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Moriarty’s DVD Blog! A Word About That New THIEF & THE COBBLER Disc....

Quick show of hands... how many of you know the work of Richard Williams? I guarantee you all at least know ROGER RABBIT, his single most iconic contribution to the history of animation. No matter what, when you talk about the evolution of the art form, you have to deal with the accomplishment of ROGER RABBIT. No matter what you think of the script or the plot of ROGER, and I’ve heard from plenty of people since it was released who just don’t care for it, you can’t deny the remarkable level of artistry in the movie, or the milestone of seeing all of Hollywood’s classic animated characters together. And as much as Robert Zemeckis is responsible for the film as a whole, it’s Richard Williams you have to thank for the mind-bogglingly great hand animation. Williams is a grand lunatic, a man who spent much of his career chasing a dream even at the expense of other opportunities. If he had ever really embraced the system and played it, he may well have become a major commercial force, or at the very least, an interesting stylist for hire. Instead, his story makes me sad almost to the same degree that his work makes me happy. One of the reasons he was great was because he knew he was part of a tradition, and he knowingly surrounded himself with some of the giants of the business. One guy in particular was Art Babbitt, one of the guys who was there at the start with Walt Disney, who worked on “Three Little Pigs” and Mickey Mouse shorts and SNOW WHITE and PINOCCHIO and FANTASIA and DUMBO. Another of them was Ken Harris, who was an enormous talent part of the Termite Terrace team, who worked on some of the best known Warner Bros shorts like “What’s Opera Doc?” and “Duck Amuck” and who also worked on such projects as THE GRINCH WHO STOLE CHRISTMAS. It was another Christmas project that brought Harris into contact with Williams, who was directing his remarkable take on A CHRISTMAS CAROL. That was released in 1971. Around that time, Harris and Williams started improvising sequences of a story about a thief. They were liberally adapting some actual Arabian folk stories originally. But when Babbitt joined the animation production house that Williams was building, he developed a new character and did some test animation to show to Williams. The character was a cobbler, and Williams loved what he saw. For a while, the men all developed new characters to bounce off one another. Zig-Zag, a bizarre blue magician/vizier, was created and animated by Williams, while there was a King created by Babbitt. They developed the film sequence by sequence, playing off each other, and the result was, by all accounts, a piece of pure animation. Williams was doing work for films like the PINK PANTHER features (he did the memorable opening title animation sequences for a few of the films) and the TV special “Ziggy’s Gift,” based on the popular ‘70s cartoon character, but he took all the money his company made and turned it all back into the development of this film, this THIEF & THE COBBLER that was starting to take shape. He ended up in the director’s chair for 1977’s RAGGEDY ANN & ANDY by default when someone else dropped out, and the result is a strange but beautifully-animated film that has an oddly familiar synopsis: all the toys in the room of a child are alive when she’s out of the room, but they’re just toys when she’s around. She gets a new toy and leaves it in her room, and the other toys all introduce themselves. She doesn’t believe she’s a toy, though, and through a series of circumstances, she ends up knocked out the window, lost out in the world, and it’s up to the favorite toy in the bedroom to go out, find the new toy, and bring it back. The film’s filled with cloying songs that only occasionally work, but there is some amazing work in the film. If you do a YouTube search, you’ll find some scenes including one featuring The Greedy that is ungodly when you remember, everything you see had to have been animated by hand. We’re used to seeing computers do it all these days, but there was a time when any sort of three-dimensional camerawork had to be accomplished by hand. There’s not a computer anywhere more precise than Williams at his very best, and he would draw sequences that theoretically shouldn’t have been possible, just to accomplish what no one else could. After Williams was brought on as the director of animation on ROGER RABBIT, he found his personal project sidelined a bit, but in the best possible way. The film’s success launched him to a new visibility, and it brought him his second and third Academy Awards. Perfect timing for him to get his dream film finished finally... right? After all, word had gotten out inside the industry about this remarkable thing that Williams was doing, and people had seen bits and pieces. It was a screening of the workprint that got Williams the ROGER RABBIT job in the first place. I have no doubt that much of what you saw in ALADDIN (a very entertaining and well-made film in its own right) was inspired at least in part by THE THIEF & THE COBBLER. There are some disconcerting similarities, and THIEF was well-known within the animation community well before ALADDIN was developed. Warner Bros. signed on to distribute the film after the success of ROGER, and Williams managed to find funding that came with the attachment of the Completion Bond Company, a decision that would pretty much destroy the film in the end. See, Williams does great work, but that quality requires time... much more time than studios are used to spending on a project. And he missed a few deadlines for Warner Bros., and as the release date of ALADDIN got closer, Warner Bros started to worry that they were going to get killed if they went second. So they did the unthinkable. They took it away from him. He had fifteen minutes or so to finish when they took it over. Fred Calvert (a TV guy whose body of work demonstrates no particular skill or inspiration) was hired to finish the film fast. That decision ended up costing Warner Bros another year and a half, and it gutted the movie. Calvert added shitty songs and dumped a lot of great material. His end result was so awful that Warner Bros. dumped it, and Miramax picked it up. They added “big star” voices to the film, turning these two silent characters into chatterboxes via running commentary voice-over work by Matthew Broderick and Jonathan Winters. Awful, awful stuff. Calvert and Miramax conspired to turn this marvelous little gem into something stitched-together and wholly shitty, a Frankenstein’s monster that is all the more frustrating because of the great work still contained in the film.

