Rankin/ Bass Productions’ “The Hobbit” and “Return of the King” remastered
July 22, 2014 sees the release of digitally remastered versions of Rankin/Bass Productions’ animated television specials “The Hobbit” and “The Return of the King”. Time to reevaluate how films brought Tolkien’s worlds to life – decades before the Peter Jackson film trilogies and one week before the 60th anniversary of the publication of The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. Let’s start – and sing!
This is certainly one of the most obvious differences – there is a lot of singing and some of it has become so legendary fans all over the world might start joining you when singing “Where there’s a whip there is a way!” However, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
‘The Hobbit’ animated musical television special was first screened on November 27, 1977, with NBC, the year of the publication of The Silmarillion. It involves a large number of musical numbers written by Maury Laws, among them”The Greatest Adventure”, sung by folk legend Glenn Yarbrough, which was reprised with ‘The Return of the King.’
The Hobbit – filmed as a children’s story
To have all those songs kept the atmosphere of a children’s story – it did not even ignore the Elven welcome to Rivendell (“O! tra-la-la-lally; here down in the valley!”) Yes, it did not include the Beorn episode, the Arkenstone is not really that important and Gandalf gives away quite a bit of his knowledge at the end but it did stick pretty closely to the book as published. (Yes, I know, there are many more changes – but not as many as with certain other films. Ah well, okay, there are _tons_ of changes but not as … Ah, forget it ;))
I do understand people get upset when the Great Goblin is able to eat a whole dwarf by simply opening his mouth (it isn’t always about size, you know!), the trolls do have huge tusks and Gollum really is a frog-like creature – but that is all due to the animation style by studio Topcraft.
An American cast for American viewers
As much as it is a pleasure to see this film – including torch light Smaug (strangely reminiscent of the Jacksonian Red Eye) and Elrond, the runway-headband-light-wearing Elf – it was obviously meant to please an all-American audience with voice actors famous in the 50s and 60s with Hanna-Barbera and Disney productions (and not to forget, Rankin Bass were well-known for holiday-themed tv specials!) As such much of the original attraction is now lost to younger viewers but that doesn’t keep this film from being highly entertaining. I would recommend you to watch it because this is the first full-fledged film version of The Hobbit – and it is quite a pleasure! And no, it has nothing to do with the book.
Unpacking ‘Hobbit’ & ‘Return of the King’
Fun facts on ‘The Hobbit’ (1977)
Will the Video Version of Tolkien Be Hobbit Forming? Article with the New York Times.
TV Weekend: ‘The Hobbit’. Review with the New York Times.
The Hobbit (1977). IMDB entry.
Are there two versions of the 1977 ‘Hobbit’ animated movie? Discussion follow-up with TheOneRing.net.
Mimsy Review: The Hobbit. A great review detailing differences between earlier VHS versions and modern DVD ones. I can confirm the extra sound effects mentioned in this review usually happen with the songs and are missing from this ‘deluxe edition’; they might have been taken from the original soundtrack (losing the effects on the way.)
I would like to thank Warner Bros. for providing me with two review copies of these films. They sure are a treasure 🙂 P.S.: Yes, I’ll have a look at ‘Return of the King’ as soon as possible.