Why The 1977 Animated “Hobbit” Movie Was Better Than The Three Live-Action Movies…

I’ve been nothing if not a little nostalgic lately. Case in point being me having watched the 1977 animated Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit not only once – but TWICE. It was one of the offerings on HBO Max, which we signed in for a free seven-day preview this week (the only reason I signed up was to watch Depeche Mode and nine inch nails both being inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, which is another nostalgic blog topic entirely).

Let’s rewind to me turning 6 in 1978, shall we? I had a gathering of friends, classmates and family in the shag carpeted basement of our split-level home near Flint, MI. One of the gifts given to me was a orange portable record player that could only play .45 RPM records. Since I’ve been a music lover my whole life – even as a wee lass – I was ecstatic that I could play my own records!

I do not own this photo, but this is pretty much the book/record set that I had.

Speaking of records, one of the party guests gave me a .45 version of the Rankin/Bass Hobbit made-for-TV movie. As you might imagine, that presented an extremely abridged version of the events in the 1937 J.R.R. Tolkien book! But I loved it, and played it quite a lot. My mom was (and still is) a big Tolkien fan, so this was a good way to introduce me to the world of Hobbits, Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, wizards…and the shaky voice of Glenn Yarbrough singing “The Greatest Adventure.”

A neighbor girl had the more detailed .33 RPM version of The Hobbit book and record set. That’s when I learned that a whole lot more happened in the story that I didn’t know before – like the Battle of Five Armies (which led to the death of some of the dwarves), and more. This would whet my appetite to eventually read the “big person’s” version of the story.

The Rankin/Bass version is not perfect by any means. The way the Elves are drawn is a bit…odd (they look a bit like frogs). There is a lot of singing, so if that’s a problem for you, well then let me introduce you to the mute button! The Beorn sequence is not mentioned at all. All in all, though – the silly kids’ made for TV movie covers the main points of Tolkien’s original work quite well.

Fast forward to 2012 when I would see the long-awaited first installment of The Hobbit in theaters. Now that I have a chance to look back on having seen that – and the subsequent installments – I’ve gotta say…

They sucked. What did Bilbo say he felt like in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring?

That’s exactly what they did when they made three movies out of one book that was essentially written for children (specifically Tolkien’s own children).

As much of a fan as I am of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, The Hobbit movie trilogy just…didn’t sit well with me. Thorin’s actor Richard Armitage was too young and looked too much like Aragorn, the elf/dwarf love story was shoehorned in, Radagast was all wrong (don’t get me started on how much they butchered this character with the rabbit-driven sleigh and bird shit in his hair – no, just no…), the testicle faced Great Goblin, the mysterious white orc that wasn’t in the original story, the sleazy politics of Lake Town, the hour-long battle sequence on ice at the end – it was all too little butter spread over too much bread. Oh and did I mention sand worms? Was this a Dune crossover? What would THAT be like?

Here we see Kili (Aidan Turner) and Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). As a woman who’s married to a man shorter than I am, I have no problems with romances based on such height disparities. But I still felt this story was too tacked on and not essential to the plot. Again, too little butter over too much bread.

The only good thing I’ll say about the live action Hobbit movies was using Benedict Cumberbatch to provide the voice of Smaug. I did enjoy the scenes with Smaug, and the “Riddles in the Dark” sequence was also done well. Martin Freeman as Bilbo was not a bad casting choice.

So, before I sign off with this blog, I’ll just say to any parents out there who want to expose their kids to The Hobbit – sure, go ahead and show them the live action movies when you think they’re old enough to watch. But don’t forget about the 1977 animated version of the movie! Maybe it will become as beloved as it is for me!

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