness that persists from beginning to end. Porco Rosso is no exception. In a word, this film is magical. Everything from the colors, to the shadowing, and the movement of the characters blends perfectly with the story. It is rather interesting that this film is placed right before World War II in the Adriatic and Italy, but has such a colorful, lighthearted look and feel to it. Personally, I thought that it made it all the more endearing to know that when the world was falling into chaos there were still places that could shine so brightly.



I have never encountered a story like this before. {I seem to say this about all of Miyazaki-san’s movies. . .} Placed in the Adriatic during the 1920s, the film focuses on the life of a man who calls himself Porco Rosso. In the beginning, we are taken to an enclosed private beach where Porco receives a call from his employer to catch some pirates who have attacked a ship. He uncovers his face to show that he is completely normal, except that he has the face of a pig. Being presented with a less then beautiful, flawed protagonist we are thence swept off into the life of sea plane pirates and the Adriatic. From beginning to end people do wholly unexpected things. Some cross gender roles and others like the pirates are shown as honorable, quirky people. Is there a conflict between good and evil? Yes, but not in a way we are familiar with in modern film. There is no villain in this story; there are only people, who are flawed of course but still needed and important. The thing that makes this story so magnetic is it simple complexity. Like in many of his other films, Miyazaki-san not only showed moments of high adventure but also stopped and took the time to show the beauty of the sunset on the ocean or ponder or the natural elegance of Gina’s garden. Most importantly perhaps was the change evident in all the characters. It is extremely difficult to truly capture a character’s transformation at the end of a film and harder still to show it’s progress. Miyazaki-san captured this growth masterfully in ways that many animating directors cannot because they are so focused on keeping their audience entertained.

20130812-161255 porco-rosso-4


It is too difficult to explain the character’s complexity as a whole. They are all so real that when I stop watching the movie it takes me a while to realize that they aren’t real people. I will try to explain it by looking at two of the main characters.

First, there is Porco, or Marco, Rosso. He is what some would call the reluctant hero in the broadest sense but to me he was much more intriguing than that. Though he seemed to openly accept his transformation and to not care about anything beyond his own affairs, he opened himself up enough to show that he carried terrible burden of guilt and cared more for people then he is willing to admit. For example, after being the sole survivor of a terrible air fight during World War I he caught a glimpse of many different planes, all of different nationalities, flying toward heaven. He watched as his best friend passed by him and without any control over his aircraft descended away from the other ethereal planes back into the real world with the face of a pig. It became clear that he accepted his appearance because he believed he deserved it. How did he change? For me it was when he decided to fight for another person rather than for himself. Before then he had closed himself off from everyone around him, even his childhood friend Gina whom he had clearly loved for some time but was unwilling to admit it.

Another character that I particularly like is Gina. From the moment she was introduced as the gracious, beautiful hostess of the Hotel Adriano singing “Le temps Des Cerises” (The Time of Cherries) I felt that she was silently grieving. After losing four husbands to war and aerial accidents it was clear that she had grown numb to her heart ache. It was strange watching her at times because she seemed to drift away from you. Yet, despite this sadness that burdened her she was still a strong person. When she passively remarked to the brash, young pilot Curtis that she was still waiting for the man she loved, Porco, to meet her in her garden I couldn’t help but wonder if she would no longer willingly pursue what seemed impossible. Happiness, apparently was something that she was willing to wait for if it meant that she did not have to fight against a world that had robbed her too many times before.

I doubt I am giving these characters justice. For me, the fact that it is so hard for me to understand them is a compliment. It means that they are more than your basic off the shelf prince charmings or damsels in distress. This is the same for all of the characters in the film. Honestly there isn’t a dull copy, cut-out character in the entire movie. That is something that I thoroughly appreciate. 


MUSIC: 5/5

I won’t say too much about the music in this review. I am a fan of Joe Hisaishi‘s, or Mamoru Fujisawa’s beautiful style and enjoy all of the soundtracks he has composed. He captured the light, almost subdued feel of the movie wonderfully. There isn’t much to say other than he is one of the many geniuses like Hans Zimmer whose talent is irreplaceable.


I love this film and recommend it for everyone. Some of his other films I wouldn’t just because many people are averse to more foreign films. It is funny and wonderful to watch and I hope that people won’t quickly dismiss it because of where it comes from or because it is different.



[Curtis and Porco have run out of ammo when Curtis attempts to shoot Porco with a revolver]

“I refuse to end this match with a draw!”

“Hahaha… This isn’t a Western, you can’t hit me from there.”

[One of the bullets hits the side of Porco’s plane]