Rankin-Bass are most commonly known for their stop-motion Christmas specials, but they actually had quite an extensive career and ended up producing 18 feature films. One of these was the 1977 TV special The Hobbit, based on the book of the same name by J.R.R. Tolkien. While many would scoff at it today, The Hobbit is actually quite charming and worth anyone’s time.
The Film ✮✮✮ 1/2
The Hobbit tells the story of Bilbo Baggins, a hobbit, which is a short human with hairy feet who lives a peaceful and boring life underground. One day, the wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves arrive at his door step and whisk him along to join them on an adventure to win back their home from the dragon Smaug, while encountering all sorts of creatures and other dangers along the way.
Unlike recent iterations of the story, this version of The Hobbit strictly adheres to the source material; if it wasn’t in the book, then it’s not in the film. The story moves a bit fast, so character development is lacking. Nonetheless, this simple story is clear, understandable and surprisingly enjoyable. It’s always fascinating to see different interpretations of Tolkien’s famous characters and story.
Visually, the film’s design is quite beautiful, as it was a blend of the style of English book author Arthur Rackahm and Tolkien’s own illustrations. The hand-painted backgrounds are graphic and charming. The film was animated overseas by a now defunct studio called Topcraft, which later would re-form as Japan’s iconic Studio Ghibli. While many might turn their nose up at the animation for looking a bit crude, in reality, it is very well done. The characters are always on model and are are never muddy.
The music in this film is really what stands out. Described as a musical, viewers are treated with renditions of famous songs from Tolkien’s text. Having never seen this movie before or having previously heard these songs, I found them incredibly catchy. The Hobbit did have one original song written, “The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of the Hobbit)”, sung by Glenn Yarbrough and it is definitely the best of the bunch. He sings other folk songs throughout and his voice fits the bill.
The deluxe edition includes a new restoration of the film, but that’s really the only thing notable about this release. While the color and picture looks great, a few sound effects that were removed from previous releases are still missing, much to the chagrin of this film’s fans. It’s a shame that Warner Bros just didn’t release this as a Blu-ray because I believe that is really what would have made fans excited and warranted the title of “deluxe edition.”
The Features ✮
Despite being the deluxe edition, there aren’t any bonus features of note. The only Hobbit-centric features simply list the cast, crew and some trivia of the film. Other features include trailers for upcoming WB releases in addition to some old Looney Toons cartoons (Knight-mare Hare, Knighty Knight Bugs, and Rabbit Hood). It’s a shame there wasn’t more because I would have been really keen on watching a making-of featurette or hearing an interview from those involved in production. But it seems that not much effort was put into this release, so that probably wasn’t even an consideration.
Having never seen this movie before, initially I wasn’t that excited to watch The Hobbit. But to my delight, the film was engaging, interesting and fun. Rankin-Bass have always put out quality films and this one is definitely one of them. Every animation or Lord of the Rings fan should give this a chance.
The Hobbit Deluxe Edition: Amazon
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