The Hobbit Animated Movie, Review

The Hobbit
Image by ProfessorMortis via Flickr

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.

About Eoghann Irving

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  • I remem­ber this movie from when I was a kid and I absolutely loved it. Now keep in mind I was 8 or so when I saw it, as an adult I see it’s flaws but at that age it was wonder­ful and it got me to read the book a couple years later. I think if you want to intro­duce your kids to Tolkien and get them to want to read the Hobbit this movie is a good way to go.

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