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Western Animation / The Return of the King

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"It's so easy not to try
Let the world go drifting by
If you never say hello
You won't have to say goodbye."

The third film in a loose trilogy of animated films based on J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth stories, The Return of the King is Rankin-Bass's adaptation of the third The Lord of the Rings volume of the same name. The film serves as a follow-up to their earlier adaptation of The Hobbit, and as a conclusion of sorts to the Ralph Bakshi adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, which covered The Fellowship of the Ring and most of The Two Towersnote .

The Return of the King: provides examples of:

  • Adapted Out: Due to large portions of The Two Towers being skipped over, Shelob does not appear despite being hinted at by Gollum at the end of Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, although we do see a few webs in the tunnel. Likewise, Frodo's mithril shirt is absent from the film.
  • Adaptation-Induced Plot Hole: Comes up a few times thanks to Compressed Adaptation.
    • Somehow the orcs manage to lose everything important Frodo had on him. In the book, Sam takes Sting and the Ring, before the orcs find his body.
    • The orcs fighting over Frodo's cloak (that they don't even have) stretches disbelief. In the book, they're fighting over his mithril shirt, which they have and is sufficiently valuable to warrant such a brawl.
    • Somehow, the battle of the Pelennor Fields drags on for several days, long enough for Frodo and Sam to reach Mt. Doom.
    • For all his power, Sauron somehow misses Frodo putting on the One Ring in the heart of his stronghold for several days! In the book and the Jackson films, Sauron notices immediately and promptly sends the Ringwraiths towards Mt. Doom.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication:
    • Why Gollum is calling Frodo master goes unexplained in the film if you didn't see the previous one.
    • The Phial of Galadriel shows up with no explanation to where it came from aside from Frodo giving the name and claiming he can't say anything more. In the book its simply one of Galadriel's gifts, something cut from Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings
    • The reason why the Mouth of Sauron show up is left unexplained in the film due to the scene being truncated to him appearing them being sent off. In the book he's acting on Sauron's orders,taunting them with the knowledge they have one of the hobbits in captivity and purposing extreme terms of surrender that are rejected.
  • Adaptational Dumbass: After the Ring is destroyed and Sauron's forces break their assault at the Black Gate, Aragorn asks Gandalf what happened, as if he does not know about Frodo's quest to destroy the ring.
  • Adaptational Jerkass: Aragorn displays none of the wisdom of his book counterpart. After winning the battle for Pelennor Fields, he declares to take the war to Sauron, intending to try to defeat him by force of arms, despite Gandalf's protests. The Aragorn from the books was fully aware this was folly and only did so to buy Frodo time to destroy the Ring.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy: While the Mouth of Sauron is still definitely one of the villains, he doesn't taunt Aragorn over Frodo's supposed capture/death here.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Denethor appears as a decrepit and crazed old man. In the books, he was described as a wise lord, who appeared almost as wizardly as Gandalf and only went mad after enduring too much pressure. In this film, only his downfall is seen.
  • Always Chaotic Evil:
    • Downplayed. The song, "Where There's A Whip, There's A Way" basically says that they fight because they're being made to, not because they want to. This suggests that only the higher-ranking orc officers are truly malicious and evil, whereas the rank and file are brutalized slaves.
    • During a Dream Sequence where the destruction of the ring is portrayed as an easy job, Frodo imagines himself and Sam encountering a troop of Orcs while smoking. Both parties wave amicably and go their separate ways, implying that Frodo believes there's some good in them and it's only Sauron's influence that makes them the way they are (this is rather in line with Tolkien's worldview, where nobody's unremittingly, irredeemably evil).
  • Animated Adaptation: Of the last part of The Lord of the Rings. It has its own interesting history as it's technically the sequel of the Ralph Bakshi's work, which covered the previous two books before several issues led to that production being left unfinished and Rankin-Bass complete the adaptation of the last book. Even though it differs from the previous movie in both tone and art style.
  • Animesque: Virtually all the animators and one of the two character designers were Japanese, so this may actually be more half-Anime than pseudo-Anime Animesque.
  • Bad Boss: The Lord of the Lash, who whips his orc troops, forcing them to march into battle.
  • Behind the Black: Hilariously, no one notices the Minstrel of Gondor until Gandalf introduces him. Apparently, he was just standing there silently during the entire party waiting for a cue.
