Rankin-Bass were on the right track when they released their first Lord of the Rings film in 1977, The Hobbit. They decided to follow up that film with a sequel, but, instead of adapting the next books in the series The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers, they decided to skip ahead to Tolkien’s epic conclusion to the series The Return of the King.
The Film ✮✮
The Return of the King starts off with a 126-year-old Bilbo celebrating his birthday with his elven comrades, the wizard Gandalf, and his nephew Frodo. Bilbo begins reminiscing and wonders where his beloved ring has gone to which Frodo informs him that he destroyed it. This propels the retelling of Frodo’s adventures in Mordor as well as his other companions’ adventures in Middle Earth along the way.
Having just watched The Hobbit, I felt a bit disoriented when The Return of the King started. It takes a while to figure out where you are, who the characters are, and what’s going on. The film skips back and forth from Frodo and his friend, Sam, as they traverse through Mordor to the battle for the white city Gondor. Even then, the film never seems to find its footing because it’s rushed and has to cover a lot of ground (having skipped over two major books). While The Hobbit stayed true to the original source material, this film takes a lot of liberties with the story and timeline.
The animation has improved as it’s much more fluid; however, it lacks some of the sketchy charm that was found in The Hobbit. The hobbits’ designs have been tweaked a bit, shifting from unique and graphic to more cartoony.
The music has the same folky feel; however, gets a bit goofy at times. “Nine-Fingered Frodo” (yes, that’s a real song) stands as the film’s main theme. Another song often cited by fans is when a gaggle of orcs sing “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way,” which makes you shake your head in embarrassment.
The Features ✮
Despite being the deluxe edition, there aren’t any bonus features of note. The only The Return of the King-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 (Good Knight Droppy and Jerry Hood & His Merry Meeses). 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.
The Return of the King bit off far too much than it could chew in attempting to only adapt the final book in Tolkien’s complex The Lord of the Rings series. While The Hobbit perfectly set the stage for this sequel, The Return of the King unfortunately stumbles and falls. It veers far from the principles that made The Hobbit so enjoyable in the first place. The songs are forgettable, the story is convoluted and, overall, it’s simply not worth your time.
The Return of the King Deluxe Edition: Amazon
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