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The Lord of the Rings (1978)
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord of the Rings was cutting-edge at the time with its incorporation of live-action elements, but this hybrid style heightens some of the action sequences and makes the battle scenes frightening for under-8 audiences. Although there is a pub scene in which the Hobbits and others are drinking and smoking pipes, the potentially objectionable content is the violence that is prevalent throughout Frodo's journey to get rid of the Ring. The Ringwraiths, Orcs, Nazguls, and other creatures are far scarier than the villains in most animated films. On the other hand, J.R.R. Tolkien's tale emphasizes the importance of teamwork and friendship, and that is still a major theme of the movie.
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What's the story?
J.R.R. Tolkien's legendary adventure follows "chosen" Hobbit Frodo (voiced by Christopher Guard) as he, with the guidance of the Fellowship of the Ring (a group made up of other Hobbits, men, a wizard, an elf, and a dwarf) embark on a journey to rid Middle-earth of the ring he inherits from his cousin Bilbo (Norman Bird). Frodo, his Shire companions Sam (Michael Scholes), Merry (Simon Chandler), and Pippin (Dominic Guard), follow the wizard Gandalf (William Squire) and the mysterious Aragorn (John Hurt) through a route in Middle-earth that leads them to Rohan, where they must convince King Theoden (Philip Stone) to stand with them in their battle against Sauron's dark forces.
Is it any good?
Some animated films hold up decade after decade, but the animation meets live-action silhouetting of this fantasy adaptation seems awfully dated more than 30 years after its release. Of course, what really makes this version seem almost obsolete at this point is the fact that Peter Jackson arguably made the definitive adaptation of Tolkien's masterpiece in 2001, 2002, and 2003. The animation might make parents think this is a good starting point for young viewers to be introduced to Tolkien, and that's true for second or third graders who may not be ready to see the intense battle scenes in Jackson's thrilling films, but much younger kids will be frightened at some of the biting action sequences in director Ralph Bakshi's interpretation.
Parents in their 40s will remember how popular this film was in 1978, and may want to share the experience with their children. If they've seen Jackson's epic trilogy, however, don't be surprised if they don't understand some of the story changes and characterizations (especially Gandalf, who's much sterner and duller in this version since he's responsible for explaining what's going on to the viewer). Some of the director's choices seem downright cheesy now, like the fact that Sauron is just the black shadow of a horned man wearing a cloak, or the orcs that look like mummies or mannequins, and let's not even speak of the completely live-action Helm's Deep battle, which ends triumphantly. Then the narrator informs viewers that the battle for Middle-earth has been won -- but anyone familiar with the story knows that's not true -- the Fellowship gathers up their forces to march on Mordor. There's nothing wrong with adaptations that take liberties, but this one seems off -- like the filmmakers were forced to put a prematurely happy ending to a story that continues.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Frodo's epic journey. Who are his helpers? What temptations and obstacles almost keep him from succeeding?
Why does Frodo seem to have an easier time resisting the ring's power than those around him?
How does this animated version compare to Peter Jackson's trilogy? Does the animation hold up, or does it seem dated?
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