Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.
Starring: Orson Bean, Richard Boone, John Huston, Otto Preminger, Han Conried
I'm Mr. Bilbo Baggins. I've lost my dwarves, my wizard and my way.
Where did you think I was going to start? I know this isn't a theatrical release, but I find its the most appropriate place to start this journey. This little movie aired on NBC back in 1977. It was skewing more for the younger audiences than it was hardcore Tolkien fans. The goal of this movie was to hopefully sell a load of children's storybook adaptations and a soundtrack (You gotta remember VHS/Beta weren't really a "thing" too much yet). I'm not sure if those sales ambitions were met but the film was met with a Peabody Award and nominated for a Hugo Award (In which it lost to Star Wars...the rivalry begins! LOL).
This film is a very kid friendly musical rendition on the book. It brushes over a lot of events and has the story moving on a pretty brisk pace. When I watched this film, For the first time ever, I could sort of see how and why Peter Jackson has drawn this one book into three films. I'm not sure if three was too much, but there are plenty of events, action sequences and character parts that could easily be more explored and expanded upon. And his films so far I think have enhanced plenty of that and made some things a bit stronger because of that. Oh, I'm not ignorant, I know milking it for some cash is a big part of it all too, but what I'm trying to convey here is that I suppose I can see where there is room to lengthen and deepen what's there.
The production company on the film wanted to keep it as close to the book as can be. They were known for holiday animated specials like Frosty The Snowman and Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. Once you become enlightened with that little bit of trivia, the look, style, feel and execution of this adaptation all start to make a lot of sense. It fits right in with them. Aside from the song in the opening credits (The "not Cat Stevens" song), all the songs come from the book. There were some elements removed or slightly altered a tad (Likely to make things work). No matter how loyal, critics at the time knocked the film for what it DIDN'T adapt instead of appreciating the film they were given. The songs and the like with the film are film, but they do make it feel very very 1970s.
A notable player in all this is the animation studio that drew the thing, Topcraft. Topcraft based the animation off production designs supplied by them. What is significant is not Topcraft at the time, its what they would be come. Topcraft ended up going out of business, but its people later reformed and became Studio Ghibli. The studio owned by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki and responsible for films like Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. So some of the people who were responsible for those films had very likely worked on this Hobbit film too.
Going back to this original Hobbit adaptation gave me a bit of nostalgia, not for it, but for a lot of other animated productions it resembled and reminded me of. Its very much for children, and there's nothing wrong with that. My son, who is two and a half, watched it with me and he seemed to follow and be into it decent enough. Its also not much over an hour long (though does feel a little longer). What was interesting was how similarly portrayed some things were in this cartoon as was in the live action version. But, I guess that happens when you're adapting from some pretty specifically laid out source material. For what it is and is trying to accomplish, The Hobbit is a solid family-friendly look and introduction to Middle Earth back in 1977.
NEXT TIME: A year later, another animated film