The Thief is very much like Wile E. Coyote: he's crafty, but somewhat clumsy in his actions & bad luck always seems to befall on him, but he's perpetually determined to get what he wants, no matter how great of a task it may be to get it. He's somewhat of a ham, constantly thinking the camera is on him all the time. An animated Charlie Chaplin.
But most importantly, although the Thief is a no-good, selfish & devious character, you ultimately care about him & feel bad for him when he's down. The Thief is a prime example of a memorable character.
The Thief was actually a caricature of animator Richard Williams, director of The Thief:
Here's a back story on the The Thief & the Cobbler by Eddie Bowers :
-----The film developed after Williams illustrated some books by Idries Shah based on the ancient Arabian stories of Nasrudin. After, when Ken Harris started working for him he began a film based on Nasrudin which Ken Animated. Quite a bit of footage was done on this film, but the relationship between Shah and Williams had deteriorated and the film was changed to remove Nasrudin, who had been the main character. A thief character from the book was changed to be an unsuccessful, but persistent thief and the story was built back up from that point.
-The Cobbler was added after some test animation from Art Babbitt with the character. Then came Zig-Zag (voiced by Vincent Price), which was mostly animated by Williams, and King nod by Babbitt. Alex (Richards son) did a lot of the animation on the Cobbler as well. There wasn't much storyboarding for the film, it wandered it's own way. Ken Harris animated very fast though, and Williams had to keep feeding him work. This meant he had to bash out some quick layouts to satiate the ravenous Harris. Williams felt that he got better work out of him this way. He wasn't too tied down to a storyboard.
-During this time they were also making commercials in which they won several awards. Nobody got rich though, most of the profit went back into "The Film"
-In the early 80's the film got financed Prince Mohammed Faisil of Saudi Arabia and they went into production on the war machine sequence. The agreement was if the backers liked the sequence they would finance the rest of the film. They did like it but delays and extra expenses scared away the prince and his accountants.
-Even at this point the film had a bit of a cult following. Clips of what they were working on were on several documentaries about Animation, Art Babbitt, and Williams himself. In the mid 1980's Williams took his film to San Francisco to show his good friend Milt Kahl who was dying. He used ILM's (Industrial Light and Magic) screening room. Afterwards a bunch of ILM guys came out of the projection room screaming that it was the most incredible animation they had ever seen. He told him that he didn't have the money to finish the film.
-The word spread and the producers of Roger Rabbit asked for a screening, so he sent it over. It was seen by Robert Zemeckis, Stephen Spielberg, and some people at Disney. It got a lot of exposure, but still no one would fund it. This is probably the time when some of the story points got lifted (intentionally or not) and made their way into Aladdin. What did happen is they asked Williams to Direct Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
-After winning the Oscars for Roger Rabbit he did get the funding and Warner Bros. agreed to distribute it. They were in full production for a year and a half (much shorter than most animated films take) before everything fell apart.
-Warner Bros. got nervous and sent someone from the Completion Bond Corporation to access the situation and asked to see what he had so far. At that point Warners pulled out and it was now CBC’s job to finish the film, no matter what. Williams and his studio were fired and Fred Calvert was hired to finish the film. Instead of following the work reel that William's had provided Warners, he basically used all the pieces to make his own version of the film. He dropped many sequences to fit in songs and had sequences animated in Korea. This starting from scratch approach would force him to take another year and a half to finish the film. The finished film was released in Australia and South Africa as "The Princess and The Cobbler". Miramax then purchased the film and made a few more changes like adding voices for some of the silent characters and cutting a few scenes. This version was eventually released in the US under the name "Arabian Knight."-----
The Thief currently holds the record for the longest film production in history: 26 years.
Williams later wrote one of the most essential animation books of all time:
You can buy the book here at Amazon.com.
It's a real shame what happened to Richard, being kicked off his own pet project, which he funded & worked feverishly on for nearly 3 decades.
But there's still hope for Richard & The Thief yet:
There's talks of Roy E. Disney & producer Don Hahn (Roger Rabbit, Beauty & the Beast, Lion King, etc.) working with Richard Williams to help restore the film.
-& recently, filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist & his team at Orange Cow Productions undertook the task of restoring The Thief close to it's original glory, using the original workprint of the film, pencil tests, storyboards & footage from the released versions. It's the best version of The Thief out there. It's called The Thief & the Cobbler: Recobbled Cut.
You can watch the "Recobbled Cut" of the film on Google Video here:
As an added note before watching the film, like Roger Rabbit, the film was done completely without the aid of a computer. The characters, effects, backgrounds & props were completely hand-drawn. You'll be awestruck when you get to the last 20 minutes of the film (the War Machine sequence).
I recommend watching it ASAP! So get some popcorn & enjoy!
-I'd like to thank Eddie Bowers for the back story & Garrett Gilchrist for making the extraordinary recut of the film. But most importantly, I'd like to thank Richard Williams, who without him, none of this would be possible.
We're thinking about you, Richard.