It is not actually Direct-to-video, but Direct-to-TV. I decided that is close enough for the best Hobbit movie. This is a traditional animated film by Rankin and Bass using the resources that would become Studio Ghibli.
It opens with the book being opened and Gandalf narrating about Hobbits. Gandalf is awesome as expected. He is mysterious, wise, powerful, and always on time like he always is.
Bilbo is much fatter than he is in Peter Jackson’s version, and he is more aggravated to realize a wizard came to him. The Dwarves immediately show up and sing “That’s what Bilbo Baggins hates.” They eat all his food quickly. Like in Jackson’s version Bilbo is scared of dying, but unlike Jackson’s films he is immediately interested in seeing the rest of Middle Earth.
The Song “Greatest Adventure plays when he sleeps. He early on wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes he wants to go when he stares at the full moon like nature is calling for him to go. He then dream about being a king with everyone loving him at the lyrics “a man who’s a dreamer…” The song describes what he will not find if he stays like passion and fun. This is a great credit song and it only comes in about nine minutes into the movie.
Once they actually start leaving Bilbo quickly misses his home and tries to comfort himself by thinking of it. It gets worse when Thorin, the Dwarf leader, pressures him into robbing trolls. In Jackson’s version the trolls had already robbed them, but here they were not bothering them at all, as Rankin and Bass used a more negative portrayal of the dwarves. I think that is more accurate to the book. Bilbo is caught and then the rest of the dwarves, but Bilbo escapes to a cave since the trolls are okay with losing the teeny snack. So far so good, useful wizard and everyone else is useless like in Tolkien’s book. Gandalf saves them, and while Thorin is mad at Bilbo, he did find the cave of the trolls’ treasure which includes swords. Here another distinction occurs between the animated and live-action dwarves. The animated ones seem to have no weapons before now or plan at all. They really are helpless without Bilbo and Gandalf. Even worse Thorin has no map reading abilities. When Gandalf leaves Thorin gets them to sleep in a cave which is “the perfect place.”
They are all captured, but Bilbo again escapes. The dwarves are saved by Gandalf, while Bilbo is lost and confronted by Gollum. Gollum’s voice cannot compare to Andy Serkis’s performance or his great performance is Bakshi’s film, but his design is notably different in a good way. He looks like a frog-human hybrid, and he looks like a physical threat. The riddle game goes like it does in the books, and Bilbo uses his new magic ring to escape.
In one scene a dwarf saves Bilbo from Wargs, and I think this is the only time a dwarf is helpful. At Mirkwood forest Gandalf leaves and appoints Bilbo as his surrogate and group scribe.
Bilbo is forced to climb a tree. “I couldn’t argue. My contract is vague on several points.” A funny attack on loopholes there, and when he sees how pretty Mirkwood looks he realizes he wants to be there adventuring, not back in his home, a huge change from the beginning of the film. Unfortunately the rest of Mirkwood is not well made by the film. He saves the dwarves from spiders, but the stabbing animation is bad making the scene pale compared to its book counterpart. Also “the wood elves have returned.” That appearance was deleted making a plot hole.
Also they look nothing like Elrond, and this design is not good. Fortunately getting them out is a great scene demonstrating Bilbo’s intelligence, the rivalry between dwarves and elves, and it is ironically way less cartoony than the live-action version. One notable thing is the movie is only seventy-seven minutes long. The dwarves are mostly extras (which is better than they were in Jackson’s version). At Laketown the people also get demoted to extra. Only their future king seems to have lines, as they are just a brief stop.
Bilbo on the mountain befriends a bird, the Thrush. He finds the entrance to the mountain in a much better scene than what Jackson used due to the better pacing. Then Thorin says Bilbo needs to go earn his 1/14th of the treasure. That is how it happened in the book where Thorin ignores all Bilbo has done for them, and Bilbo points out his contract never said he had to save them from spiders and elves. to his disappointment nobody comes to help except Thrush.
Smaug here is magnificent. Instead of a generic dragon design he looks like a mammal. His actor Richard Boone, makes him sound like he is from a Western, and it works for something so powerful. Some find his design too fat, but I did notice until a few watches. He does decide the burglar is from Laketown. To save them Bilbo sends the Thrush to warn them about his one weak spot, which results in their future king slaying the dragon. Back with the company only Bilbo shows any interest in the men’s safety, and Bilbo begins to act like the leader. When the dragon attacks he guides them to safety and gets everyone else in first. He then leads them to he gate out against Thorin’s will. It ends with the Battle of the Five Armies. No dragon sickness it is just the dwarves are greedy, the elf king wants his old treasure despite having been a pain, and the men feel entitled to something after killing the dragon. Bilbo wants to give up fractions of the treasure since there is plenty, but Thorin says he does not understand war. These few minutes have more weight than the last Hobbit film. Bilbo hopes to be captured resulting in Thorin calling him a coward. Bilbo responds that he has been heroic while Thorin has hid. Gandalf then warns them about the attacking goblins. Humorously the three kings then call each other their closest friends and brothers, as they join against a common enemy. In the book only three dwarves die. Here seven die. Thorin thanks Bilbo for his work, and the two reconcile after the devastation of battle. Bilbo arrives back at the Shire with some gold and the film ends with the ring shining indicating a sequel made by different people.
The animation is the weakness. I like the designs, but movement and fighting are lackluster, and it sticks out at times that they were squeezing their dimes.
I hate to keep putting down Jackson’s work (especially with all the good he has done for the books), but this is better than his trilogy. Bilbo does not become a side character, the plot is faster paced, elves do not take over, it has better humor, very good songs, interesting designs mostly, and it always felt faithful to the children’s story it was based off.