Animation World Magazine, Issue 2.1, April 1997
Letters to the Editor
The Thief and the Cobbler
Having read the review of The Thief and the Cobbler by Alex Williams and your own editorial on the matter, I thought you ought to read [the] article by Mike Dobbs [in] Animato magazine ["An Arabian Knight-mare," that appeared in the issue #35, summer 1996, and which was posted by Dobbs on the rec.arts.animation user group]. Mr. Dobbs had interviewed Fred Calvert, so in a sense the article is "Calvert's side of the story." In it a good and believable case is made that Mr. Calvert was indeed sensitive to the beauty of the original work of Richard Williams, and did much to keep William's work in the film, and still make a coherent and watchable story out of it. Of special interest (and the most significant evidence in Calvert's defense) is the Australian release of the film as The Princess and the Cobbler in 1993 (two years before Arabian Knight), which was Calvert's final cut, and is guilty of none of the new voice-overs (Broderick, Winters, et al), and has a good amount of Williams' sequences that were cut by Miramax for the US release, including "outtakes" during the end credits. This Australian release can be found on video down under. And it serves to my mind as proof that Calvert gave an honest effort in the matter, given the extremely wretched situation all around, and it paints Miramax as the real Evil Committee in the whole fiasco.
Well, read the article. This chapter of the feature animation story certainly deserves a book, if not the dream laserdisc set you yearn for in your editorial.
The writer is an MFA student at the UCLA Animation Workshop and a self-described Richard Williams fiend.
Editor's Note: While it may somewhat awkward to respond to Merryman's letter without also reprinting Michael Dobbs' article, his letter does bring up issues which do need to be discussed.
Alex Williams' reply:
In reply to the letter from the reader offering what might be regarded as Fred Calvert's side of the sad demise of The Thief and The Cobbler, there are a number of factual inaccuracies which should be addressed. In fairness to Fred Calvert, Mike Dobb's article is not an interview as such, and therefore cannot be taken as a verbatim report of Calvert's plea in mitigation. However, to suggest that he took on The Thief "somewhat under protest" (Calvert's words, apparently) or that he tried to avoid the task, is misleading at best. It is very easy to avoid such projects--one simply has to say "no."
My recollection of Fred Calvert's visits is that he was only too keen to take on the completion of the film. I clearly recall my father's astonished reaction when Calvert suggested, having been shown the painstaking and beautiful camerawork executed by the gifted John Leatherbarrow, that the film should be shot in Korea to save money. As we now know, Calvert was not only to shoot much of The Thief in Korea, but also to send large sections to be animated there. Such insensitivity to the quality of the film he was to inherit is the hallmark of his work.
He is quoted as saying that "we tried to use as much of [Williams'] footage as possible . . . we hated to see all of this beautiful animation hit the cutting room floor, but that was the only way we could make a story out of it" The suggestion that The Thief lacked a compelling story is a common one, and is hard to argue against as it has become almost received wisdom. Anyone who has the good fortune to see the original director's cut will find an excellent story, uncluttered with pointless songs or unnecessary voice-overs. Where is it written that animated films must have songs? Perhaps we are all so unconsciously conditioned by the success of the Disney formula that we can imagine no other way.
It might be argued that Williams' cut required editing (it was certainly too long in parts), but it cannot be argued that what was done to it by Fred Calvert or Miramax in any way improved or assisted the story. Mike Dobbs suggests that the songs were "commercial decisions," but the film made barely $300,000 at the box office. The butchering of The Thief was the most uncommercial decision that Calvert, Completion Bond Co.(CBC) or Miramax could have taken. It was a process of alchemy that turned pure gold into garbage. I have never worked on a project before or since in which the artists were more convinced that what we had on our hands would be, if properly marketed, a commercial and artistic success.
Calvert suggests that what he produced was a "releasable" picture, and blames Miramax for the disaster of The Princess and The Cobbler. He chooses his words wisely. "Releasable" it may have been, better than Princess . . . it undoubtedly was. But a good film, even a modest film, it was not. Calvert's release, songs and all, was vulgar and mediocre.
In any event, by taking on The Thief himself and convincing CBC that he could do justice to the movie, Calvert set in motion events which were to destroy the project. For that he must take responsibility and ultimately, blame. That said, there were plainly other villains. Jake Eberts, the producer whose weight in Hollywood set The Thief in motion, abandoned the project when Warners became jumpy. Betty Smith of CBC played a major role in removing what was left of Williams' cut. Calvert was thus in many ways a small player in a larger pool of sharks, who was unable to keep control of what he had inherited.
Harvey Deneroff's Reply:
I am delighted that additional footage from director's cut The Thief and the Cobbler exists in Fred Calvert's version, The Princess and the Cobbler. But I doubt if this is the version I would want see released on laserdisc (or elsewhere) over seeing the director's cut. In addition, I quite willing to admit that Calvert may not have been responsible for many of the changes made for the American market. However, like Alex Williams, Calvert's story, as reported by Dobbs, seems to lack credibility on several points.
For instance, I must heartily concur with Alex Williams that there really was nothing wrong with the film's story in the first place. Perhaps what annoyed Calvert was the extensive use of pantomime rather than songs to advance the plot. (In the article, Dobbs states that "Of the footage Williams completed, Calvert was only able to use about 50 percent of it, because of the repetitive nature of the scenes." Gosh, if only more animation were so repetitive!) However, the musical numbers added by Calvert were obviously done in haste and are, at best, ineffectual and intrusive.
Another pointthat Dobbs fails to mention (or Calvert failed to tell him) was the role of Sue Shakespeare, of Creative Capers Entertainment (for more on her and her company, see my article, "Visioneering: Interactive Animation at Creative Capers" in the December 1996 issue of AWM). Shakespeare, who had been involved with previous "rescue efforts" on The Chipmunk Adventure and Rover Dangerfield, was, she states, brought in by Calvert as a consultant and diagnosed the severity of the problem faced by the film. She then made a proposal for allowing Williams to finish the film, under her supervision; she too felt there were story problems, and suggested that Terry Gilliam be brought in to work them out with Williams. (She says that Williams agreed to her proposal.) However, her bid was rejected by Completion Bond in favor of a cheaper one by Calvert!
If indeed Williams did express a willingness to work with Shakespeare in finishing The Thief and the Cobbler, then whatever claims Calvert makes about being the film's saviour have even less credibility.
Yes, the story of The Thief and the Cobbler certainly deserves a book, but like many others, I wish it had a different ending.
I wanted to write a note saying that my students enjoyed the articles in the March issue (not just the one by their teacher). Learning about animation projects being done by children in other parts of the world was an inspiration to them. I, myself, enjoyed learning about other animation teachers and independent animators who have taught. I also wanted to extend an invitation to students, animators and teachers to contact me in regards to teaching animation or media literacy.
4617 Pine St. H505
Philadalphia, PA 19147
fax (215) 467-3412
In the February 1997 issue, there were some regretable typographical errors in John A. Lent's article, "Shin Dong Hun, An Old Warrior in Korean Animation
which need to be noted. As Lent points out, "the textual mentions of Mr. Shin are incorrect. You have him as Shin Dong Mun. There is an animator by that name, but the individual I wrote about is Shin Dong Hun. It is incorrect throughout the text.
"Also, his important work was Hong Gil Dong, not Mong-Gil Dang."
We apologize for the error, which will are correcting.
Letters to the editor can be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org, by fax to (213) 464-5914, or by regular mail to Animation World Network 6525 Sunset Blvd., Garden Suite 10, Hollywood, CA 90028 USA.
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