The Hobbit Condensed

Gene Deitch's "The hobbit"
Gene Deitch's "The hobbit"

Some months ago, the cartoonbrew blog posted a YouTube video that had unearthed a long-lost pilot for a Howdy Doody cartoon film series, made on spec for “Buffalo Bob” Smith and NBC by animator Gene Deitch (“Tom Terrific” among many others). That film was thought lost for many years until someone unearthed a copy and posted it to YouTube.

Now another long-lost film has resurfaced, this one with a slightly bizarre history. But it offers insight to the weird world of movie making. The link below has the actual YouTube, and I am encouraging you to visit the fun that is Cartoon Brew to see the video. But the condensed version of this condensed version is this: in 1964, when J.R.R. Tolkein was just another fantasy author on Ballantine’s backlist, the author’s estate sold the movie rights to “The Hobbit” to a producer named William Snyder, who had done some work with Deitch and had picked up Deitch’s Oscar for his cartoon “MONRO” in 1961. Snyder pitches Deitch on the project, he works up a screenplay, and makes a pitch for a full-blown animated venture to 20th Century Fox, which turns them down flat.

Meantime, by 1966, “Lord of the Rings” has been issued in paperback and Tolkien is now a cult favorite. J.R.R.’s estate gets a bigger offer for “The Hobbit,” and prepares to let their contract with Snyder expire within a month, so they don’t have to pay him anything.

Snyder notes that the contract only stipulated that he deliver “a full-color film adaptation of ‘The Hobbit'” by deadline time. No mention of how long it had to be, nor how GOOD it had to be. So Snyder tells Deitch to tear up his script and produce a quickie animated version on one reel of film within 30 days. Which he does. Note that the movie is not so much animated as it is a still life with camera pans. But Snyder delivers a film, Tolkien’s estate learns a valuable lesson about Hollywood contract, and “The Hobbit” and the whole “Lord of the Rings” trilogy passes through several hands over the next 25 years, briefly emerging as a made-for-TV cartoon and an odd bit by Ralph Bakshi, before emerging full-blown with Peter Jackson.

I’m just glossing in details. Click the link below for more of the story.

Rediscovered: Long-Lost Version of “The Hobbit” by Gene Deitch

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