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13 Beautiful Facts About The Thief and the Cobbler

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Sometimes referred to as "the greatest animated film that never was," The Thief and the Cobbler was an animated movie nearly 30 years in the making. Creator Richard Williams never got the chance to complete his magnum opus; the movie was eventually taken away by its completion bond company and handed over to producer Fred Calvert to finish.

Two versions—one for Australia made by Majestic Films and one for the United States by Miramax—were finally released in 1995, after being in and out of production for three decades. The edited film added new scenes and music to help make it more marketable, but it hampered Williams's original vision. The commandeered film was never a commercial success, but it is often seen as a triumph in traditional animation. Many animators today are still inspired by the movie and Williams’s work. Thanks to Kevin Schreck’s documentary, Persistence of Vision, we now know the story of this ill-fated movie and its turbulent history. 

1. IT WAS ORIGINALLY GOING TO BE A SERIES OF SHORTS.

Long before the plot of The Thief and the Cobbler was conceived, Williams was working on illustrating a series of short stories by Idries Shah called The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin. The books were based on popular Eastern folklore of a satirical Sufi, a wise fool who travels to exotic lands. While working on the shorts, Williams one day decided to turn them into a full-length feature film. He created a world for Nasrudin to explore and created new characters. The thief made an appearance in this work in progress, but with a more sideline role: He would silently follow the main character around and steal his belongings when he wasn’t looking. 

Shah agreed to the movie, provided his family received half of the profits. Shah's brother, Omar Ali-Shah, became the producer of the movie. Williams worked hard on animating the story and eventually accumulated over three hours of footage. He showed what he had to Howard Blake, his story development artist and composer, who thought the progress was beautiful, but lacked a plot. The movie, at that point, was just a series of shorts with nothing connecting them together. Blake explained that characters needed to be developed and go somewhere. When Williams mentioned that the Shahs would be resistant to the idea, Blake saw there was a problem. 

These problems came to a head when it was rumored that Ali-Shah was embezzling money and a copyright infringement lawsuit loomed overhead. Williams broke their deal and the Shahs left with Mulla Nasrudin. The thief was Williams’s original character, so he became an integral part of the new story (the movie’s working title was The Cobbler, the Thief, and the Grand Vizier). 

2. THE MAIN CHARACTER WAS BASED ON SEVERAL SILENT FILM STARS. 

Williams gave his characters a heavy dose of dumb luck. He modeled his characters on famous silent movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. “[Williams] was doing the story about worthwhile people who aren’t the smartest, maybe, while they do everything, but it’s better for them to succeed than the damn villain,” said John Culhane, who was the development artist from 1969 through 1974. Williams and Culhane visited the British Film Institute to watch movies of Chaplin and Harry Langdon to get inspiration. Tack, the main character, retains these qualities. 

3. THE MAIN CHARACTERS WERE GOING TO BE MUTE. 

While fans might remember Matthew Broderick and Jonathan Winters voicing Tack the Cobbler and The Thief, respectively, that was not always the intention. Williams had planned to keep both characters entirely silent, save for one line: At the end of the movie, Tack would tell Princess Yum Yum, “I love you.” The single line was meant to be voiced by Sean Connery. Instead, Williams's wife’s friend performed the line. Eventually actor Steve Lively voiced Tack in the Majestic Films version and Broderick voiced the lead in the Miramax version. 

“We had had difficulties with the formula,” said Philip Pepper, lead animator from 1990 through 1992. “This was a film that didn’t go along with all that stuff. It was great to watch the rushes where you see all this acting—fantastic acting—this incredible unfolding of ideas without the cheesy dialogue.” 

Williams was also completely against musicals, despite them being the norm for family animated films. As we know now, after the film was taken away from Williams, music was also added to the finished movie to appeal to a wider audience. 

4. WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT GAVE THE MOVIE ITS BIG BREAK. 

Legendary director Steven Spielberg caught wind of Williams's work and offered him the role of animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Upon accepting the position, Williams told Spielberg, “I’m your living pencil. Tell me and I’ll draw it.”

When Who Framed Roger Rabbit was released in 1988, it was the most expensive movie ever made, with a budget of $70 million (almost $149 million in today's dollars). The hard work and oodles of cash paid off. The movie was met with critical acclaim across the board; Roger Ebert gave it four stars and wrote, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit is sheer, enchanted entertainment from the first frame to the last—a joyous, giddy, goofy celebration of the kind of fun you can have with a movie camera." Williams won two Oscars for his animation direction: Best Effects, Visual Effects and a Special Achievement Award. 

The success of the movie proved that Williams could manage a large team and a large budget. Warner Bros. promised to give him the money he needed to finish The Thief and the Cobbler, as well as an equal amount to promote the film (around $25 million)—so long as the movie was finished on time. As long as Williams stuck to the approved schedule and budget, Warner Bros. would stay out of it. 

Before Warner Bros., the studio’s animators would all have a small scene by their desks, which they would work on when they had time in between advertising jobs. With a full budget, the animators could now focus all their attention on the film. The experience working on Roger Rabbit helped Williams craft The Thief and the Cobbler; working with real-life backgrounds gave him a better understanding of how to animate moving backgrounds. 

5. EXTREMELY TALENTED ANIMATORS LENT THEIR SKILLS. 

Some of the talent found in Williams’s studio included legendary animators like Ken Harris (Merrie Melodies, How the Grinch Stole Christmas), Roy Naisbitt (Balto, Space Jam), and Art Babbitt (Fantasia, Dumbo). Babbitt (known for his work on Disney movies) gave lectures to the studio’s animators while the studio was shut down for a month. The students described the seminars as grueling, with condensed homework and group evaluations.  

Williams managed to snag Harris when having a conversation with Looney Tunes animator Chuck Jones. He impressed Jones by being able to cite the specific scenes that Harris had animated. Jones pointed out that the now-retired animator would be traveling near Williams and suggested that he write him a fan letter. The two met and struck up a friendship. “We got on so well, that I sat him down—and his wife went off to Italy or somewhere—and three months later, he’s still at the desk,” Williams recalled on Skwigly podcast

6. NEW ANIMATORS WERE BROUGHT ON AS WELL. 

Williams did not want all of the movie's animators to be too influenced by other styles or movies. He avoided animators who had a Disney or TV background, so that they could easily adapt to his style. People from all over the world were flown into London to work on the movie. 

7. STUDIO EMPLOYEES WERE WARY OF LENDING THINGS OUT.

In the 1970s, Williams and Culhane would storyboard by covering large corkboards in layers of artwork that they ripped from art books. They were looking for visual inspiration from Middle Eastern artwork and Leonardo da Vinci's war machine sketches. The duo was always on the prowl for more books, but no one wanted to lend them anything from their collections, for fear that the books would get sliced up. An assistant once dropped off a book but warned Williams not to damage it. Moments after she left his office, she returned to find him with scissors in hand over her book. She confiscated it and scolded Williams, who replied “Oh, you have this silly, middle class idea of books!” 

8. WILLIAMS WAS A PERFECTIONIST.

Williams was a genius, but sometimes his vision took a toll on the people around him. 

“He had a terrible reputation,” said special effects artist Chris Knott. “He could be the best of the worst. Usually for good reason. He had very high standards, which he applied to himself above all, and to everyone else. And if you didn’t ... cut it, then he wasn’t very backward about letting you know what he felt.” 

Williams expected a lot from his employees and never settled for anything that wasn’t perfect. A common phrase of his was “there’s the door.” Warner Bros.'s strict schedule put stress on everyone: Animators were expected to work 60 hours a week and did not receive any time off. Often the hours would be from eight in the morning until midnight. One animator only got to visit his wife, who had meningitis, during his lunch breaks. Another had a pregnant wife and refused to do the full 60 hours, so he was fired immediately and escorted from the building. 

