The Thief and the Cobbler is a British animated fantasy film directed, co-written and co-produced by Canadian animator Richard Williams. The film is famous for its animation and its long, troubled history: Williams worked for 28 years on the project. Beginning production in 1964, Williams intended The Thief and the Cobbler to be his masterpiece, and a milestone in the art of animation. Due to independent funding and its complex animation, The Thief and the Cobbler was in and out of production for over two decades, until Williams, buoyed by his success as animation director on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, signed a deal in 1988 to have Warner Bros. finance and distribute the film. However, negotiations broke down when production went over budget and behind schedule and Williams was unable to complete the film on time. As Warner Bros. later pulled out, a completion bond company assumed control of The Thief and the Cobbler and had it finished by producer Fred Calvert without Williams's involvement, and in a very different, almost unrecognizable form.
The film opens with a narrator describing a prosperous city called the Golden City, ruled by the sleepy King Nod and protected by three golden balls atop its tallest minaret. According to a prophecy, the city would fall to a race of warlike, one-eyed monsters, known as "one-eyes", should the balls be removed, and could only be saved by "the simplest soul with the smallest and simplest of things". Living in the city are the good-hearted cobbler Tack and a nameless, unsuccessful yet persistent thief. Both characters have no dialogue.
When the thief invades Tack's house, the two fight and stumble outside, causing Tack's tacks to fall onto the street. Zigzag, King Nod's Grand Vizier, steps on one of the tacks and orders Tack arrested while the thief escapes. Tack is brought before King Nod and his daughter, Princess Yum-Yum. Before Zigzag can convince Nod to have Tack executed, Yum-Yum saves Tack by breaking one of her shoes and ordering Tack to fix it. During repairs Tack and Yum-Yum become increasingly attracted to each other, much to the jealousy of Zigzag, who plots to take over the kingdom by marrying the princess. Meanwhile, the thief notices the golden balls atop the minaret and decides to steal them. After breaking into the palace through a gutter, the thief steals the repaired shoe from Tack, prompting the cobbler to chase him through the palace. Upon retrieving the shoe, Tack bumps into Zigzag, who notices the shoe is fixed and imprisons Tack in a dungeon.
The next morning, Nod has a vision of the Golden City's destruction by the one-eyes. While Zigzag tries to convince Nod of the kingdom's security, the thief steals the balls after several failed attempts, only to lose them to Zigzag's minions. Tack escapes from his cell using his cobbling tools during the ensuing panic. Nod notices the balls' disappearance after being warned of the one-eyes by a soldier mortally wounded by them. Zigzag attempts to use the stolen balls to blackmail the king into letting him marry Yum-Yum. When Nod refuses, Zigzag defects to the one-eyes and gives them the balls instead.
Nod sends Yum-Yum, her nurse, and Tack to ask help from a "mad, holy old witch" in the desert. They are secretly followed by the thief, who hears of treasures on the journey but fails in stealing any. In the desert, they discover a band of dimwitted brigands, led by Chief Roofless, whom Yum-Yum recruits as her bodyguards. The protagonists reach the hand-shaped tower where the witch lives, and learn from the witch that Tack is prophesied to save the Golden City. The witch also presents a riddle: "Attack, attack, attack! A tack, see? But it's what you do with what you've got!"
The protagonists return to the Golden City to find the one-eyes' massive war machine approaching. Remembering the witch's riddle, Tack shoots a single tack into the enemy's midst, sparking a Goldberg-esque chain reaction to destroy the entire one-eye army. Zigzag tries to escape, but falls into a pit where he is consumed by alligators and his mistreated pet vulture, Phido. The thief, avoiding many deathtraps, steals the golden balls from the collapsing machine, only to have them taken from him by Tack. With peace restored and the prophecy fulfilled, the city celebrates as Tack and Yum-Yum marry. Tack speaks one line - "I love you." This was intended to be spoken by Sean Connery, although the line was never recorded. The story ends with the thief stealing its reel of film and running away.
- Vincent Price as Zigzag the Grand Vizier
- Matthew Broderick as Tack the Cobbler
- Jennifer Beals as Princess Yum-Yum
- Jonathan Winters as The Thief
- Clive Revill as King Nod
- Toni Collette as Princess Yum-Yum's Nanny, Mad and Holy Old Witch
- Windsor Davies as Chief Roofless
- Paul Matthews as Mighty One-Eye
- Donald Pleasence as Phido the Vulture
- Clinton Sundberg as Dying Soldier
- Kenneth Williams as Goblet
- Terry Thomas as Tickle
- Stanley Baxter as Gofer
- David Tomlinson as Slap
- George Melly as Dwarf
- Eddie Byrne as Hoof
- Tick Wilson as Hook
- Frederick Shaw as Goolie
- Miriam Margolyes as Maiden from Mobassa
- Richard Williams as Laughing Brigand