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The Return of the King (1980 film)

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This article refers to the 1980 film. For other namesakes, see The Return of the King (disambiguation).

The Return of the King DVD cover.

The Return of the King (subtitled A Story of the Hobbits) is an animated adaptation of the novel by J. R. R. Tolkien that was released by Rankin/Bass as a TV special in 1980. It has since been released on VHS and DVD.

The film was created by the same team that had worked on the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit.


The film begins with Bilbo Baggins celebrating his 129th birthday in Rivendell. The film flashes back to Sam Gamgee heading towards Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo Baggins, but not before thinking about claiming the One Ring himself. Gandalf and Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith to warn Denethor, the Steward of Gondor, about the upcoming war — only to discover that the Steward has lost his mind. Meanwhile, Sam rescues Frodo and they finish their quest at Mount Doom, only to be attacked by Gollum, who bites Frodo's finger off and claims the Ring. While dancing with joy at the retrieval of his "Precious," he loses his footing and falls into the lava, taking the Ring with him.

Rohan helps Gondor claim victory in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and, with the destruction of the Ring, Sauron is defeated. Months later, Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor. The film concludes back in the present with Frodo agreeing to accompany Bilbo, Gandalf and Elrond in leaving Middle-earth. Sam, Merry and Pippin bid them all farewell as they depart across the sea.

At the end it is implied Hobbits will become taller with each passing generation, eventually becoming Man high, and became Men.


Orson Bean returned as the voice of the older Bilbo Baggins, as well as that of the story's hero, Frodo Baggins. John Huston was back as well, as the beloved wizard Gandalf, and co-starring with them were: William Conrad as Denethor, Roddy McDowall as Samwise Gamgee, Theodore Bikel as Aragorn the King himself, and reprising his darkly spoken role of Gollum was the grumpily dangerous Brother Theodore. Rankin/Bass stalwart Paul Frees replaced Cyril Ritchard (who had died not long after completing his voice work on The Hobbit) as the voice of Elrond; Casey Kasem, best known for his role as Shaggy in Hanna-Barbera's Scooby-Doo, was Merry with Sonny Melendrez as Pippin; Nellie Bellflower as Eowyn; and Glenn Yarborough returned as principal vocalist, billed here as simply "the Minstrel of Gondor".



Frodo and the One Ring.


Reception for the animated TV special is varied. Some commentators view it affectionately as an adaptation which children and parents can enjoy together [1]. However, others regard it with disdain, comparing it unfavorably to Ralph Bakshi's earlier animated film and Peter Jackson's later live-action film [2], [3]. Glenn Yarborough's songs are widely derided, although some admit to a campy affection for the surprisingly tuneful Orc marching song "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way" or the ballad "Frodo of the Nine Fingers" [4].


In the absence of an official sequel to Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King has come to be marketed by Warner Bros. as the final part of a loose animated Tolkien trilogy, preceded by The Hobbit (to which Rankin/Bass originally presented The Return of the King as a direct sequel). The middle film is very different in tone and character design, however, and the final two films do not join up seamlessly, as both omit various segments from The Two Towers, most notably regarding the events in Shelob's lair and the Ents' march on Isengard. Other omissions in the Rankin/Bass version include the characters of Legolas, Gimli, Arwen, Saruman, Éomer, and Faramir (though it's possible the latter makes a brief appearance; there is an unidentified Man - who has no lines of dialogue - who accompanies Éowyn on horseback during Aragorn's coronation, and the two of them exchange rather knowing looks). Even Aragorn doesn't have much dialogue or screentime despite being the 'King' of the movie's title.

The animated Return of the King is available on DVD from Warner Bros., both individually and as a "boxed trilogy" with the Rankin/Bass Hobbit and Bakshi's Lord of the Rings.

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