Rankin/Bass’ The Return of the King (1979)

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Long before Peter Jackson gave us his vision of the Lord of the Ring Trilogy, the animation company of Rankin/Bass, who some might remember best for many stop animation TV holiday specials, gave us their version of The Return of the King. While this story focused mostly on Frodo (Orson Bean) and Sam (Roddy MacDowell) in their quest to destroy The One Ring, the other parts of the story were not forgotten. We see Gandalf (John Huston) and Pippin (Casey Kasem) as they deal with the orc invasion of Minas Tirith and Denethor’s (William Conrad) insanity brought on by the palintir. We delight in the alliance of Rohan and Gondor when King Theoden (Don Messick) brings the troops to aid in the defense of Gondor’s once shining city. It all starts as a story-song told by the Bard of Gondor (Glenn Yarbrough) as he tells Gandalf, Lord Elrond, Bilbo and the other Hobbits in the Fellowship of “Frodo of the Nine Fingers”. This story is more condensed than the big screen version, and was made as a children’s television movie to be played on Thanksgiving Day weekends back in the late 70s.

The Tolkien maps were used often in this tale to aid in its telling, and the storyline followed the book more closely than the big screen version, even though there was still much left out for time allotment, but there was also much left in we did not see, such as the raid over the Fields of Pellenor, and the journey to the north gates of Mordor by Aragorn and company to meet with the Mouth of Sauron. Though we did get to see the defeat of Witch-King of Angmar at the hands of Eowyn of Rohan, the relationship between Eowyn and Faramir was given just a passing glance, just like in the big movie, but for a kid’s movie, that’s not such a bad thing.

There were many songs that told the story from a hobbit’s POV, and so it should, as this was pretty much Samwise’s story, and told through his eyes. His devotion to Frodo and the destruction of The One Ring was never in question, and his resourcefulness and quick-thinking makes this review truly believe that the hobbits, not the elves, were the wisest of the races in Middle Earth. Old Smeagol (Brother Theodore) is still sneaking about looking to get his bling back, and follows it to it’s end, but dies very happy.

Though this is a movie for a time when things were simply made and stories were simply told, the artwork is very much from the time, with cells painted with watercolours in in earth tones and grey shades. The hobbits are still plump little things, despite their weariness, and the orcs look really beastly, and with their song of “Where There’s a Whip, There’s a Way”, they seem reluctant to do their Lord Sauron’s bidding. It was nice to see things even from the orcs’ view when it comes to this war between the Sauron’s forces and the Free Peoples. If you are are lucky enough to have access to this movie, and the Rankin/Bass version of The Hobbit The Greatest Adventure, and want to give the kids a retro look at a classic high fantasy tale, then give these a try. It is a shame that Jules Rankin and Arthur Bass, Jr. did not take the time to tell the other two books as well, but I guess there were too many holiday stories that still needed to be told, like The Easter Bunny is Coming to Town, and Rudolf’s Shiny New Year.

I give this film a Musing review of ★★★★☆☆