The picture is being pushed into the U.S. marketplace to enhance video sales, with the likely result of soft domestic B.O. With better international strategy, returns could be quite upbeat for this design spectacle. It also looks like a sure-fire hit on homevideo.
The story is relatively straightforward. In ancient Baghdad, the realm is about to be beset by the mighty hordes of the warrior One-Eye. Court magician Zigzag is in league with the tyrant, having cemented a deal whereby his reward for treachery will be the hand of the appropriately named King Nod’s daughter, Princess Yum Yum.
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, though a rather low-caste thief engineered the snatch. It then falls upon Yum Yum and the humble young cobbler Tack to retrieve the orbs and save the empire from doom.
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Though it sounds like a ripping yarn, and runs barely more than one hour (plus credits), “Arabian Knight” 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.
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 U.S. But delivery dates could not be met, and when the banks demanded payment, the Completion Bond Co. wound up withownership 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. The animation appears to be intact, except for a few sections that may be incomplete, as typified by the fact that for half the film Tack has a paper-white complexion and for the rest has been provided with flesh tone. A couple of monochrome sequences seem wholly out of place beside the vividly colored, intricately detailed style that dominates.
Williams’ attention to color and background detail is painstaking and only occasionally self-conscious. There’s something liberating in his tendency toward caricature rather than realism in character. He also proves to be resourceful and imaginative in creating trompe l’oeil effects that playfully challenge viewers’ perceptions. That spills over into the story, which is subtly ironic, with humor that crosses all age brackets.
The picture’s tour de force is the undoing of One-Eye’s legion. It unravels as an elaborate Rube Goldberg deconstruction, working with a combination of logic and glee.
“Arabian Knight” is a testament to the craft of animated films. Its high points are in the genre’s stratosphere, yet there’s the gnawing sense that one is seeing 80% of a movie, with the rest sadly lost to neglect.