We all know that the Rankin/Bass cartoon adaptation of The Hobbit, while not quite as bad as their attempt at The Return of the King, was still a childish mess that fails utterly to communicate the dark and timeless themes of Tolkien’s original work, but it wasn’t the first such attempt. And, believe me, it was certainly not the worst.
All but unknown until just recently, the 1966 adaptation of The Hobbit resurfaced to the horror of Tolkienists everywhere. From what I can gather, it is the gruesome result of a horrifyingly successful attempt to blackmail Tolkien by threatening to unleash this and other planned abominations upon the world—successful because he payed up. It was made on a fiendishly small budget and took less than a month to finish, and this is farcically obvious in the finished product, which is under twelve minutes in length.
Despite what I’ve just said, the drawings are far from unpleasant to behold, being in fact quite beautiful, if a bit odd-looking. After a few seconds of opening credits, the cartoon begins with a beautiful establishing shot of Canterlot—I mean… the city of Dale:
The “animation” mostly consists of zooms, pans, and changes in the lighting of the various still images that make up the vast majority of the short film. Before you notice this, however, you’ll probably hear the voice of a yank narrating an incoherent perversion of Tolkien’s work. Again, it’s luckily not an unpleasant voice to listen to—particularly lucky as he’ll also be voicing all the characters.
One must try not to become enraged at the way in which the story has virtually nothing to do with the book—Thorin’s not even a dwarf, for instance… Or maybe he is; even after watching this as many times as I have, I’ve still no idea what’s going on. That said, you’ll probably enjoy it more if you keep the greatness that is the book in mind throughout the twelve minutes of this cartoon.
One of the most grating things in the Rankin/Bass adaptation was that they kept mispronouncing Smaug’s name, calling him “smog” for some reason. Well, this one goes the whole hog and just calls him “Slag,” and somehow he manages to look less like Tolkien’s illustration than Rankin/Bass’ “Smog” does. In fact, they change almost all the names and terminology, probably in the interest of their insidious blackmail plot, including “Torin Oakenshield,” “Goloom,” and the “grablins” to name a few.
I don’t want to spoil much about this train-wreck of a cartoon, but if I were to compare it to anything, I’d have to go with a Pixar animated short called “Mr. Incredible and Pals.” Its animation is similar, as are many things about it, save that the Pixar equivalent was intended to be funny. Like “Mr Incredible and Pals,” this adaptation of The Hobbit adds their own “Mister Skipperdoo” of sorts, as though only to make things that much more ludicrous.
I can at least say, to the credit of the 1966 cartoon, however, that they had an Arkenstone, albeit one that looks more like the Crystal Heart from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (it was in a two-part episode called “The Crystal Empire,” which, ironically, was an homage—and a good one, at that—to Tolkien).
The 1966 adaptation of The Hobbit is an utter mess; it has almost nothing to do with the book, exhibits some of the cheapest (yet strangely beautiful) animation I’ve seen from that era, never falls short of spitting on one of my all-time favourite works of literature, and was created solely for the purpose of blackmailing my favourite author. In spite of all of this, I can’t help but love the sheer absurdity of the thing! It’s truly awful in so many ways, and yet this badness is what makes it so charming. Their so-called “map” of “Middle-Earth” always makes me laugh, as do so many other things about this twelve-minute cartoon. It is truly an adaptation that’s so-bad-it’s-good, and if you love Tolkien, this massive heap of Mûmak dung is always good for a laugh.