Wednesday, August 8, 2012

ANI-MOVIES, *The Hobbit

Ahead of Peter Jackson by at least two decades, the crew of Rankin/Bass decided to take a break from holiday specials or tokusatsu movies and put together this, the first ever animated production based on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. The Hobbit was a prelude to The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, and Rankin/Bass created this made-for-TV movie which aired a year prior to Ralph Bakshi’s Rings theatrical animated feature(which only covered most of the first two books). Rankin/Bass later went on to do another TV movie based on Return Of The King, which alot of rumors state was done to finish up where Bakshi’s film left off, but according to R/B was really intended as a followup to their version of The Hobbit. Like some of their other productions, Rankin/Bass did this in association with a Japanese studio, in this case Topcraft(aka: Studio Ghibli).

The movie is a pretty faithful adaptation of the original novel. Bilbo Baggins is an average Hobbit, a race of short humanoids that live in the quiet area of Hobbiton(or “Shire”)in the mythical land of Middle Earth. He gets drafted into a quest with the drifter wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves to be their lucky number as a burglar. Thorin is their leader, and is taking them to Lonely Mountain in order to reclaim their treasure stolen generations ago by the evil dragon, Smaug. Along the way, they run afoul of trolls, but Gandalf(on one of his many coffee breaks away from the party)saves them, and leads them to Rivendell to meet up with the elf lord Elrond. Bilbo and the dwarves are later on captured by goblins(or “orcs”), but Bilbo falls down a whole into a dark underground cavern where he runs across the froglike creature Gollum. Bilbo happens upon a magic ring that makes him invisible when he wears it, and uses it to follow Gollum to an exit. He rejoins his friends and frees them, but only for them to be captured again by giant spiders. Bilbo liberates them again, but they are in turn caught again by wood-elves(or “silvan elves”). Invinsibly, the phantom Hobbit manages to get the dwarves to the lake town near Lonely Mountain. The treasure hunters then go to Smaug’s pad, and Bilbo is elected to go burgal something out of there. Using his inviso-power, Bilbo manages to gander at the overgrown reptile to find he has a small patch in his scaly armor, but his presence ticks Smaug off, and he heads to the lake town for some serious Godzilla-on-Tokyo action. Bilbo sends a bird to give the head of the lake town Smaug’s design flaw, and the big lizard gets arrow’d once and for all. The story concludes with an epic battle of five armies feuding over the treasure, which with Gandalf’s help ends about as peaceably as at could. Bilbo heads back to Hobbiton/Shire unaware that this part of the story is only the beginning.

This TV movie has become the stuff of legend, winning the Christopher Award, a Peabody, and was nominated for a Hugo Award. It features some of the amazing character designs Rankin/Bass has used in both its 2D and 3D productions, most of which for this film were inspired by the illustrations of Arthur Rackham. The best is the all star cast employed for this, including Orson Bean as Bilbo, John Huston as Gandalf, and Richard Boone completely dominates his role as Smaug. For a 70s TV production, there is some breathtaking animation, far beyond what you would’ve seen in even a Disney movie. The Hobbit is available on VHS and DVD, plus a special films set with The Lord Of The Rings and Return Of The King animated movies.

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