As with any fable, there are forces of light and darkness at odds in the animated romantic adventure Arabian Night.
The good can be seen in some outstanding, complex and eye-popping animation – perhaps the last great work to be done in this area prior to the advent of computer assists. The bad news is that, although its production history dates back as early as 1968, the film gives the overriding sense that animator Richard Williams finished the picture without really completing it – that there were still both visual and story refinements needed to bring the work fully to fruition.
The story is relatively straightforward. In ancient Baghdad, the realm is about to be beset by the mighty hordes of the warrior One-Eye (voiced by Kevin Dorsey). Court magician Zigzag (Vincent Price) is in league with the tyrant, for the hand of the appropriately named King Nod’s daughter, Princess Yum Yum (Jennifer Beals).
Legend has it that the city will be protected as long as the three gold balls on the tallest minaret shine upon the town. Zigzag winds up with them. It then falls upon Yum Yum and the humble young cobbler Tack (Matthew Broderick) to retrieve the orbs and save the empire from doom.
Though it sounds like a ripping yarn, and runs barely more than one hour (plus credits), Arabian Night is slow and often awkwardly paced. The film’s songs with the exception of the comic ‘Bom Bom Bom Beem Bom’ – are largely forgettable ballads, perfunctorily placed within the drama.
Previously known as The Thief and the Cobbler, Williams’ labor of love has had a fractious history. It was expected to premiere about two years ago with Warner Bros. handling it in the US. But delivery dates could not be met, and when the banks demanded payment, the Completion Bond Co. wound up with ownership of the production.
The bond company, prior to domestic pickup by Miramax, relooped new voices for several characters and altered sections of voiceover narration, adding some new material [to the original screenplay by Williams and Margaret French].