On September 19, 2013, The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut Mark 4 was released to Youtube and download by filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist. This painstaking frame-by-frame restoration of what was intended to be Richard Williams’ masterpiece represents the culmination of eight years of work and research, and took over two years to complete. Rare video and film sources were found and restored from all over the world, with sequences cleaned up and reconstructed in Photoshop, After Effects and Final Cut Pro, on a frame by frame basis. Entirely new shots and scenes were created to tell the story like never before. Done without any official assistance, it is perhaps the most complex and unusual restoration of a feature film ever attempted.
The first true Recobbled Cut was edited together in January 2006, at the request of one of the film’s original crew. Garrett Gilchrist had been a fan of the film for many years, but the would-be masterpiece only survived on very poor quality VHS bootlegs, as well as Arabian Knight and Princess and the Cobbler, versions of the film which didn’t come close to reflecting what Richard Williams intended. The idea was to edit together a watchable version which gave a better idea of what Williams had in mind. While the film had a cult status in animation circles, it was largely unknown to the general public. Gilchrist assumed that only about fifteen people would be interested in his edit of the obscure film. Instead, the Recobbled Cut became a cult film in its own right, being featured at Cartoon Brew, Mythbusters’ Tested.com, Cracked, The Nostalgia Critic, and in many film festival screenings, introducing it to a new generation on the internet with over a million Youtube views.
Eight years later, Gilchrist’s restorations and his continued work and research into the animated legacy of Richard Williams for The Thief Archive has made a serious impact into the way the film is perceived. While the “Arabian Knight” version of the film had sold itself as something of a joke, a bargain-basement, direct-to-video version of Aladdin, Gilchrist has worked hard since 2006 to present the film as a major animated work to be studied alongside classic films like Disney’s Fantasia. It also inspired a documentary film by Kevin Schreck, “Persistence of Vision.”
On December 10, 2013, Richard Williams screened his unfinished 1992 workprint of The Thief and the Cobbler publicly through the Academy in Los Angeles. This was the first ever public screening of the film, over twenty years after production famously shut down and nearly fifty years after the Thief character and his world were first conceived. Williams received a standing ovation and Gilchrist was there to shake his hand. Richard Williams, now eighty, is known as the three-time Academy Award winning animator of Who Framed Roger Rabbit and A Christmas Carol, and author of The Animator’s Survival Kit, which is considered the greatest instructional book ever written about how to animate. He has been called “The Animator’s Animator,” and The Thief and the Cobbler is, perhaps, the animator’s animated film. It contains some of the most complex hand-drawn animation ever attempted in any animated film, and is certainly the most ambitious independent animated production ever undertaken.
My name is Garrett Gilchrist, and at the moment I am hanging up my hat and calling The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut finished. Oh, there’s plenty more that could be done. There’s half a film’s worth of dirt and splices I could spend another year or two painting out. There’s missing music, missing credits, special effects and things we could redraw and fix. I could easily, and happily, keep on working on this for ages, as Richard did.
But there comes a time when you have to say, it’s good enough. No, not even good enough, but good. Excellent, actually. What this restoration accomplished, with the help of so many friends and talented colleagues, is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever seen the Internet age accomplish. We had no official support and I did it for no other reason than I liked the film and wanted people to see it, and it seemed like the right thing to do. It’s a work of art and I don’t regret a single moment of it.
Regardless of what happens from here on out, this film has had a happy ending, and shows that good art, good filmmaking, and good work will survive, in spite of the politics and personalities that can doom a film to big-screen obscurity.
Most people haven’t seen it, you know. Not this version, the version I spent two years restoring in HD. They’ve seen the old versions of the Recobbled Cut, which weren’t nearly as good. The war machine finale was viewed 760,717 times on Youtube.
And some spammer stole and posted my old version as the “Original Cut - Full Length!” and has 390, 503 views to date.
The actual, good, Mark 4 Recobbled Cut? That’s got 7,758 views as I’m writing this, for part one. By part 4 it’s 2,841 views.
I think we did something really special and different here, something that is as unique in terms of film restoration as The Thief and the Cobbler is unique in animation history.
I’d quite like people to see it. Tell your friends.
And to everyone who’s helped out and supported this film and me for the past eight years, thank you, thank you, a thousand times, thank you.
“It is written among the limitless constellations of the celestial heavens, and in the depths of the emerald seas, and upon every grain of sand in the vast deserts, that the world which we see is an outward and visible dream, of an inward and invisible reality.
Once upon a time, there was a golden city. In the center of the Golden City, atop the tallest minaret, were three gold balls. The ancients had prophesied that if the three golden balls were ever taken away, harmony would yield to discord, and the city would fall to destruction and death. But, the mystics had also foretold that the city might be saved by the simplest soul, with the smallest and simplest of things.
In the city, there dwelt a lowly shoemaker, who was known as Tack the Cobbler. Also in the city existed a thief, who shall be nameless …”