I've been on a bit of a Tolkien kick recently (in all honestly I've been on a Tolkien kick for my entire life) so I thought I'd watch the 1977 animated tv movie of The Hobbit. I went into this knowing that I really wasn't the target audience for this adaptation, but curious none the less.
What I found was a really mixed bag. There are some elements of the movie that are remarkably strong and others that just jar my nerves.
I was surprised by how faithful the animated movie was to The Hobbit. It's short running time inevitably means that plot elements are left out, but the core of it remains true to the book and all the major characters are featured and they even included the Battle of Five Armies. That's really more than I expected from an animated movie from Rankin/Bass.
The voice work is mainly good and the animation is tolerable to good (shout out to John Huston as Gandalf). If you've seen other Rank/Bass productions you'll know what to expect. The musical elements were inevitable, and at least they used Tolkien's poems for them. But it does feel forced and distracts from the story rather than adds to it.
In terms of design, it's a strange mixture. The backgrounds feel entirely in keeping with Tolkien's work. The colors and styles are very reminiscent of stuff I've seen before. On the other hand the character designs don't seem to match up with any of Tolkien's descriptions. The dwarves aren't terrible, but are a lot less impressive than I envisage. The goblins look hideous at least, but nothing like I pictured them. But the elves are absolutely terrible. I don't know what they were thinking with that design. Perhaps it has something to do with the Japanese animation house used for much of the work.
Putting aside the visual elements, my main problem with Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass' adaptation of The Hobbit is that none of the dwarves are really given enough time to develop a personality. Only Thorin gets any significant amount of lines. It's a result of the short run time of course and the producers made the obvious decision to focus on Bilbo Baggins (the titular Hobbit) at the expense of everyone else.
There's also something missing. When I read The Hobbit, I get a huge sense of fun throughout the book, even the darker chapters. The animated movie feels a bit bleak. And that's really strange for a Rankin Bass production.
Somehow I don't think J.R.R. Tolkien would be terribly impressed with the animated Hobbit. But then I doubt Tolkien would be impressed with any of the adaptations. It's certainly not the adaptation that I picture in my head. But you have to look at it for what it is. It's aimed firmly at children and it's a mainstream tv movie from 30+ years ago. Set your expectations to a realistic level and there is something to enjoy here.
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