The Rankin-Bass team, following their own 1977 The Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s incomplete 1978 Lord of the Rings, returns to finish the job, sort of, with The Return of the King. The approach here is about the same as The Hobbit, with similarly uninspired Saturday-morning style animation and an even more intrusive, overbearing folk-ballad soundtrack that doesn’t even gesture lyrically, as the Hobbit songs did, to Tolkien’s poetry.
The film hits the most critical plot points, but is clearly aimed at the younger set, with little to interest even the most avid adult Tolkien and/or animation buff. Unfortunately, this style works even less well here than in The Hobbit, which really is a children’s story. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is a much more adult work, but Rankin-Bass essentially makes a kid movie out of it. Even so, for kids too young for the Jackson or even Bakshi versions, the Rankin-Bass cartoons might be just the ticket.
At least the voicework remains mostly solid, with Orson Bean as Frodo, John Huston as Gandalf, and Roddy McDowell as Samwise. The landscapes, too, are quite evocatively painted.
Character design is a mixed bag: Gandalf looks very much himself, but Bilbo is rather cherubic, and the dwarves are uninspired. Worse is Gollum, disappointingly bloated and stiff rather than agile and emaciated, and the dreadfully goblin-like Wood-Elf King. (On the other hand, the Elf-lord Elrond, with his distinguished features and strange crown-halo, is far preferable to Bakshi’s dismally graceless version of the same character.)
Notwithstanding this and other weaknesses, this Lord of the Rings is in some respects quite impressive and remains worth a look, especially for Tolkien fans, and perhaps younger viewers not quite old enough for Peter Jackson’s more intense adaptation — though even the Bakshi is darker and more intense than most cartoons. (Younger viewers might also be interested in the animated Rankin-Bass versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King.)
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.