If you see this in stores, let me give you the lowdown on what you can expect to see. First, the packaging is pretty nifty. The outer sleeve of the DVD is a cardboard pop-up book. This isn’t the first time this has been on DVD, though. Hell, Miramax released it in March 2005, so it’s not even like there’s a reason for them to reissue it. Oh, there was supposed to be a reason. See, we’d been hearing that there were plans to restore the Richard Williams version somehow. And to see this pop back up on the release schedule so quickly... well, it seemed like maybe there was some truth to the idea that we might finally get a look at what Williams wanted from this film. This is not a restoration, though. At all. It’s the same 73 minute version that was called ARABIAN KNIGHT at one point and THE PRINCESS & THE COBBLER at another. It’s the same version with the songs and the crappy filler animation to cover up the scenes that were yanked out for no good reason. If you see this in stores, let me make this very clear: do not buy it. If you’re an animation freak and you know exactly what this film, I know what the inclination is. Pick up the film, watch the great parts, and just skip the other bits when you put the disc in. But I don’t want this version. This is the version we’ve been seeing all along. I want the Richard Williams version. I’d pay good money for that. Or... I guess... I could just watch it on YouTube. I guess I could do that and then follow the links I found on the main page for that playlist. I guess if I did that, I might well realize just how frustrating this new release is, and I might be inclined to yell at the company who put this out, yell and ask them to please, for the love of God, work with the guy who created this “Recobbled Cut” of the film. I might, indeed. If you haven’t seen the film, and you don’t want to watch the film on YouTube, it’s worth a Netflix rental for some of the amazing hand-animated sequences that have survived intact in the final film. There’s some stuff here that I personally don’t think anyone will ever top. No one’s learning the trade these days, and if they’re not careful, sooner rather than later, that trade will be gone. This double-dip actively pisses me off because I know that there’s more work to be done on this title, and instead of doing it, they’re just repackaging it and trying to make a little more money off something that they barely seem to respect. By now, with the home video market the way it is, you would think that The Weinstein Co. would recognize the value in this property if they treat it right. Please, please, please, please. Please don’t buy this version. Make it clear to the Weinsteins that you want to see the movie the way the director intended, and if they won’t make that version legally available, then you’ll have to see it some other way. I wish there was something available now like that YouTube workprint, something legal that I could own, because I’d love to study the way Williams did this. I’d love to be able to look at every set-up, ever scene, every image. I’d love to be able to look at this film and see just that skeleton crew that spend the first ten years together, see all the blood, sweat, and tears that they put into the film. But what I’m tired of is this film, re-released like you’re doing parents a favor. This isn’t some generic children’s film. No matter what cover you slap on this thing, people are going to know right away that what they’re watching is uneven. Why not spend a little money up front and then look like heroes for finally giving Williams his dream? As it stands now, this is a sad lesson in what happens when you trade your dreams for financial security. Williams is a genius, but this film in this particular edition is just not good. It’ll bore your kids and it’ll actively annoy you in other places. Its importance is as a piece of history for animation fans, but even there... that YouTube link has more value, and it’s free (for now). Drew McWeeny, Los Angeles

