Long ago, in the days when disco ruled the Earth and Dungeons and Dragons was in its first edition, there was a Hobbit movie. Before Harry Potter, before World of Warcraft, before Game of Thrones, before Shwarzenegger’s furry Conan Speedo, before even Hawk the Slayer, there was The Hobbit. A simpler Hobbit. A cartoon Hobbit. A Hobbit that wasn’t stretched out into a butt-numbingly long trilogy. Rankin/Bass’ 1977 TV movie version of The Hobbit is… well, we’ll get to that. But first and foremost, it was the many adult geeks, myself included, were first introduced to Middle Earth. My parents rented this on VHS, and it blew my mind when I was six.

It was, shall we say, a product of its time. Being a TV cartoon from the seventies, it looks a bit creaky nowadays, but I still find kind of charming. I was sick for the better part of two days this week, and spent a fair amount of time slurking down lemon tea and watching movies, including The Hobbit. Surprisingly, after all these years, it's not wholly awful.

More after the jump.

In this version, Bilbo was played by Topher Grace. Get it? TOE FUR! WOO! Um... Yeah...
  • In this version, Bilbo was played by Topher Grace. Get it? TOE FUR! WOO! Um... Yeah...

Fantasy today, as witnessed by Jackson’s extending a straightforward children’s book into three films, is a big and thumpy affair. Worlds, and the fate thereof, always hang in the balance. There’s a time and place for big, world shattering epics, but Hobbit ’77 isn’t about the fate of Middle Earth. It’s about Bilbo. He goes off on an adventure, partakes of some derring-do, comes home, and is a better person for it. It’s there-and-back-again in the classic sense, and in that way it’s actually very true to the book. The voice acting (with the notable exception of Smaug) is also excellent, particularly John Huston as Gandalf.

As fond as I am of the movie, though, it has problems. There’s a gigantic continuity error where characters refer to a scene with wood elves (spoilers: this fantasy story has wood elves in it) that was clearly omitted, and the animation is kind of choppy at times. Also, Smaug has a weirdly distracting cowboy voice. That, and any enjoyment you may derive from this artifact of the Carter administration is going to hinge on your tolerance of painfully precious seventies era folk ballads.

So, Hobbit ’77 is delightful, especially in its smallness. It’s focused and to-the-point in a way that Jackson’s Hobbit (haven’t seen it yet- I’m not fan enough for midnight showings) probably isn’t. Just... keep in mind that it’s a cartoon from the seventies. It goes down a bit better with an assist from some Dwarven ale or Shire pipe weed to get you in the spirit of things.