Richard Williams, the Canadian-born animator whose intricate, playful work includes Who Framed Roger Rabbit and two Pink Panther movie title sequences, has died, as per The Hollywood Reporter. He was 86.
After making an award-winning short film called The Little Island in 1958, Williams lent his services to major movies and clients. Among his first big-time jobs was designing the elaborate, curvy opening credit sequence to 1965’s What’s New, Pussycat?
He also did credits for the film version of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the 1967 Bond spoof Casino Royale, and, later, both The Return of the Pink Panther and The Pink Panther Strikes Again. The latter is the franchise’s most ambitious credit sequence, with the eponymous feline stitched into parody versions of The Sound of Music, Singin’ in the Rain, and King Kong.
Williams is best known for serving as the animation director on Roger Rabbit, designing not only the title character but also Baby Herman and Jessica Rabbit, on top of overseeing the untold number of classic animated characters squeezed into the 1988 classic.
In between gigs, Williams worked on his own pet projects. He won an Oscar for the 1971 animated version of A Christmas Carol, and helmed the 1977 feature Raggedy Ann & Andy: A Musical Adventure.
But his biggest pet project was tragically never completed, despite being in production for over three decades. That would be The Thief and the Cobbler, a peerlessly ambitious feature he made piecemeal, off and on, starting in 1964. Over the many years, the production ran into budget problems, missed deadlines, and changed hands. Eventually it was taken away from him, radically reworked, and dumped into theaters in 1995 with the title Arabian Knight, Williams’ aborted masterwork written off by the public as a knock-off of Disney’s Aladdin.
Since then, fans have built their own cuts of The Thief and the Cobbler, which one can find online. A restored, still incomplete version played repertory theaters a couple years back, to rapturous reviews. Williams had given up on trying to complete the film himself, and his passing means that it will, sadly, remain forever unfinished, even if what exists of it will forever be spellbinding.
You can watch a brief, eye-popping clip from The Thief and the Cobbler below.