Readers Talkback
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  • Nov. 11, 2006, 7:16 a.m. CST

    Wow Moriarty...

    by RodneyOz far you're making up nicely for lost time. All the DVD stuff so far has been great, stuff that would never hit the radar on other sites. Love it!

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 7:21 a.m. CST


    by RodneyOz

    ...I should have also said, this sort of opinion piece tied in with a review is what I originally fell in love with AICN because of. People who love film, trying to get the word out about stuff that is either great, or being mishandled. This is obviously the latter. I had never heard of this film, but now I know enough to care about its fate.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 7:27 a.m. CST

    I attended his first Masters Class in San Francisco...

    by CrayonPie

    ...and he had some choice opinions of Spielberg and Zemekis. Independent artists need to find alternative ways to realize projects. Upon completion license them to the machine. I wish Gilliam would embrace some technology so he could make his damn Quixote movie. The end result is what matters and if technology lets you gewt it done cheaper, why the hell wouldnt you do it?

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 7:47 a.m. CST

    What you SHOULD do is get this...

    by Brendon ... that should help force a release for a restored version.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 7:53 a.m. CST


    by Get_Me_An_18-Man_Fire_Team_In_12_Hours

    Flame On!

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 8:50 a.m. CST

    great article...

    by datachasm

    this is what i want to read at sites like AICN. AICN's content is about 70% crap and the design sucks ass, but there is currently nothing better really since the demise of Corona. this is a step in the right direction.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 9:11 a.m. CST

    Well, I'm doing my best...

    by Brendon

    ...over at 'film ick'. The Spider-Man 3 article from yesterday is something I'm proud of. But AICN does offer a lot of great stuff. At times.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 9:24 a.m. CST

    Best article on here in years

    by kwisatzhaderach

    I always wondered what happened to Thief and the Cobbler after reading all about it in Starbust magazine about 20 years ago. Would love to know the full story, why not interview Richard for the site sometime?

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 9:53 a.m. CST

    Got this as a free gift!

    by The Bobman

    I knew of this film from way back as a friend dropped out when we were at art school to go and work on it- he did the spears! Years later I was walking through a supermarket and there, free on dvd with Corn Pops- alongside Air Bud, was the theif and the cobbler on Dvd- my heart sank- shame- good its getting a real release now though.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 9:56 a.m. CST

    Godamn shame...

    by Billyeveryteen

    I saw the best parts back in the day. Moriarty's take on it is spot on.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 10 a.m. CST

    i should read the whole aritcle!

    by The Bobman

    while typing and my daught going nuts shouting for bananas! Ok- wont get this! :) Poor Richard Williams was almost broken by this film- heard a few stories about what was going on at the time- won't tell them here but damn! thing is that they are probably scared to give him the money to do HIS version cos of all the the stuff that was going on last time back in the early 90's damn impressive film though- I know Disney must have thought so when they were "inspired" by parts of it for Aladin

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 10:09 a.m. CST

    Recobbled Director's Cut DVD

    by elldeegee

    There's some pretty interesting stuff about all of this, here:

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 10:38 a.m. CST

    You forgot one major snafu, Mori...

    by Osmosis Jones

    ...the film, originally animated for 2:35.1, is being presented in FULL-SCREEN ONLY.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 11:04 a.m. CST

    Never heard of this movie

    by Neo Technic

    but Wow thats sad.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 11:02 a.m. CST

    The "restored" version is out there

    by harrys_site_sucks

    A friend of mine found a "restored" version of the film online last year. Forgot who did it but he has commentary track with it on the DVD. It is truly an amazing film, if you can find the correct version that is. Why it's not out in the correct form is just criminal.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 11:33 a.m. CST

    Where is he now?

    by BenBraddock

    I too first read of this in "Starburst" a (now defunct?) UK sci -fi film mag, way back in time. And again when Roger Rabbit came along. Just assumed that it would all work out for him in he end.. sad to hear how it really went :-( The Bastards. Anyone know what Mr.Williams is doing now?

