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 is not to be confused with Peter Jackson's live-action The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. The cartoon adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's Return of the King may baffle those who are not readers of the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (not to mention the earlier book, The Hobbit). It picks up after a cliffhanger ending in Tolkien's book The Two Towers. There is non-explicit violence that kills good-guy characters as well as evil ones. A human character, believing that defeat is inevitable, has his soldiers kill him (though nothing explicit is shown). The hobbit Frodo is whipped.
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What's the story?
This TV 'toon takes up the plot of J.R.R. Tolkien's dense Lord of the Rings trilogy of fantasy novels via the final volume, The Return of the King. At his 129th birthday celebration, old Bilbo Baggins, hero of The Hobbit, hears, through song and storytelling, the fate of a magic ring he found on his quest through the fantasy realm of Middle Earth. The ring, unbeknownst to Bilbo, was immensely evil, forged long ago by an entity of pure malice, Sauron, dwelling in the dark realm of Mordor with armies of grotesque "orcs," goblins, wicked men on "oliphants" (woolly mammoths), and other unpleasant creatures. Only by melting the ring in Mordor's volcano could Sauron be destroyed. Assigned this task are two hobbits, Bilbo's nephew Frodo and Frodo's friend Samwise, who sneak into Mordor while Sauron's attention is on making war against Minas Tirith, city-fortress stronghold of the race of mankind. But Frodo, weakened by the ring's corrupting force, has been captured by orc guards. While Samwise fights to free Frodo and finish the mission, even the great wizard Gandalf, defending Minas Tirith, begins to despair.
Is it any good?
Created by TV-fantasy specialists Arthur Rankin and Jules Bass, who earlier made a fine cartoon version of The Hobbit, The Return of the King is darker and more complicated. Launching right into it like this abandons two earlier bookfuls of backstory and crucial character development. The herky-jerky narrative seems to leapfrog ahead in the storyline, then dawdle over repetitive ballads and juvenile-seeming musical numbers. Some characters, like Aragorn (just the King in the title, that's all) are almost lost altogether in the shuffle. Pluses are some voiceover performances (especially Roddy McDowell as a tough Samwise) and an epilogue that's clearer even than Tolkien about what's to become of hobbits, wizards, and elves in the modern age. Animation (done by Japanese but dissimilar from the general look of "anime") is okay but not exceptionally eye-filling.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about what makes J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy world so popular with readers of all ages. Does this animation do it justice? What about other screen versions?
The ending suggests that hobbits will evolve to become very similar to regular humans. Ask kids if they know people who remind them of Frodo or Samwise. Would they want to be hobbits, or other Tolkien characters?
- In theaters: May 11, 1980
- On DVD or streaming: September 11, 2001
- Cast: Casey Kasem, Don Messick, John Huston, Orson Bean, Roddy McDowall, Theodore Bikel, William Conrad
- Directors: Arthur Rankin Jr., Jules Bass
- Studio: Warner Home Video
- Genre: Fantasy
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: September 19, 2019
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