Despite the long hours, production was still slow. The movie was Williams’s baby and he wanted each scene to be exactly right. One painter spent three months on a single scene—the one of Zig Zag playing cards—which was then scrapped when Williams decided to change the colors. Another scene—the opening scene of the arrowed-up soldier—started as a 15-second shot and ended up as a full minute-long scene. 

9. WE CAN THANK THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER FOR ALADDIN. 

Watching both movies, it’s impossible not to notice the striking similarities between The Thief and the Cobbler and Aladdin. “Disney just stole it," said Pepper. "It’s as plain as the nose your face." Many of the outfits, imagery, and character designs were very similar. Williams had been working on his movie for 20 years and dozens of animators had passed through and taken some ideas with them; it seemed only natural for the movie to blend into others. The studio recognized this natural thievery as a problem, but had no other option than to trudge forward. The Thief was meant to beat Aladdin into theaters, but it missed the deadline, greatly upsetting Warner Bros. 

10. THE PLOT KEPT CHANGING. 

Even with Warner Bros. breathing down Williams's neck, production was slow. The story underwent many rewrites, with the final screenplay being written by Williams's then-wife, Margaret French. Toward the end of production, Williams began to storyboard, which greatly concerned his animators. Despite all the completed footage, there were many gaps in the story that needed to be filled in. 

Warner Bros., already annoyed about Aladdin, started checking in on the studio. Seeing that the movie would not be finished, they turned it over to the production's completion bond company on May 15, 1992. Animators were told to go on vacation and to be out of the office for a few weeks. They came back to cleared desks and empty shelves. A week later, they held what was probably an extremely sad wrap party. 

11. IT WAS THE FINAL MOVIE FOR SEVERAL PEOPLE. 

The Thief and the Cobbler appears as the most recent job on many people's IMDb filmographies, including actors Kenneth Williams, who died in 1988; Sir Anthony Quayle, who died in 1989; and Vincent Price, who died in 1993. 

12. IT HOLDS A WORLD RECORD.

The ambitious 2014 movie Boyhood took 11 years to make and holds the record for the longest continuous production for a live action movie. This is, of course, no match for The Thief and the Cobbler, which took 31 years to complete, starting in 1964.

13. YOU CAN WATCH THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER AS IT WAS (SORT OF) INTENDED.

If you’re curious to see what the movie would have been like if it had been finished by Williams himself, you probably never will. But you can see something close. In 2006, USC film grad Garrett Gilchrist—a major fan of the film—took it upon himself to recreate the movie using all the materials he could find, including a 1992 Williams workprint and a Japanese widescreen DVD. Called The Thief and the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut, the reconstructed film removed the musical numbers and returned the original voice actors. You can watch the recut on YouTube, although some portions might be blocked in certain countries. 

Additional source:
Persistence of Vision
(2012), directed by Kevin Schreck

Images courtesy Miramax via YouTube

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17 Cool Facts About Beavis and Butt-head
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On March 8, 1993, Beavis and Butt-head made its debut on MTV—to the delight of young viewers, and the annoyance of their parents. While some people considered it the end of the civilized world, TIME Magazine critic Kurt Andersen lauded its irreverence, writing that it “may be the bravest show ever run on national television.”

From its original 200-episode run to the books (yes, plural), movie, and soundtrack it inspired—plus its brief return in 2011—Beavis and Butt-head has not lost any of its original charm. On the 20th anniversary of its original finale, here are some things you might not have known about Mike Judge's animated headbangers.

1. BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD GOT THEIR START ON LIQUID TELEVISION.

Mike Judge went from teaching himself animation and playing bass for Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets to having one of his cartoons played on MTV’s animation showcase program Liquid Television in one year’s time. Cartoon short Milton, the origin of the character from his live-action cult classic Office Space, appeared in a 1991 episode. In 1992, Beavis and Butt-head made their loud, violent first impression in his short Frog Baseball. MTV then paid Judge for the rights to the two characters and ordered 65 four-minute cartoons.

2. MTV PULLED THE SHOW SOON AFTER IT BEGAN.

Shortly after greenlighting Beavis and Butt-head, MTV had to halt production. Not because of any controversy, but because Judge and his animation staff couldn’t keep up with the demand for new material, forcing MTV to stop airing the show entirely two weeks after it premiered. It made its return more than six weeks later on May 17th with “Scientific Stuff” and “Good Credit.”

3. MIKE JUDGE IMPROVISED MOST OF THE DIALOGUE DURING THE MUSIC VIDEOS.


Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images

Judge voiced virtually all of the characters on the show and was one of just a handful of people who made up the writing staff. He opted to add to his workload by winging it when it came to Beavis and Butt-head's taste-making opinions on music. Time was saved on the animation for the music video commentaries by having an editor take footage from earlier episodes and sync it up with new mouth positions.

4. BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD WERE NAMED AFTER KIDS THAT LIVED IN MIKE JUDGE’S NEIGHBORHOOD.

Bobby Beavis was “kind of an athletic kid” that lived three blocks from Judge while he was in college, and not similar to the character with the Metallica shirt christened with his surname. There was also a 12-year-old who called himself “Iron Butt” (because he claimed to never get injured from a kick to the posterior) who had a friend called “Butt-head.”

5. ALL REFERENCES TO FIRE WERE REMOVED PERMANENTLY AFTER THE SHOW WAS BLAMED FOR A DEATH.

In October 1993, a 5-year-old boy set fire to his Ohio home, which killed his 2-year-old sister. Their mother claimed Beavis’s fire-making and blatant spoken love of arson were responsible. MTV’s quick response was to only air the show after 10:30 p.m. and to wipe all fire references from all of the previous episodes—only fans who taped the offending episodes on their VCRs have proof that the word was ever uttered. “Fire” was banned for the rest of the series’ original run, but it was allowed again in 2011.

6. A SENATOR REFERRED TO BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD AS ‘BUFFCOAT AND BEAVER.’

Soon after the fatal fire accident, Senator Ernest "Fritz" Hollings, a Democrat from South Carolina, spoke at a Senate hearing as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Hollings attempted to argue that TV broadcasters needed to be forced to clamp down on their offensive programming and used the most controversial show at the time as a specific example ... or at least he tried to.

7. PRISON OFFICIALS IN OKLAHOMA BANNED THE SHOW.

There were also documented reports of South Dakota schools outlawing Beavis and Butt-head-related clothing.

8. MARLON BRANDO WATCHED THE SHOW.

According to Mike Judge, Johnny Depp told him that Depp and Marlon Brando would imitate Beavis and Butt-head, with Depp as Beavis and Brando as Butt-head. This occurred when the two worked together during 1994’s Don Juan DeMarco.

9. MATT GROENING WAS A FAN, TOO.

The creator of The Simpsons claimed that he liked the show because it took “the heat off Bart Simpson being responsible for the downfall of western civilization.”

10. DAVID LETTERMAN WAS THE VOICE OF THE MOTLEY CRUE ROADIE WHO MIGHT BE BUTT-HEAD’S FATHER IN BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA .

David Letterman was credited as Earl Hofert, which is actually the name of Letterman's uncle. Letterman was a fan of the show and had the Highland teens on The Late Show in 1996 to promote their movie.

11. BEAVIS ALMOST SAID SOMETHING TOO CLEVER.

In 1993, Judge told The New York Times that one of the big challenges of the show was to keep the two in character and, therefore, dumb. An original line had Beavis telling his classmates that they had “Beavis envy” because he received a school pass. It was cut because it almost made the 14-year-old with the underbite too smart. In 2011, Judge admitted to “cheating” and probably making them smarter than they are during the music video commentaries.

