With part two of Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy on its way into theaters next month, I got to thinking about my first exposure to J.R.R. Tolkien's fantastical world of magic and mystery via the small screen way back in 1977
. The works of TV moguls Rankin and Bass had already been familiar to me as a child and each holiday season I eagerly looked forward to their stop motion and cartoon productions of Rudolph, Frosty and, you know, that one with the Heat Miser
. But it was one of their animated tales, that seemed for the first time to not be based upon anything I had already heard about in story or song
, that really made an impression on me. So instead of the usual stories about what might happen if Christmas never came or how elves all really wanted to be orthopedic surgeons, that particular Sunday in November of '77 I sat and watched a mezmerizing tale of wizards and halflings, dwarves and goblins and of course, dungeons and dragons (or perhaps more accurately, tunnels and trolls) and it was pure awesome. The artwork, while a bit clunky by today's standards, had a warm and funky 70s watercolor style I hadn't ever witnessed before in the works of Mr. Disney or Messieurs Hanna and Barbera. The music and sound production, too, were on the quirky side of odd and the whole thing seemed to reek of a production company being forced to work under a tighter budget than was probably required (although in actuality they spent about $3,000,000 but I'm guessing most of that went to the voice talent and licensing the story). Due at least in part to the fact that there were only three channels available on television at the time, the show became an instant hit, not only with kids but it also gained some critical acclaim when it nearly beat out Star Wars
for a Hugo sci-fi/fantasy award (the fact that it lost to Lucas' highly derivative saga is ironic in too many ways to count!) So while I enjoyed Peter Jackson's adaptation of the first part of The Hobbit (Martin Freeman blows Elijah Wood out of the water, whilst Sean Astin just blows Elijah
- sorry, had to go there) I think the Rankin/Bass production still holds up well, especially within the context of being a children's film, and deserves to be celebrated along with all of the various incarnations of Tolkien's tales of Middle-Earth. So if you haven't seen it before, and especially if you plan on going to see The Desolation of Smaug in December, grab your cloak and pipe and check out the video below for a look at the original 1977 Rankin/Bass production of The Hobbit
. Enjoy. Sorry about the French subtitles - unless of course you only speak French, in which case Je vous en prie.
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