In 1980, following in the footsteps of The Hobbit, which preceded it by 3 years, The Return of the King debuted as a Rankin Bass made-for-TV special. After The Hobbit, the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings theatrical movie departed from the cute and chubby look of the TV project into a dark and dingy world. The movie fared ok, but it ended half way through the story, and no follow up was made. Enter Return of the King. I dont know if this special was made partly to satisfy fans left hanging by the LOTRs movie, but it doesn't really pick up where the other left off. It does, however, finish the tale in the nice and cuddly style of the Hobbit.
The movie opens with Frodo recounting his journey through Mordor to uncle Bilbo around Elrond's table. In fact, most of this movie is about Frodo's half of the Return of the King story. Hardly any time is given to the magnificent battle at Minis Tirith. Herein is the movies greatest problem. Even though this project was made 25 years before the Peter Jackson version, it will forever onward pale in comparison. The live action ROTK is one of the greatest movies ever made, and whether or not it is fair, the TV version is inferior in every way. There are some cool things in the TV film though. The design of Minis Tirith must surely have motivated the design in Peter Jackson movies, as it is spot on. Also, the music of the TV movie is quite nice.
Glenn Yarbrough, man-sheep hybrid, returns from the Hobbit to "baa" some more songs. Also, the orc marching anthem "where there's a whip, there's a way" is unbelievably awesome (It also was an excuse to recycle animation 3 or more times). Unfortunately, the songs are not enough to rescue the film from its slow and plodding plot focused on two Hobbits sneaking through Mordor, and the Kings returns with a mere B-.
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