12. DARIA WAS CREATED WITH JANEANE GAROFALO AND DARLENE CONNOR IN MIND.

The character of Daria was created after then-MTV president Judy McGrath expressed concern about the show’s lack of smart or female characters. Garofalo and Sara Gilbert’s Roseanne character were the models for Daria Morgendorffer. Morgendorffer was the maiden name of the show writer David Felton's mother, and was deemed perfect for the new character.

13. THE FRIENDS ARE HANGING OUT AT BUTT-HEAD’S HOUSE.


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While it isn’t officially canon, Judge responded to a reporter’s assumption that the two were always at Butt-head’s abode by saying he “always imagined” that to be the case.

14. BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD WERE FEATURED ON THE COVER OF ROLLING STONE MAGAZINE THREE TIMES.

Their first appearance in 1993 ended up being the best-selling issue of the magazine that year.

15. THE TWO STARRED IN THEIR OWN LIVE-ACTION THANKSGIVING SPECIAL WITH KURT LODER.

The night before their (first) series finale, “Beavis and Butt-head Are Dead," MTV put Beavis and Butt-head in charge of broadcasting the Thanksgiving Day Parade, then later put them at a dinner table with the veteran MTV News broadcaster. The one hour special only aired on television once.

16. THE SHOW ENDED DUE TO CREATIVE BURNOUT.

In 1997, toward the end of the show's original run, Judge was running on empty. "I actually wanted to stop a little sooner," Judge told the Los Angeles Times. "We've done over 200 episodes [since 1993]. After the second season, I thought, 'How are we gonna do this anymore?' I was completely burnt out. I got a second wind in season three, and again in season five. But I don't know, you do it as fast as you can, get it on the air as fast as you can, and there's never a break. I felt, like, why not retire before it gets too stale or whatever?"

17. KANYE WEST WANTED TO BE ON THE SHOW.

In contrast to the more innocent 1990s, Judge and his team had to get authorization from all of the parties involved in a music video to have it appear on Beavis and Butt-head when it returned in 2011. Kanye West wanted to have one of his videos featured on the show, but another credited songwriter on the undisclosed track declined immortality.

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10 Filling Facts About A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving
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Though it may not be as widely known as It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or A Charlie Brown Christmas, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving has been a beloved holiday tradition for many families for more than 40 years now. Even if you've seen it 100 times, there’s still probably a lot you don’t know about this Turkey Day special.

1. IT’S THE FIRST PEANUTS SPECIAL TO FEATURE AN ADULT VOICE.

We all know the trombone “wah wah wah” sound that Charlie Brown’s teacher makes when speaking in a Peanuts special. But A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, which was released in 1973, made history as the first Peanuts special to feature a real, live, human adult voice. But it’s not a speaking voice—it’s heard in the song “Little Birdie.”

2. IT WASN’T JUST ANY ADULT WHO LENT HIS VOICE TO THE SPECIAL.

Being the first adult to lend his or her voice to a Peanuts special was kind of a big deal, so it makes sense that the honor wasn’t bestowed on just any old singer or voice actor. The song was performed by composer Vince Guardaldi, whose memorable compositions have become synonymous with Charlie Brown and the rest of the gang.

“Guaraldi was one of the main reasons our shows got off to such a great start,” Lee Mendelson, the Emmy-winning producer who worked on many of the Peanuts specials—including A Charlie Brown Thanksgivingwrote for The Huffington Post in 2013. “His ‘Linus and Lucy,’ introduced in A Charlie Brown Christmas, set the bar for the first 16 shows for which he created all the music. For our Thanksgiving show, he told me he wanted to sing a new song he had written for Woodstock. I agreed with much trepidation as I had never heard him sing a note. His singing of ‘Little Birdie’ became a hit."