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 11:57 a.m. CST

    Moriarty gets the gold star today.

    by Harry Weinstein

    Thank you, thank you, thank you Moriarty, for drawing some attention to this crime against cinema. It really is THE MAGNIFICENT AMBERSONS of animation, except unlike the Orson Welles film, it's not too late to save THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER. One thing, though; "you would think that The Weinstein Co. would recognize the value in this property" - based upon what would I think this, exactly? They played a major role in ruining the film in the first place. In Calvert's PRINCESS AND THE COBBLER version, the Thief and the Cobbler still didn't talk. That was 100% Weinstein - see also THE MAGIC ROUNDABOUT, which got the same sort of "improvements" as this film and was transformed into DOOGAL. Or Rene Leloux's GANDAHAR, which got a similar all-star makeover and emerged as LIGHT YEARS - with a co-director credit for Harvey Weinstein himself, which can't mean anything good for the integrity of the film. This new Weinstein Company DVD is nothing but a port of the old VHS transfer from the '90s. And that sucked. This Weinstein disc is shameless even by their standards - they could have at least used their 2.35:1 transfer that was made for the old laserdisc edition. If you want to watch this movie *and you do*, use your preferred BitTorrent search engine and seek out the word "recobbled" - and if that doesn't work try another search engine. It's not perfect, and it's not 100% Richard Williams footage, but it's the best version we've got at the moment.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:06 p.m. CST

    A correction

    by Harry Weinstein

    Calvert's version had the Cobbler talking, but not the thief. I think. Maybe. Doesn't matter, the Recobbled Cut is the only currently available version that counts. Other than bootlegs of Williams' workprint, but that's very, very poor quality, as you'd expect for a continuously bootlegged analog videotape from the early-to-mid 90s.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:08 p.m. CST

    torrent of Recobbles DVD available

    by Lujho

    The torrent of the DVD version of the re-cobbled version is on Demonoid. It's the Mk II version which is widescreen. I'd never heard about this film before but Moriarty's article got me intrigued and I checked out the youtube links. While I'm not enamoured by some of the character designs, the character animation itself is unquestionably some of the most beautifully fluid I've ever seen... I have to see the rest in better quality do I'm dl-ing the DVD version and will re-seed for as long as I can - I suggest anyone else do the same, rather than watch the youtube version. I'd love to see this restored full-on properly by Williams though, but "recobbled" will have to do. And when oh when will AICN talkbacks support line-breaks?

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:24 p.m. CST

    ocpmovie is the man behind the "Recobbled Cut"

    by woxel1 So give him some damn credit, Mori!

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:26 p.m. CST

    Take the spaces out of my link, natch

    by woxel1


  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:28 p.m. CST

    a great shame......

    by giger167

    This is like the 'smile' of the animation genre, a great work seemingly never destined to be completed. Oh hang on !! They managed to wheel Brian Wilson out and get that finished so why not get this completed as well. Someone phone John Lasseter from Disney and tell him to do whatever it takes to get this project finished while the principle makers are still alive, what better way to restart a disney 2D revolution than release this masterpiece.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:29 p.m. CST

    Couldn't agree with you more, Moriarty.

    by Sasha Nein

    Beautiful freaking movie, and such a sad, Gillamesque thing to happen to it.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:45 p.m. CST


    by ran222

    Could anyone who is a demonoid member maybe send me an invite. I am desperate to download the recobbled cut that is on the site, but I cannot get access to the torrent because I am not a member. I would really appreciate it. Please message me if you can help. Thanks.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 12:57 p.m. CST