  • Big Damn Heroes: A couple of instances, most notable being when the Rohan army arrives, naturally, at the single most dramatically appropriate moment to save the day. Aragorn's arrival is actually more badass in this version since it looks like he routs the evil army just by showing up.
  • Big "NO!":
    • By Merry when he Back Stabs the Witch-King; just after It smashes Eowyn's shield to flinders.
    • By Sam when he rejects the Ring's influence, and again when it claims Frodo.
    • Nearly every other character says "Nay" rather than "No".
  • Broad Strokes: The dialogue is surprisingly accurate, though.
  • BSoD Song: Subverted with ''Leave Tommorrow Till it Comes," which is sung at a point where Sam and Frodo have fallen down a hole and are too exhausted to get out. Sam lets out a desperate prayer to the Valar for help, while Frodo falls into a nightmare-haunted sleep that gradually eases into a dream of a happier future. The song is about the futility of worrying about tommorrow.
  • Camp: (cue disco beat) Where there's a whip *WHIPCRACK* there's a way. Where there's a whip *WHIPCRACK* there's a way.
  • Covers Always Lie: The DVD cover only seems to vaguely represent the film's contents, if it indeed represents them at all. It features two generic chubby hobbits, neither of which look quite like Samwise or Merry, let alone Frodo or Pippin. They are riding on a horse, despite the fact that there is no scene featuring hobbits riding horses (only significantly smaller ponies). Also prominently featured are two dwarves who do not appear in the film at all, and do not clearly resemble any of the dwarves who appeared in The Hobbit either, although one of them does resemble Grumpy. In the background are two vaguely-portrayed palace-like structures — one light and one dark — that clearly do not resemble Minas Tirith, Cirith Ungol, Barad-dûr or the Black Gate which appear in the film. All in all, the cover looks like it was drawn by someone who really hasn't seen the film or read the books at all but merely slapped something random together with short people, dwarves, knights, castles and a dragon.
  • Darker and Edgier: In spite of the Disneyfication, it is this compared to The Hobbit. The main duo are in constant danger of either being captured, discovered by the enemy or being Driven to Madness by the Ring. A war is shown in more detail with both sides taking noticeable deaths. And the tone has a more dismal and hopeless feel to it for most of the runtime.
  • Decoy Protagonist: While the Lord of the Rings books put the main focus on Frodo Baggins, the animated adaptation instead puts the main focus on Samwise's perspective, making his decisions the ones that drive the story.
  • Demoted to Extra: Legolas and Gimli do appear very briefly in a few scenes one being in Aragon's flashback, a few shots during the battle scenes, and can be seen during the parade, neither of them have any lines. For that matter, Aragorn has less than a dozen spoken lines either, and he's the title character. Eomer only appears as a voiceless background character. Faramir also appears right at the end with no explanation.
  • Disneyfication: Compared to the original text, there is more of an attempt to include musical numbers with mixed results, light-hearted scenes, a brief dream sequence of orcs being friendly to Sam and Frodo, and the violence is toned down from the original material.
  • The Dragon: The Witch-King is the chief servant of Sauron and his lead field commander.
  • Evil Laugh:
    • The Mouth of Sauron delivers one when he returns to Mordor. The Witch-King has a pretty good one as well.
    • Frodo has an absolutely chilling one when he gives into the temptation of the Ring.
  • Evolutionary Retcon: Aside from the Stock Footage of Thranduil from The Hobbit, the appearance of the Elves has been revised to have them looking much more like humans (as one can tell from Legolas' few appearances).
  • Final Solution: Sam's Final Temptation, in which he conquers Mordor and turns it into a vast garden, includes turning the Orcs there into apparently non-sapient animals and it feels chillingly like genocide.
  • The Final Temptation: Sam is tempted to claim the ring, lead an army to claim the Dark Tower for his own, and turn Mordor into a vast garden paradise.note  "Hail, Samwise The Strong! The sun shines for thee alone!"
    • Frodo's confrontation in the Cracks of Doom is drawn out, stretching and deforming the timeline quite a bit, since he apparently claims the ring and wanders around Mount Doom for quite awhile while the story proceeds. Oddly, it's portrayed as a disaster if Sam should put on the ring in sight of Mount Doom (as in the book) but Frodo can do so and all that happens is the quest gets derailed with Sam wandering around the inside of the volcano looking for him! (The book makes perfectly clear that Sauron becomes aware of the Ring's location as soon as Frodo puts it on, but Barad-Dur is some distance ...variously estimated at 10 to 30 miles ... from Orodruin and even Sauron can only move so fast.)
