[Hobbit Day] The Return of the King (1980)

Director: Jules Bass, Arthur Rankin Jr.

Cast: Orson Bean, John Huston, William Conrad, Roddy McDowall, Theodore Bikel

Screenplay: Romeo Muller

98 mins. Not Rated.

 

Happy Hobbit Day, y’all. September 22 is Bilbo Baggins’s birthday and Tolkien fans around the world celebrate with all sorts of fun festivities. Well, I thought we would take a look at the Rankin/Bass animated adaptation of the back half of The Lord of the Rings today.

But first, a history. Hobbits love history. After Ralph Bakshi’s sequel to The Lord of the Rings was cancelled, Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin Jr. (The Last Unicorn, Frosty the Snowman) took on the task of adapting the follow-up. They had previously adapted a version of The Hobbit. The style between the two directors is drastically different in almost every way.

The Return of the King opens at the end of the tale after the ring has been destroyed and recounts the events that caused the end of the ring and Sauron (an interesting idea but one that is not wholly successful in the larger framework of the work) as Frodo (Orson Bean, Being John Malkovitch, TV’s Desperate Housewives) explains how he lost ring finger and became “Frodo of the Nine Fingers.” He tells of the bravery of Samwise Gamgee (Roddy McDowall, Planet of the Apes, A Bug’s Life) taking on the role of ringbearer in his absence. Meanwhile, Gandalf (John Huston, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, The Black Cauldron) escorts Pippin to Minas Tirith to bring warnings of war to Denethor (William Conrad, The Killers, TV’s Cannon).

Overall, The Return of the King has some major missteps in its adaptation. The choice to place a framing device on the story further separates itself from the interesting and far superior Bakshi film. Rankin and Bass said they always planned to follow-up their adaptation of The Hobbit with The Return of the King, but I call bullshit on that one.

Then there’s the issues of the characters. Aragorn (Theodore Bikel, My Fair Lady, The African Queen) barely has a presence in the film and Legolas and Gimli do not appear whatsoever. It’s as if they for forgot to include them at all. I get it, they have less purpose in the latter half of the story, but to omit them completely is an extremely poor choice.

Now, there are some nice musical interludes (an area where the Rankin/Bass adaptations usually make good on the source material), and I rather enjoyed the Denethor scenes, but the wins of this film are too few and far between.

The Return of the King is easily the lesser of the three animated Tolkien films. It just misses the mark on so much that anything good to say is quickly overshadowed by its flaws. Even Rankin/Bass’s work on The Hobbit is far better. Sadly, this is a poor finale to an interesting animated journey.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, click here.

 

 

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