    The worst part is

    by Bryan

    When the Weinsteins split with Miramax, this could have easily ended up in the Disney library, where the current regime would've been the best hope yet to get it restored. But because the Weinsteins "liked it so much" they chose it as one of the titles they took with them to their company. So now it's doomed to forever exist only in this artistic-war-crime of a bastardized version. <p> Miramax are the assholes responsible for turning the mute title character into a non-stop wisecracker (without lips moving) so they are more responsible than even Calvert for ruining this movie. When I watch it I have to keep it on mute, but turn the sound on whenever Zig Zag shows up. At one time there was an Australian DVD of it called The Princess and the Cobbler, which was apparently the pre-Miramax version (so it was still inexcusably mutilated, but at least didn't have the Jonathan Winters commentary track) but even that one wasn't widescreen.<p> Thanks for the article, Moriarty. There needs to be more coverage of this. I really believe that it's one of the greatest artistic injustices of all time. There has never been animation as good as this, and few movies have been so horribly disfigured by the suits. And then it was just dumped into theaters in a way that let everyone believe it was a quickie Aladdin ripoff (even though it was nearly 30 years in the making!). <p> By the way, Ziggy's Gift came out on DVD last year. I feel weird recommending a cartoon about Ziggy, but it's actually pretty great, with Ziggy being animated exactly as drawn in the comic strip, but completely three-dimensional. There is also a mute pickpocket character who is like a contemporary version of the thief.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 1:34 p.m. CST

    what about a petition to get the director's cut?

    by Gorgomel

    If I'm not mistaken, Warner released Richard Donner's cut of Superman 2 because of an internet petition.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 2:06 p.m. CST

    Miramax's laserdisc was widescreen...

    by Harry Weinstein was the Japanese DVD under the ARABIAN KNIGHTS title. As for Williams coming back to finish the film... don't hold your breath, as he refuses to even publicly talk about THIEF AND THE COBBLER. His son Alex Williams, also a first-rate animator, worked on THIEF AND THE COBBLER and may be the best hope of actually completing it one day. Pity this didn't remain at Disney...

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 2:44 p.m. CST

    Wow, Pixar totally lifted toy story of this guy

    by DirkD13"

    They've just dropped a little in my estimation. Never ever heard of this film or Richard Williams, but I really wanna check out this workprint now! Fantastic story Mori.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 3:33 p.m. CST

    Can't interview Williams

    by myspoonistoobig

    I hear he absolutely refuses to talk about the project with anyone. It's sad. I was meaning to get this but I of these days I will, though.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 4:51 p.m. CST


    by Harry Weinstein

    The similarities between the two films are very, very striking, but Richard Williams was very much a director-for-hire on RA&A, scraping together money to continue work on THIEF AND THE COBBLER. And while RA&A definitely has its moments, TOY STORY is the better movie overall.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 5:12 p.m. CST


    by drew mcweeny

    ... no question TOY STORY is the better film. For one thing, it's an actual story. I'm not calling Pixar out or accusing them of anything. I just think it's one of those oddball things where, broken down to basics, they resemble one another quite a bit. When you see them in execution, though, you can see the difference that Pixar story department makes.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 8:08 p.m. CST

    Damn, Moriarty, What An Article

    by filker-tom

    I've had many problems with this site in general over the years, but DAMN if this ain't a fine piece of writing, with well-placed passion for a savaged work of art. Many kudos to you, sir.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 9 p.m. CST


    by bottleimp

    I remember seeing snippets of this film on television years ago-- the animation style was really unique, but I was really put off by the (obviously thrown-in later) voice-overs. It would be interesting to see it as originally intended-- maybe down the road, as so many other movies now are given the "Director's Cut" treatment on dvd.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 9:41 p.m. CST

    I have the Recobbled Dvd

    by stvnhthr

    It is pretty good, it is like watching a work print with whole scenes nothing but storyboards or rough pencil animation. It is a real shame because it looks like with minimal effort and a great program like Toon Boom you could finish the whole film for a few thousand dollars. It looks like getting a cohesve soundtrack would be the biggest problem.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 10 p.m. CST

    Moriarty -

    by Harry Weinstein

    That was in reference to the dirkd13's post a couple of lines above mine, and not in reference to anything you said. But thanks again for highlighting this new Weinstein release as something to avoid. Off topic, is there any rhyme or reason to the films the Weinsteins took with them when they left Disney? Judging from what I read elsewhere it seemed that anything that was unreleased or released direct-to-video, they kept; anything that got a theatrical release, Disney kept. But this got a theatrical release, so the guy saying that obviously didn't have a clue what he was talking about.

