The First Animated Hobbit, and Other Notes of Tolkienish Nonsense

I have had a wonderful and difficult and exceptionally busy week, preparing for Mythmoot and then attending live online. I have so much I would like to say, but I thought, for now, and for a smile, I would simply share this discovery from the conference: the 1967 animated short film, The Hobbit. This 12-minute film directed by Gene Deitch (comic illustrator, including Popeye and Tom & Jerry) and Academy Award-winning writer, William Snyder.

Rembrandt Films had purchased film rights to produce a film by 1967, but a Hollywood feature-length deal fell apart. According to the Wikipedia page, the film was produced cheaply and quickly–Mythmoot lore places it at 7-10 days–and premiered on the last day that the contract, paying people to see the film. Having fulfilled the contract, they were able to return rights to Tolkien, opening possibilities for future adaptations, including the 1977 animation (which I call “the cute Hobbit” in my mind), and the trilogy epic of the fairy tale in the early 2010s by Peter Jackson, which some may have heard about.

In this 1960s work of art, Thorin becomes “General Oakenshield,” earthy trolls are treelike groans, “Slag the Terrible” is the agent of evil on earth, Gollum is a deranged peach with arthritic limbs, a ginger Bilbo the dragon slayer has a bowtie, and there is a strange love interest–though less strange than the Peter Jackson dwarf-elf heart epic. I would encourage you not to try to decipher the runes.

Though the Rembrandt Films version might have some merit to it, this version looks more like a strong sixth-grade group art project. As a teacher, I would have given the students strong marks for narration and original artwork, given they are children, but only moderate marks for film editing and a failing grade for adaptation of an original piece of work. A good film adaptation must take a literary piece and transcend written possibilities with all the strengths of sound and sight, re-embodying the original into something unique to its genre. This film makes every possible change that might decrease the value of both the movie experience and rediscovering the original–though I like the phrase “the white heart of Dale” as a poetic line.

Personally, I still await the Hobbit adaptation of my dreams. Though I liked the intensely overdone second Jackson trilogy, I want a Hobbit adaptation to do for me what The Lord of the Rings Jackson films did: filling out my imagination and drawing me deeper and deeper into the books. Or even what the Harry Potter films did, which was to give me another way to love characters, the world, the adventures, and the original books themselves. Still, this is pretty cool and weird and worthwhile when you have a coffee break!

Years ago, I shared about “Russian Medievalist Tolkien” from Grimmella, a gorgeous artistic post. And check out Steve Haye’s piece from last year, “A Soviet View of Hobbits.”

And, as a bonus, the Soviet-era made-for-TV film, Khraniteli, based on Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring. Mythmooters stayed up late, watching the film and commenting on it within our digital platform. Exhausted, I slept, and cannot vouch for how great its terribleness is. But I did awake to 550 unread messages on Sunday morning. You can find part 1 with English subtitles here.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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5 Responses to The First Animated Hobbit, and Other Notes of Tolkienish Nonsense

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Wow! – how have I missed this? Many thanks for remedying that. But, what a bizarre rewriting of the story, in so many details – very Hollywood, that love interest (and I wonder if the popularity of Thomas Dam’s toy Trolls in the early to mid-1960s contributed to that name change to ‘Groans’).

    We recently enjoyed the Russian Lord of the Rings, and even more in many respects the 1985 Russian teleplay The Fabulous Journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, Across the Wild Land, Through the Dark Forest, Beyond the Misty Mountains. There and Back Again – also to be found on YouTube (in which Bilbo has a strange resemblance to Mr. Bean: but beware – or try separately – the version with satirical rather than accurate English ‘subtitles’).

    Following Wikipedia links, I find that the Rembrandt Hobbit illustrator, Adolf Born (12 June 1930 – 22 May 2016), in 1974 “was declared cartoonist of the year in Montreal, and he won the Palma d’Oro at the International Festival of the Humor of Bordighera, Italy” – George MacDonald’s old home away from home.

    One of the comments at Steve Hayes’ post mentions a Russian translation of Winnie-the-Pooh, to which I would add a hearty recommendation of the Russian Winnie-the-Pooh cartoon adaptions, which are uploaded on YouTube, also with English subtitles.

    Additional ‘wow!’ – checking on one thing and another mentioned above on YouTube, I see someone has uploaded the 1993 Finnish ‘Hobitit’ television series in nine episodes, of which Wikipedia tells me “Despite the name it was based on The Lord of the Rings rather than The Hobbit; but it included only the parts of the story that the hobbits had witnessed themselves (hence the title).”

    Liked by 1 person

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Of the Rembrandt Hobbit, Wikipedia says, “Snyder ‘premiered’ the film on June 30, 1967”, making tomorrow its 54th anniversary (though IMDB says 1966, making it 55 – ?).

      Liked by 1 person

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