Holiday-special animation veterans Arthur Rankin Jr. and Jules Bass (Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, etc.) bring their typically serviceable animation, strong voicework, and corny folk ballads to The Hobbit, Tolkien’s charming prologue to The Lord of the Rings. The resulting film is worthwhile for kids and not too bad for parents.
Character design is a mixed bag: Gandalf looks very much himself, but Bilbo is rather cherubic, and the dwarves are uninspired. Worse is Gollum, disappointingly bloated and stiff rather than agile and emaciated, and the dreadfully goblin-like Wood-Elf King. (On the other hand, the Elf-lord Elrond, with his distinguished features and strange crown-halo, is far preferable to Bakshi’s dismally graceless version of the same character.)
The best-designed character is the dragon Smaug, whose obscene bulk and wolflike face are rendered with flair and imagination. The giant spiders, too, are genuinely menacing. Despite the fearful monsters, violence is suggested rather than explicitly depicted. The folk-tune soundtrack, though corny, at least tries to incorporate some of Tolkien’s poetry.
The Hobbit’s television debut was followed by Ralph Bakshi’s theatrically released The Lord of the Rings, which covered approximately half of Tolkien’s epic trilogy. A couple of years later, Rankin-Bass completed the story with The Return of the King.
Avoid the DVD release of The Hobbit, notorious for omitting sound effects and other audio elements, and stick with VHS.
Notwithstanding this and other weaknesses, this Lord of the Rings is in some respects quite impressive and remains worth a look, especially for Tolkien fans, and perhaps younger viewers not quite old enough for Peter Jackson’s more intense adaptation — though even the Bakshi is darker and more intense than most cartoons. (Younger viewers might also be interested in the animated Rankin-Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King.)
The film hits the most critical plot points, but is clearly aimed at the younger set, with little to interest even the most avid adult Tolkien and/or animation buff. Unfortunately, this style works even less well here than in The Hobbit, which really is a children’s story. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a much more adult work, but Rankin-Bass essentially makes a kid movie out of it. Even so, for kids too young for the Jackson or even Bakshi versions, the Rankin-Bass cartoons might be just the ticket.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.