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

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.

Plot Edit

The film begins with Bilbo Baggins celebrating his 129th birthday in Rivendell. When he notices that Frodo is missing a finger, he asks for an explanation. Gandalf introduces the Minstrel of Gondor to recall the story of the One Ring, going all the way back to when Bilbo found it in Gollum's cave many decades prior.

A flashback begins with the Ring sitting in Bag End. As the years pass, its power grows stronger and stronger. Gandalf takes notice of this and tells Frodo that the Ring must be taken in Mordor and destroyed in "fires where it was wrought". Should Frodo fail, all of Middle-earth will be ended by the Ring's maker, Sauron. Frodo and his companion, Samwise, depart the Shire for Mordor. After many daring adventures, they reach Mordor's borders, only for Frodo to be captured and imprisoned in Cirith Ungol.

Sam, after trying and failing to infiltrate the tower, takes it upon himself to be Ring-bearer in Frodo's absence and heads for Mount Doom. But he is stopped when he feels the Ring's weight growing on him and a strong temptation to claim it for himself almost overcomes him. He stops himself when he realizes that he already has everything he could ever want back home. Realizing that he is not fit for the task, he makes his way back to Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo. After successfully infiltrating the tower and fighting his way to Frodo, Sam returns the Ring to him and, disguised as Orcs, they manage to escape just as the tower collapses.

Meanwhile, at the Gondorian capital of Minas Tirith, Gandalf and Pippin bear witness as the forces of Mordor prepare to attack the city. They turn to Denethor II for help, trying to reassure him that, thanks to the Red Arrow, King Théoden and the army of Rohan are on their way. But they are dismayed to discover that the Steward has gone mad, referring to vision seen through a palantír of the West burning. He orders his own demise, leaving Gandalf and Pippin to face the invasion, with Gandalf beginning to lose hope.

In Mordor, Frodo and Sam press their way on, with Frodo becoming weaker and weaker as they progress. At one point, they are mistaken for Orcs and are forced to join a legion heading back to Cirith Ungol. When a legion of Easterlings prevents the Orcs from going any further, Sam begins a riot between the two armies, allowing him and Frodo to escape. Once they are out of sight, they find a cave and spend the night there.

After days of searching, Frodo and Sam arrive at Mount Doom, only to find Gollum waiting for them. He attacks the two, trying to seize back his "Precious". Sam holds him off, allowing Frodo to make for the Cracks of Doom. When Sam follows, he finds Frodo reluctant to finish the task. The power of the Ring overtakes him and he claims it, as Sam is forced to watch in horror.

Théoden's forces arrive at Pelennor Fields just as the gates to Minas Tirith are broken down. But the tides turn when the Witch-king of Angmar attacks and kills Rohan's king. Coming to avenge her uncle, Éowyn sheds her soldier disguise and, with Merry's help, slays the Witch-king. At the same time the battle is won, Aragorn, the heir to the throne of Gondor, arrives and plans an attack on Mordor. When they arrive at the Black Gate, the Mouth of Sauron mockingly advises that they turn back. Aragorn stands his ground, refusing to back down.

At the same time, Sam searches for Frodo in Mount Doom and finds Gollum fighting with him for the Ring. Gollum bites off Frodo's finger and reclaims the Ring. As he dances with joy, he loses his footing and falls into the magma chamber, simultaneously killing himself and destroying the Ring. Sauron is finally vanquished. As Mount Doom begins to collapse, Frodo and Sam attempt to escape and are almost killed by the flowing lava when they are rescued by the Eagles. They are taken to Minas Tirith, where they witness Aragorn's coronation.

As the Minstrel ends the tale, Frodo agrees to come with Bilbo, Elrond, and Gandalf as they prepare to set sail into the west and to the Undying Lands, leaving Middle-earth forever. He passes on the Red Book of Westmarch to Sam, saying that he will finish it with stories of his peaceful life in the Shire. Gandalf reassures Sam that someday, his kind will have human descendants and when they hear the tale of the Ring, they will wonder: "Is there hobbit in me? Is there?"

At the Grey Havens, Sam, Merry, and Pippin watch from afar as a ship with Frodo, Elrond, Gandalf, and Bilbo on board disappears into the west.

Production Edit

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 Yarbrough returned as principal vocalist, billed here as simply "the Minstrel of Gondor".

Voices Edit


Frodo and the One Ring.

Reception Edit

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].

The film currently garners as 67% Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes[1]

Marketing Edit

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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External links Edit

References Edit