  • Nov. 11, 2006, 11:50 p.m. CST

    AICN just got its testicles back

    by Canadian Cricket Team Fanclub

    Thank you Moriarty for giving AICN its balls back with a great article. I hope Harry's studio deals to further his career don't castrate AICN again ...

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 12:54 a.m. CST

    Toy Story is The Brave Little Toaster, too

    by Mgmax

    That's interesting about Raggedy Ann but if you've ever seen The Brave Little Toaster the "feel" of Toy Story-- the interaction between the objects in the home-- is very recognizable and many parts of their journey/quest have a Toy Story-like feel too.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 3:26 a.m. CST

    Brave Little Toaster

    by Bryan

    And didn't John Lasseter pitch The Brave Little Toaster to Disney as the first computer animated movie? I can't remember where I read that but I'm pretty sure it's the case. At any rate, he was an animator on the eventually not computer animated version. <p> But again, Toy Story is a far superior movie. To think people had problem relating to the cars in Cars, here is a movie that humanizes appliances. Worse, the story is all about a toaster's attachment to a little boy. That was one I couldn't figure out. A little boy losing his favorite toy has drama, but losing his toaster? I don't get it.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 4:29 a.m. CST

    Wait A Sec... That Wasn't All Hand Done, Was It?

    by El Fuego

    Because if so... HOLY SHIT. Even if not... but that bit with the chase and the black and white... damn. I remember seeing the voiced version of this when I was in 6th Grade, and thinking it was a derivative Aladdin ripoff. Now I know better.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 4:48 a.m. CST


    by DarthMuppet

    a.k.a. Garrett Gilchrist is the name of the guy who put together the "Recobbled" cut of the film. He really does deserve some praise and respect for what he accomplished here... If you read through his forums you'll see just how much time and effort he put into this project:

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 4:54 a.m. CST

    Yep, hand done

    by Brendon

    My signed Richard William's Animator's Guide thingy book is much treasured. The man is the greatest director of cel animation of all time.

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 9:34 a.m. CST

    Great post

    by Boba Fat

    Never heard of Mr Williams and will now check him out. Thanks

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 11:18 a.m. CST


    by NNNOOO!!!

    The "Recobbled" thread at is one of the most amazing filmland stories I've ever read. Just epic, with more and more important figures from the production getting involved as it goes on. NotthatIsupportpiracy or anythinggodforbid...

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:46 p.m. CST

    you can't win with these releases

    by half vader

    Bryan, I have that OZ DVD which I think is the British cut. I had the VHS too and was broken-hearted to find them cropped to pan & scan - how many years of work do you think that equals?! Then I was really excited to get the widescreen Laserdisc. Until the Jonanthan Winters voiceover for the thief made me so angry I had to turn it off (I did come back later and watch it muted). What was that that Chuck Jones used to say about 'Animated radio'?! Winters commits the number one cardinal sin of animation by describing to us exactly what he's doing onscreen, which is simultaneously redundant and moronic. I know this sounds nasty, but it actually sems like he's a bit drunk (but not acting drunk) during all that supposed ad-libbing. Gah. Anyway Bryan, was that Ziggy DVD an OZ region 4 thing or US region 1?

  • Nov. 12, 2006, 8:53 p.m. CST

    Williams' new work

    by half vader

    I meant to say that when I went to the Aussie masterclass many years back he said he was working on his own 'experimental' film and had learned his lesson from Thief so wouldn't breathe a word about it (in reference to Aladdin I guess) until it was done. The masterclasses and the book got in the way for years I guess and as I recall I think he was making it by himself (or maybe with his wife Mo - trying to remember) so we probably won't see it for a while yet. I hope I remembered that right.