    • "BEHOLD! THE GARDENS OF MY DELIGHT!!" Aww... Dark Lord Samwise is so cute.
  • Flaming Sword: During Sam's Imagine Spot while the One Ring is tempting him, he envisions himself wielding a burning sword.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: The Cracks of Doom
  • Foregone Conclusion: Unlike the book, the movie begins with Frodo narrating the events at the 129th birthday celebration of Bilbo Baggins, accompanied by Sam and Gandalf, already revealing that all of them survived this adventure...but not quite unscathed, as Bilbo notices his missing finger while he's lighting a pipe.
  • Foreshadowing: "Begone and trouble me no more! You ever touch me again, you shall be cast yourself into the fire of Doom!" The Ring is speaking to Gollum through Frodo. Later, when Gollum does get his hands back on the Ring, both he and it plummet into the lava.
  • Giant Eye of Doom: This is the first instance of making the Great Eye a physical thing. In the book, it's more of a metaphor and symbol for Sauron's power. While it's still used in that capacity (the Shadow's emblem is a red-rimmed, red-irised, black-sclera'd eye shooting a trio of Eye Beams), when we see Barad-Dûr, it's surmounted by a disturbingly well-detailed flaming eyeball that looks like a second sun.
  • Gratuitous Disco Sequence: Orcs groove out to the funky bass riffs of "Where There's a Whip There's a Way". Lampshaded: "I can't! I can't continue!" — "I'd rather be singin' a good old hobbit song myself..."
  • How We Got Here: To Bilbo's birthday party? And how did Frodo lose a finger?
    Minstrel: Why does he have nine fingers?
    Minstrel: Where is the ring of doom?
  • Humble Goal: Sam wants to get the quest done so he can go home and marry his girlfriend. This is also how he beats the Ring: it can only get to him through his Call to Agriculture, since he's quite content otherwise. His "I Want" Song points this out
    I don't want it all, just part of wonderful
    What do I need, when you get right down to it?
    Just a garden and seed, and the love to pursue it."
  • "I Want" Song: Subverted, it's an "I DON'T want" song. "Less can be More" is about rejecting the delusions of grandeur the Ring invokes because Sam already has everything he needs to be happy.
  • Large Ham:
    • As well as Gandalf, Denethor, and well over half the cast. Particularly entertaining is Gandalf and Denethor's epic Ham-to-Ham Combat in Denethor's suicide scene, some of which is verbatim from the book.
    Denethor: And all shall be ended... Ash and smoke blown a-way on the wind!
    Gandalf: [bellowing] All shall not be ended!
  • Lighter and Softer: In comparison with the book and the previous adaptation of The Lord of the Rings done by Ralph Bakshi. The cruelty of the orcs, for example, has been toned down significantly and whenever characters, even orcs, die, it is never another character who kills them. They almost always die by falling.
  • Lyrical Dissonance: The line about Bilbo's enemies knowing "the power of the hobbit and his Ring" is accompanied by an image of a terrified Bilbo falling into an abyss.
  • Made-for-TV Movie: It's frustratingly obvious where the commercials are supposed to go.
  • Man Hug
  • Melancholy Musical Number: It's so Easy not to Try, which is about how just drifting through life sounds easy, but is mere survival; as opposed to the rich life that comes from facing adversity and making friends.
  • Mundane Utility: Sam uses Sting as a rudimentary torch while searching for Frodo at the Crack of Doom.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Sauron outside of being described as the Big Bad of the conflict, never makes a physical appearance and only his eye, that looks more like an eerie version of the sun appears. Making him more ominous and foreboding.
  • Our Orcs Are Different:
    • Visually, they look noticeably different from the Goblins in The Hobbit, a case of Art Shift. A few of the old-style goblins are mixed in, suggesting this is simply a more diverse force. The diversity of their builds is actually a plot point at one point: This version of the orcs has so many odd builds that an orc slavedriver mistook Frodo and Sam for orcs even up close.
