We’ve been on a Tolkien kick, lately, and we spent the last two weekends making our way through the original Peter Jackson trilogy. Mikaius’ favourite is Fellowship, while I lean more towards Two Towers. I am a sucker for everything Rohan, while he is a sucker for anything that makes his cold black heart feel things. Folks, the films have held up. We cried our way through them, the days interspersed with surprised exclamations of how (most of) the special effects are not bad at all.
So on a warm, Sunday morning, as spring started in Canada, we decided to rent The Hobbit (1977) from Google Play. We’ve been trying to find it in our local thrift store, where we’ve found such gems as a beautiful box set of the entirety of Rocky for $5 CAD, but we just haven’t been so lucky. The Hobbit (1977) is by Rankin/Bass, with animation work done by Topcraft. Topcraft was a Japanese animation studio that eventually became Studio Ghibli.
The cartoon itself was a whimsical, light watch. It’s certainly something that I would have loved, had I seen it as a child, and I would have no qualms watching it on the couch with one of the many children in my life.
The animation created characters that were unmistakeable enough so that the viewer would be able to distinguish between, if not the individual characters themselves, certainly the various races. Bard looks sufficiently different from Elrond, who looks different from Bilbo, who himself is distinguishable from Thorin Oakenshield. The dwarven trios and pairs being drawn similarly really reflect how The Hobbit reads to a child as a book. I can also see how Ian McKellen’s Gandalf is descended from this one – from the colour of the robes, to the look of the face, to the pointy wizard hat, it is recognizably what my generation sees when we think of Gandalf.
However, because I had generally enjoyed the animation so much, I was disappointed by two instances: I was very confused as to why the Mirkwood elves looked like pixies or sprites, while Elrond just looked like your regular run of the mill magical being from Masters of the Universe, and I was not a fan of the way that Gollum looked like a giant catfish, although it did drive home the differences between him and Bilbo.
The film itself went along at a brisk pace, although I didn’t feel too hurried, and it hit most of the highlights of the book: the riddle scene between Bilbo and Gollum, the troll king, the 15 birds roasting in a tree, Dale, the barrel riders, Smaug, and the battle. A notable lack is Beorn, a lack which I felt very deeply in my fantasy-loving heart because the Beorn of the newer trilogy was not satisfying and I wanted to see how this film would have rendered him.
Overall, I think that The Hobbit (1977) has the sort of childish whimsy that I associate with the weekday afternoon animes I used to watch in the Philippines as a child, such as Voltes V, and even to some extent, cartoons such as The Secret Garden. All in all, pretty watchable – if you have a spare afternoon, it’s definitely worth a watch.
Mikaius’ chiming in; I haven’t seen this since I was a kid, but it really kindled some nostalgia for me. For my money, I loved just how much it all reeked of Japanese animation from the 70s, with certain moments and designs just feeling utterly unmistakable. Be it the goblins that look like Zelda drawings from the 80s, or the way in which Gandalf wields Glamdring against them, it just oozes anime. On the matter of pacing, I did feel like it skipped around a bit too much when I wanted to linger longer, but The Hobbit should only be one movie, not three.
Image sourced from: Cool Ass Cinema, November 1977 TV Guide,