Persistence of Vision | Super Docs
Persistence of Vision is a very recent 2014 documentary that tells the difficult and unfortunate story behind one of the grandest and most epic animation projects ever undertaken: Richard Williams’ The Thief and the Cobbler.
As you watch the documentary, you likely have bits and pieces of this story in the back of your mind. You sort of know what happened to the film: it took too long to get finished, the people investing money in the film got fed up, and decided to finish it themselves. You sort of know how long it took to make: roughly about 35 years, give or take a decade. And you may have even seen the Miramax cut of the movie, or at least one of the trailers from an old VHS tape. But as the documentary goes on, you quickly realize just exactly why these things had happened.
You realize that the reason the film took 35 years to make was because it was initially something completely different, and Richard lost the rights to the original story and all the animation he had done. You realize why it continued to take a long time because Richard was a very strict, detail oriented person, and he had a specific vision for a finely crafted animated feature with mass amounts of detail. They were even drawing on enormous sheets of paper. And perhaps in the end, it was something Richard may have never been able to finish even by today if it had still been left up to him.
You also learn exactly why the film got taken away from Richard, because after impressing Warner Brothers Studios with his work on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, he decided to take an offer from Warners for a total of $50 million dollars, in order to both finish the film and to market the film. But once it was clear to Warners that the film was not getting completed in a timely manner, they kicked everyone off the project, took the film with them, and spent three years finishing it: which is when all of those tacky songs and horrible voices got added in.
But along with all of that knowledge comes a realization that Richard Williams was a man of unique vision. He was a guy who was constantly learning the craft of animation, and trying to take it to further and further heights. He was also man who understood the concept of animation and locomotive movement so well that he was able to distill it down for you into simple and compact concepts, both in his book and in his lectures. And of course he was also a man who had a lot of passion and integrity. He worked harder than anyone, he pushed himself further than anyone. And like all of us, he yearned to make a masterpiece that would show the world what he and the medium of animation was capable of.
And so with all of that combined, it’s no wonder The Thief and the Cobbler ended up the way it did. It’s a tragic tale to be sure. But an understandable one.
To speak on the documentary production itself, I’d first like to commend director Kevin Schreck for being interested enough in this story to want to go through all the trouble to tell it. Just like with all the work that fan and filmmaker Garrett Gilchrist put into the fan-edit known as The Recobbled Cut, Kevin Schreck was doing the world a favor by bringing this lost story back from the dead, when it had previously been unknown and unspoken of. And for a film with this much richness and grandeur wrapped up in it, it’s a absolute shame that a proper film historian hasn’t spoken much of it. So thank you ever so much Mr. Schreck for being able to put this film together.
But to be more critical on the doc, I found myself having a bit of an issue with the film technically. Perhaps it’s due to my filmmaking education and particular set of equipment over the years, but I found the squashed frame on all of the interviews to be rather surprising, considering that most cameras are built-in with a 16×9 aspect ratio these days. And this being a documentary from just this past year, I would’ve expected the whole film to be in wide-screen. Was this filmed on an I-phone, or a tablet, or perhaps just an older camcorder Mr. Schreck happened to already own? I can’t be sure. But it does bother me some.
Beyond that admittedly unimportant issue, all of the research and footage gathered for the film does an incredible job of fully and accurately telling the story. The archival footage of the >>>Richard Williams studios, their previous commercial shorts and feature film titles, original rough animation tests, and even the marketing pitch tape for showing to investors were all amazing finds.
The testimony by the animators and old friends and staff were all very telling and deeply insightful. I especially felt a bit of a punch to my own gut when I saw the scene about The Thief and the Cobbler being so poorly received that it eventually became a giveaway in boxes of Froot Loops. I just… I had no idea it got that bad. Absolutely no idea. I mean some films that get released to low sales just tend to wither and die, and never become bargain bin features. But this actually managed to get to that point.
Ultimately, The Thief and the Cobbler stands as a testament to beauty and still untapped skill of 2D animation, as an icon of the ultimate “personal project” and of Richard’s “life’s work”, and as the final film of many many talented animators, including two former Disney giants who died during its production.
Kevin Schreck’s documentary Persistence of Vision is a must-see and a must-have for any animation geek and film historian. Because not only does the 2-Disc DVD release of this film contain the documentary and deleted scenes, but the entirety of the original 1992 Director’s cut of The Thief and the Cobbler, before Warner Brothers or Miramax shut the production down. It’s akin to watching the original, unmolested cut of the Star Wars trilogy. And this is currently the only way to own the film on DVD in that form.
Currently Kevin has a finite number of copies available for you to own by way of a $25+ donation to him on the film’s >>>OFFICIAL FACEBOOK Page. So I encourage all those who are interested to go there now and pick up a copy before they go away. And please, do what you can to spread the word of this documentary and this amazing animated epic.