3. DESPITE THE VOICE, THERE ARE NO ADULTS FEATURED IN THE SPECIAL.

While Peanuts specials are largely populated by children, there’s usually at least an adult or two seen or heard somewhere. That’s not the case with A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. “Charlie Brown Thanksgiving may be the only Thanksgiving special (live or animated) that does not include adults,” Mendelson wrote for HuffPo. “Our first 25 specials honored the convention of the comic strip where no adults ever appeared. (Ironically, our Mayflower special does include adults for the first time.)”

4. LUCY IS MOSTLY M.I.A., TOO.

Though early on in the special, viewers get that staple scene of Lucy pulling a football away from Charlie Brown at the last minute, that’s all we see of Chuck’s nemesis in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. (Lucy's brother, Linus, however, is still a main character.)

5. CHARLIE BROWN AND LUCY STILL KEEP IN TOUCH.

Though they only had a single scene together, Todd Barbee, who voiced Charlie Brown, told Noblemania that he and Robin Kohn, who voiced Lucy in the Thanksgiving special, still keep in touch. “We actually went to high school together,” Barbee said. “We still live in Marin County, are Facebook friends, and occasionally see each other.”

6. CHARLIE BROWN HAD SOME TROUBLE WITH HIS SIGNATURE “AAARRRGG.”

One unique aspect of the Peanuts specials is that the bulk of the characters are voiced by real kids. In the case of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, 10-year-old newcomer Todd Barbee was tasked with giving a voice to Charlie Brown—and it wasn’t always easy.

“One time they wanted me to voice that ‘AAAAAAARRRRRGGGGG’ when Charlie Brown goes to kick the football and Lucy yanks it away,” Barbee recalled to Noblemania in 2014. “Try as I might, I just couldn’t generate [it as] long [as] they were looking for … so after something like 25 takes, we moved on. I was sweating the whole time. I think they eventually got an adult or a kid with an older voice to do that one take."

7. LINUS STILL GETS AN ENTHUSIASTIC RESPONSE.

While Barbee got a crash course in the downside of celebrity at a very early age—“seeing my name printed in TV Guide made everyone around me go bananas … everybody … just thought I was some big movie star or something,” he told Noblemania—Stephen Shea, who voiced Linus, still gets a pretty big reaction.

"I don't walk around saying 'I'm the voice of Linus,'" Shea told the Los Angeles Times in 2013. "But when people find out one way or another, they scream 'I love Linus. That is my favorite character!'"

8. THANKS TO LINUS, THE THANKSGIVING SPECIAL GOT A SPINOFF.

As is often the case in a Peanuts special, Linus gets to play the role of philosopher in A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving and remind his friends (and the viewers) about the history and true meaning of whatever holiday they’re celebrating. His speech about the Pilgrims’ first Thanksgiving eventually led to This is America, Charlie Brown: The Mayflower Voyagers, a kind of spinoff adapted from that Thanksgiving Day prayer, which sees the Peanuts gang becoming a part of history.

9. LEE MENDELSON HAD AN ISSUE WITH BIRD CANNIBALISM.

In writing for HuffPo for A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving’s 40th anniversary, Mendelson admitted that one particular scene in the special led to “a rare, minor dispute during the creation of the show. Mr. Schulz insisted that Woodstock join Snoopy in carving and eating a turkey. For some reason I was bothered that Woodstock would eat a turkey. I voiced my concern, which was immediately overruled.”

10. MENDELSON EVENTUALLY GOT HIS WAY ... THOUGH NOT FOR LONG.

Though Mendelson lost his original argument against seeing Woodstock eating another bird, he was eventually able to right that wrong. “Years later, when CBS cut the show from its original 25 minutes to 22 minutes, I sneakily edited out the scene of Woodstock eating,” he wrote. “But when we moved to ABC in 2001, the network (happily) elected to restore all the holiday shows to the original 25 minutes, so I finally have given up.”

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