Don’t have time to watch the whole two-movie HOBBIT from Peter Jackson, or even the Rankin Bass version? Well then maybe this 1968 “limited animation” version which clocks in at under 12 minutes is more your speed.

It’s actually a recently unearthed version of the Hobbit written by the legendary Gene Deitch (Tom and Jerry) and based on drawings by Czech illustrator Adolf Born.

When we tell you you have never seen the Hobbit like this, we mean, You have never seen the Hobbit like this.

As in: this is Thorin Oakenshield:

Scenarist Deitch also took some liberties with the storyline, replacing the 12 dwarven companions with….a princess. Who…well, let’s just say there is a ROMANCE along the way.

Of course there’s a wacky back story to this strange cartoon. Producer Bill Snyder was trying to hold onto the rights to the Hobbit (which he’d acquired from the Tolkiens in a totally crap deal for the Tolkien family) in the face of its sudden popularity surge in the late 60s. Deitch tells the rest of the story:

Why invest money, plus a year-and-a-half of work, when you can make money without all that sweat? Not only had the Tolkien estate lawyers given Snyder the rights for peanuts, but in their ignorance of film terminology, they had left a million-dollar-loop-hole in the contract: It merely stated that in order to hold his option for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Snyder had to “produce a full-color motion picture version” of THE HOBBIT by June 30th 1966. Please note: It did not say it had to be an animated movie, and it not say how long the film had to be!

Thus this strange, rushed animatic.

Which calls the dragon “Smag.” Rhymes with swag.

Tolkienistas will recall the stunningly inappropriate covers for the original Ballantine paperback trilogy by Barbara Remington, a talented artist who was given only a vague outline of what the books were about (Ballantine was in a race itself to compete with an unauthorized version by Ace Books.) The covers were so odd that they led to Tolkien complaining in his letters of inauthentic “pumpkins in a tree.” (An even less germane lion has been removed from the above.)

Well, let’s just say that the Deitch/Born version of the Hobbit is the perfect version of the story to go with the Remington covers.


  1. (The “rest of the story” link is broken.)

    When I saw the front page blurb, I immediately thought of his “Tom and Jerry” cartoons.

    It should be noted that Deitch was UPA-influenced. He did not have the lushness of Disney, nor the squash-and-stretch sentimentality of MGM or Warner Brothers.

    His Weston Woods films are quite good, adapting notable picture books, some of them Caldecott winners.

  2. What’s also funny is that the cover art reproduced above obviously provided the inspiration for the cover art used in one of the earliest editions of Harvard Lampoon’s LoTR parody, Bored of the Rings.

  3. Interesting piece of Hippie Era animation. Looks like Dietch was aiming for the vibe of Yellow Submarine. He was probably pushed in this direction by his son Kim, a famous underground cartoonist.
    I suspect Dietch was also influenced by Captain Kangaroo, or rather the limited animation adaptations of classic kids books that aired on that longlost show.
    And of course the Weston WOods films….

    Switching the dragon’s name to “Slag” was possibly prompted by Smaug’s name being pronounced “smog”, a form of polution all too familiar to pre-EPA America.

    The cover art is the classic Ballantine cover art for their paperback set. This was the cover that most Boomers had on their copies.

  4. Gene Deitch (1947) preceded Captain Kangaroo (1955). His Tom Terrific cartoons did air on Captain Kangaroo from 1957-1959, with reruns periodically afterwards (I vaguely remember seeing them when I was a kid, circa 1974).

    Deitch was influenced by UPA, where he was a director. UPA pioneered stylized, limited animation with strong story. Given the time constraint of producing this reel, that was the only way to get it done on deadline.