Tuesday, December 11, 2012

REVIEW: The Hobbit

The Hobbit
Director: Jules Bass & Arthur Rankin Jr.
Year 1977

The Hobbit is a wonderfully magical animated feature in which brings J.R.R. Tolkien’s heralded children’s story to vivid life, introducing us to the world of Middle-Earth and the heroes and creatures that inhabit it. Imagined in the most whimsical of ways, this fun adventure film moves at a brisk pace as we follow Bilbo on his journey from the Shire all the way to the Lonely Mountain and back again. With an abundance of musical sequences, character interactions, and action set-pieces, this iteration of the classic novel is a must for any fan of the book and it’s a great set up for the live action feature directed by Peter Jackson. If you’re looking for a good old wholesome adventure tale, then The Hobbit is just up your alley.

The film follows the story of Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit who has an unexpected series of visitors who sweep him up on a life-changing adventure that changes him from a homebody into a courageous adventurer. After being visited by Gandalf the wizard and a group of thirteen dwarves, Bilbo reluctantly takes a job to be the party’s burglar in which he is tasked to retrieve some treasure from a dragon’s lair. Setting out on their quest, the group encounters ravenous trolls, malevolent goblins, spiteful elves, devilish spiders, and a frighteningly cruel dragon named Smaug. As Bilbo rises to the occasion on all accounts, he learns that there is more to him then he first realized and that bravery and courage is something that can be found in the most smallest of creatures.

This Rankin/Bass production is a real treat, especially for those that encountered it while still at a young age. For me, it was this entry and The Return of the King produced Rankin/Bass collaboration that first sparked my imagination and put in motion my interest in reading Tolkien’s writings. What Bass and Rankin were able to do with this production, was perfectly capture the magic and wonder that is Tolkien’s Middle-Earth, while summarizing quite nicely the contents that can be found within The Hobbit’s novelization. Most everything from the book is intact, including the three troll sequence, the capture of the party by the Goblin King, Bilbo and Gollum’s riddles in the dark, and even the death of Smaug by the bowman Bard. The only glaring admission that was missing from this production was the inclusion of Beorn, a hulking man that can transform into a bear. Other than that, I would say that Rankin and Bass did quite well with jamming everything in to this film’s 90 minute runtime, without compromising the stories integrity or spirit.

As for the visual style of this feature, I’d say that it perfectly mirrors the quality that one would imagine if depicting the aged world of Middle-Earth. The designs for the creatures and characters, created by Lester Abrams, are magical, and the overall look of the world is quite captivating even in its child-centric presentation. The detail and tone of this version is also an inviting one as it features an aesthetic that seems pulled from legend. It’s easy to say that the source material is geared towards children and the overall scope of the narrative pales in comparison with the epic quest featured in The Lord of the Rings, but what The Hobbit establishes right from the get go is a definitive style that harkens back to a fictional world that feels lived in and genuine, be it a more whimsical and fantasy-driven one.

The music is also something of an underrated gem, giving both the foreboding doom of Smaug’s lair and the care-free nature of Bilbo’s Shire lifestyle, some much needed depth and validity. The original music, composed by Maury Laws, is extremely effective for this particular fantasy piece and he definitely is able to capture the wonder of Middle-Earth in even the most sparing of time. What might throw some people off of the film is that it is quite musical in the folk music sense of things, where characters will begin going off on song filled tangents. In actuality, there is an abundance of poetry like verses in the book so for me it only adds to the charm of the film. Not only that but the songs get stuck in your head, particularly the main title theme “The Greatest Adventure”, written and performed by Glenn Yarbrough, and the fan favorite, “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates”. To each there own, but for me the jovial way in which the film bursts into song every once in a while, makes this iteration of Tolkien’s classic that much more fun to watch.

It must be said that for all its content, the film moves at a surprisingly brisk pace as it sprints from one set-piece to the next. We never really dwell in one particular situation for more than a moment, making the film feel like more of a summary of the book rather than a fleshed out telling of the characters experiences. Be that as it may, I enjoyed the rampant pace of the production and even though things aren’t expanded upon, other than what is set on the written pages, I still get a ridiculous amount of enjoyment from this whimsical tale of a Hobbit and his unexpected journey.

The Hobbit is a wonderful Rankin/Bass collaboration that really nails the spirit and passion of Tolkien’s book. With its expressive style and unique character design, the film paints a beautiful picture, one in which never wanes after multiple viewings. Childish in its very nature, but respectfully depicted, The Hobbit is a justifiably fast paced adventure film which takes the iconic set-pieces of the novel and just runs with it. With its stupendously vivid original music, composed by Maury Laws, to its original character designs, created by Lester Abrams, this animated adaption is a treasured piece of Tolkien history.

As I write this on the cusp of Peter Jackson’s version, I can’t help but to look back on Rankin/Bass’ production and remember a time when this musical iteration of the famous story was the only offering we had in diving into a feature film version of The Hobbit. Of course Jackson will bring the same painstaking care and overall epic quality to his creation as he did with the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but when it comes to the simplicities and intimate story of The Hobbit, Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass will always be the top contenders. They may not have the most fleshed out and immersive experience when it comes to telling this tremendous tale, but I feel that their version will be the most succinct with the intimate quality of J.R.R. Tolkien’s original children’s story. If you’ve ever wondered what a fast paced animated version of Bilbo’s unexpected journey would look like, then give this one a go. It’s a ridiculous amount of fun and the care-free nature of it is just a blast. It also doesn’t hurt if you have a little nostalgia to back it up. The Rankin/Bass adaption of The Hobbit is a…..

I think Bilbo's gonna hurl!


Could someone get these damn stars off my head?!

That Goblin King is a P...I....G..... PIG!

Gollum is a real creep.

Sweet rides fellas!

So run it by me again.... Why can't you just drop us off at the Lonely Mountain?

Watch out Bilbo! It's the army of the evil butterflies!

Will you shitheads stop getting into trouble?!

Looks like someone pissed off the Keebler Elves.

Here comes Bilbo.... Barrel Rider!

Smaug is one fat lazy piece of shit.

Looks like someone has been a naughty Hobbit.

It's time for you to cool off Smaug.

So Bard.... What's with the no pants wearing thing?

To War! Huzzah!!!

Who's gonna clean up all of this shit?

Bilbo is just snug as a bug in a rug.


  1. Great post!! I have some additional information about Lester Abrams, the concept artist for the R/B Hobbit, on two of my blogs, here and here. You might also drop by his old friend Walt Simonson's Facebook page, which has some of the artwork he did in the same style, for the book and for the R/B sequel, "Return of the King."

  2. Thanks Russell! Love the blogs! Such a wealth of information on all things Tolkien. Abrams' character work captures the world of Middle-earth to perfection. Love it!