Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Hobbit (Rankin-Bass)

Hot Furry Feet! Sort Of!

What's it about?

Tonight's nostalgic pic is "The Hobbit" (Rankin/Bass Productions, 1977). Bilbo Baggins (Orson Bean) is just an ordinary Hobbit, a miniature humanoid with exceptionally hairy feet that lives in the lands of The Shire.

"Oh bother! I seem to have eaten all of my hunny!"

He's proud that he never has adventures of any kind… That is, until the wandering wizard Gandalf the Grey (John Huston) railroads the diminutive Bilbo into his adventuring party consisting of himself and twelve dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Hans Conried).
A decidedly more sinister Gandalf, but awesome nonetheless.

Thorin Oakenshield, leader of the dwarves.

Their mission: To take back their homeland, The Lonely Mountain, from the clutches of the evil dragon Smaug!
"Actually, it's Smog. I'm from the west coast."

Along the way, the intrepid Bilbo finds treasure, powerful magical artifacts, and the scariest thing of all: Adventure!
Adventure = Trolls (not the internet kind)

Some background

This is the first finished feature-length adaptation of the renowned J.R.R. Tolkien novel, "The Hobbit." This cartoon production was developed for television by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr., who are well-known for their stop motion holiday cartoons, most notably "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer" (1964) and "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town" (1970).

Less popular: Goblin Claws is Comin' to Town (1979)

It originally aired in America on the American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), but is best known from its syndicated appearances since. The film's unique anime-like style is due to the film being directed by a Japanese man named Toru Hara and animated by his studio, Topcraft.
Because of the art style, the scenes look very painterly.

While Topcraft worked with Rankin-Bass Productions throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, they eventually dissolved, only to later reform under the moniker Studio Ghibli, a name anime and movie fans will certainly remember.

Not perfect, but what is perfection?

Naturally, in this hour-and-a-half production there had to be some truncated story elements, as well as certain scenes and characters being omitted completely (there is no Beorn the werebear, for example). Most of the dwarves don't have speaking roles outside of Thorin, although the rotund Bombur (Paul Frees) and Balin (Don Messick, the original voice of Scooby Doo) do occasionally speak.

When Thorin speaks, it's... usually an insult or snide remark.

There's no Arkenstone (one of the key points of the novel) and barely any time spent on the Battle of the Five Armies, though it is presented as a definite anti-war message.
The show really leans into the horror and pointlessness of war.

Some viewers will be put off by the amount of singing in this movie (it's a lot), but adapted songs sung by folk singer Glenn Yarbrough as well as others featuring Thurl "Tony The Tiger" Ravenscroft are as memorable as they are hokey.

A personal favorite

I love this movie. I never saw it when it aired originally (I was but a mere two years old at the time), but I had the Disney book & record growing up and it always intrigued me. A few years later when I finally saw the film I fell in love with it. It's still a good time in my opinion: It's definitely a unique take on the material, with a gorgeous illustrative style that highlights the weird world of Tolkien. My personal favorite thing in this movie is the character of Gollum (Theodore Gottlieb), who is much more monstrous and frog-like in this interpretation than in later revisions, and I feel that it works better.

He's scarier, funnier, and more twisted to his environment than Andy Serkis's interpretation.

Better than... "other attempts."

Now, just for contrast, I revile the Peter Jackson "Hobbit" movies. I feel that their additions to the story are needless and take what is a very humorous and straightforward adventure story into an utterly humorless mini-Lord of the Rings, and because of this they lose the soul of the book. The Rankin-Bass animated version, on the other hand, still delights me.

Burt... er, BARD the bowman.

Is it safe for kids?

There's no bad language, no nudity or sexuality, but there is a lot of implied death towards the end (there are no bloody action scenes, every time a sword strikes someone the screen switches to a kaleidoscope style effect and some scary moments with monsters that might frighten young children, but otherwise this is a soft PG at most.

Oh yeah, and this is what wood elves look like in the movie. Have fun, kids!

Where can you find it?

As of this writing it is streaming on Max (formerly HBO Max) and is available to rent or buy from Amazon Prime Video. I reviewed my DVD copy.

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