    • Thematically, they differ significantly from the "standard" Tolkien-inspired orcs in that they're more clearly Punch-Clock Villains rather than Always Chaotic Evil - there were hints of this in Tolkien, but the movie is much more explicit about it, even giving them a song about how they don't want to go to war but are being forced to by the Dark Lord.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Sam and Frodo are half the size of orcs, have radically different skin tones, hair tones, and facial structures, lack horns, fangs, and cat-like eyes, and have their hairy hobbit feet plainly visible, but if they're wearing orc armor it's convincing enough for the slavedriver. Of course, it's possible that considering how varied the real orcs are in this version, he might have just thought they were scrawny.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation:
    • Made for TV after the failure of Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings by a completely different studio. It attempts to adapt the work, with no reference to the previous two titles, which results in a very disjointed effort. But individual scenes like Éowyn's confrontation with the Witch-King are adapted almost word for word from the book.
    • At the end of the piece, Gandalf asserts that the Hobbits will grow taller with each generation and merge with the race of Men. This is not a Tolkien-derived idea, but purely from the scriptwriter.
  • Prehistoric Animal Analogue: This version of the giant elephant-like mumakil are based on wooly mammoths.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: The orcs, according to the "whip-song".
    ''A crack on the back says we're gonna fight. // We're gonna march all day and night and more. // For we are the slaves of the Dark Lord's war.
  • Scenery Porn: The backgrounds and establishing shots are gorgeous and highly detailed, fitting the storybook nature of the plot. Mordor never looked so terrifyingly beautiful.
  • Second-Hand Storytelling: All action taken from The Return of the King is described as a series of Flashbacks.
  • Silence, You Fool!: Aragorn, when he and his army arrive at the gates of Gondor.
  • Stock Sound Effects: The Witch-King's ride oddly makes random cries of various monsters from Ultraman.
  • A Taste of the Lash: The orcs sing a song about how much they hate being whipped.
  • Travelling at the Speed of Plot: A rather glaring example, thanks to mangling Tolkien's timetables so Frodo and Sam manage to reach Mount Doom before the Battle of the Pelennor Fields ends, Sam somehow spends several days wandering inside Orodruin so Aragorn can get to the Black Gate in time.
  • Villain Song:
    • Of the Punch-Clock Villain variety. "Where There's A Whip There's A Way", all about orcs forced to march into battle.
    • "The Towers of the Teeth" is all about how the forces of the Shadow have the forces of the Light exactly where they want 'em.
  • Vocal Dissonance: The Witch-King shows up using the Black Tongue, and appearing as a silent and very frightening figure for the most part. Then he appears to Gandalf and sounds like a mix of Starscream and Skeletor, and intimidation is quickly forgotten.
  • What Have I Done?: Frodo in Cirith Ungol after the Ring influences him into treating Sam harshly.
    Oh, Sam, what have I said? What have I done? Forgive me!
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Sam turns an instance of anti-orc discrimination (and the hatred orcs have for humans) to his own purposes by manipulating two groups of Sauron's forces into fighting each other.
  • Unusual Halo: The elf mage Elrond has a halo of sparklies circling his head just above eyebrow level. His home at Rivendell goes unmolested by the Nazgul while Frodo and the One Ring are there.
  • Warning Song: "The Bearer of the Ring," which is about a certain evil, circular MacGuffin that's trying to corrupt everyone who handles it.
  • Whip of Dominance: As Frodo and Sam make their way across Mordor, they encounter an army of Slave Mooks Orcs singing a marching song "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way" note . The lyrics have the orcs lamenting that they don't want to march off to battle but their commander's whip, which cracks at the end of each line, compels them forward. At one point they even refer to themselves as the slaves of the Dark Lord. While the song is very goofy, it serves to illustrate the oppressive hierarchy of orc society.
    We don't want to go to war today,
    But the Lord of the Lash says, "Nay, nay, nay"!
    We're gonna march all day, all day, all day!
    For where there's a whip, there's a way!
  • Wingding Eyes: Frodo's animesque eyes (even larger than Elijah Wood's) go from Chibi to scary when he wields the Power of The Ring, causing him to appear tall and brightly lit, Saiyan-style, and the pupils of his eyes become flames! This is a slight exaggeration from the book, where Frodo does indeed appear to grow into a powerful figure (like Galadriel and Gandalf in the live-action films) when asserting control over Gollum.
  • The X of Y: Twice over, just like the book: The Lord of the Rings, and The Return of the King.