Reviews: The Hobbit

Perfect On Its Own

This animated adaptation is sure to get some Tolkien fans in a tizzy. It's Rankin & Bass after all - not a style that usually jibes with epic fantasy. And why do the Wood-Elves look so strange? some people will ask. Plus why does Smaug look like a cat? All in all, it's easy to measure this movie against the legitimate Tolkien universe, and likewise, to come away feeling a little dissatisfied.

To a point, I can actually understand those criticisms. This story is part of a larger literary universe, and certain variations can feel like missteps. But I think these fans have honestly missed something. The Hobbit doesn't need the broader Tolkien-universe to be awesome. It's an amazing film just standing by itself.

When I first saw this movie as a kid, for instance, I didn't even know who J.R.R. Tolkien was. As far as I knew, this was just a standalone fantasy adventure. And if you have that mindset, this movie is nothing short of spectacular. It creates a fantasy sub-setting and exploits it for every thrill and monster that it's worth. The character designs are ingenious, the voices are overflowing with personality, and best of all, Bilbo's quest convenes efficiently on a magnificent archetypal climax.

People may criticize the character designs, but they bring an entirely new level of creativity to the mythos. The old, shriveled figure of the Wood-Elf king is much more visually arresting than Peter Jackson's human representations - source material be darned! Likewise, the goblins/orcs are much more interesting as gigantic mouth-monsters than Jackson's anthropomorphic rubber Halloween masks. The animators had freedom to imagine the story as they wished, and their visions are satisfying to the more fanciful of myth-lovers. That, along with the beautifully simple story, has the power to change an absurd-sounding legend into a tale which will resonate with audiences of all ages.

Overall, The Hobbit has one big disadvantage, and that's belonging to a larger mythical canon. Without that burden hovering over its shoulder, this film might otherwise be considered one of the finest childrens' fantasies ever conceived. Of course, we do owe a lot to Tolkien for first inspiring this fanciful realm - yet in my opinion, this is probably the most magical and memorable realization of his craft.

Highly recommended!