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82 of 94 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Here down in the valley, November 22, 2001
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This review is from: The Hobbit (DVD)
Currently Peter Jackson's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's first novel, "The Hobbit" is mired down in pre-production problems. But while you wait for Middle-Earth to come to life on the silver screen, it's worth checking out Rankin-Bass' "The Hobbit," an animated kids' movie that is a fairly pleasant, moderately faithful adaptation.

Bilbo Baggins is a mild-mannered little hobbit living unobtrusively in Bag End, a conventional hobbit-hole in the comfortably boring Shire. His life is abruptly turned upside-down when the mysterious wizard Gandalf arrives, along with thirteen dwarves (who proceed to take over Bilbo's home). That evening, they reveal their reason for coming: They are seeking a "burglar" to help them retake back Lonely Mountain, a dwarf stronghold taken over by the dragon Smaug.

Whether he likes it or not, Bilbo soon ends up the burglar, and is dragged into elf palaces, goblin traps and even a fateful meeting with the grotesque froglike Gollum. The dangerous road ahead of him draws out reserves of courage and intelligence that few knew he had -- but the greatest danger comes not only from Smaug, but from the armies that congregate near his mountain.

First off: This is only a moderately faithful adaptation of Tolkien's books -- most of the essentials are here, but quite a few things are missing, including any dwarves or elves other than Elrond and the thirteen guys following Bilbo. There are some vague mentions of a dwarf army arriving and some random singing voices outside Elrond's house, but nothing more than that.

But it has the essentials -- goblins, eagles, hobbits, mountains of treasure, elves of various stripes, the grey wizard Gandalf and a town of men living on a stilted lake town. And there's plenty of humor ("MY ARMS!") and quite a few battle scenes (which are marred by weird facial expression and schizophrenic spinning), and a truly lovely scene where Smaug starts visiting destruction on what he believes is his enemies.

On the other hand, we are also treated to the weird sight of the Elf-King, Bard, and Thorin all gushing over each other, ten seconds after they were trying to kill each other. As for the animation, it's a mixed bag -- the dwarves, Gandalf, Gollum and Bilbo are all animated nicely, and there are some truly beautiful backdrops for the action (the Misty Mountain, Laketown, Hobbiton, even Mirkwood)... but the wood-elves look like distended Yodas.

However, the sound is TERRIBLE. They have cleaned it up in places, but in other areas they have inserted gratuitous screams and mutters. They have also pulled out sounds: barrels rolling, arrows striking, Smaug roaring and breathing fire, the dwarves wailing from inside their barrels, the clash of gates - you get the idea. It's little details that makes it feel more real, but these are all removed -- and there's an annoying crackling sound that pops up every now and then.

Until the live-action adaptations of "The Hobbit" comes out, we'll have to be content with the animated version -- it has some flaws, but it's an entertaining little story by itself.
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