The Return of the King (1980 film)

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The Return of the King
The Return of the King, 1980 film.jpg
Original VHS release cover
Distributed by American Broadcasting Company (TV)
Warner Bros. [1]
Directed by Jules Bass
Arthur Rankin Jr.
Produced by Masaki Ihzuka
Written by Romeo Muller
Starring Orson Bean
John Huston
William Conrad
Roddy McDowall
Theodore Bikel
Music by Maury Laws
Production company Topcraft
Rankin/Bass Productions
Country US
Language English
Release date May 11, 1980
Running time 98 minutes

The Return of the King (also known as The Return of the King: A Story of the Hobbits), is a 1980 animated musical television film created by Rankin/Bass and Topcraft. The film is an adaptation of the The Return of the King, the third book in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Due to marketing by Warner Bros., the film is often credited by fans as the unofficial sequel to Ralph Bakshi's 1978 animated film J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, which is based on the first two volumes of the book. According to rumors, Rankin/Bass decided to do the project upon hearing that Bakshi's sequel finishing The Lord of the Rings was going to be left unmade. However, Rankin/Bass had always planned on making a sequel based on The Return of the King as their follow-up project to The Hobbit.[1]

The special aired on ABC on Sunday, May 11, 1980. Critical and fan reaction to The Return of the King was lukewarm.[2]


Further information: Plot of the novel

During the 129th birthday celebration for Bilbo Baggins in Rivendell, Frodo, Bilbo's nephew, tells the story of his quest to destroy the One Ring.

Frodo begins his story with Samwise Gamgee, his friend and companion, treading through Mordor as Ring-bearer in Frodo's absence, as Frodo is being held captive in the orc-fortress of Cirith Ungol. During his journey, Sam begins to question his thoughts about claiming the Ring himself, but being humble, he never gives in to the treacherous temptations. In due course, he progresses back to Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo.

Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf the White and the hobbit Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith, the capital of the country of Gondor, to warn Denethor, the Steward of the Throne, about the upcoming war—only to discover that the Steward has lost his mind by believing the war will be the end of mankind, thus ordering his own execution. Gandalf begins to despair, saying there is no hope unless the One Ring is destroyed. But he believes that Frodo is gone, and with him, the Ring. Pippin and Gandalf watch the siege of the city with grief and hopelessness.

Back at Cirith Ungol, Sam rescues Frodo and returns the Ring. The two then continue on to finish their quest at Mount Doom, only to be attacked by their past guide, Gollum. As Sam holds Gollum off, Frodo makes it to the Crack of Doom. But at the Crack, Frodo is finally unable to resist the power of the Ring any longer and claims it for his own. At the same time, Gondor's neighboring country, Rohan, helps it claim victory in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, though Lord Théoden is slain. Then, Aragorn finally returns and makes plans to meet the forces of Mordor in combat, despite the fact that they are vastly outnumbered.

After days of searching for Frodo in Mount Doom, Sam discovers Gollum and Frodo fighting over the Ring, which results in Gollum biting off Frodo's finger to claim it. While dancing with joy at the retrieval of his "Precious", Gollum loses his footing and falls into the fire, taking the Ring with him. With the destruction of the Ring, Sauron, the Dark Lord, is defeated. Sam and Frodo are rescued by the Eagles from the erupting Mount Doom. A few months later, Aragorn is crowned King of Gondor. The film concludes back in the present with Frodo agreeing to accompany Bilbo, Gandalf, and Lord Elrond as they leave Middle-earth. He gives the Red Book (consisting of Bilbo's memoirs with some spare pages) to Sam, assuring him that a good life is still in store for him. Gandalf says that hobbits are not so different from Man, and foretells that when generations of people read the story, they would wonder: "Is there really hobbit in me? Is there?"



Orson Bean returned as the voice of the older Bilbo Baggins, as well as that of the story's hero, Frodo Baggins. John Huston came back as well, as the wizard Gandalf, and co-starring with them were: William Conrad as Denethor, Roddy McDowall as Samwise Gamgee, Theodore Bikel as Aragorn, and reprising his role of Gollum, Brother Theodore. Rankin/Bass stalwart Paul Frees replaced Cyril Ritchard 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 Éowyn; and Glenn Yarbrough returned as principal vocalist, billed here as simply "the Minstrel of Gondor". Thurl Ravenscroft also served in the chorus.


The film has garnered mixed reviews from modern sources. Charles Cassidy, of Common Sense media gave it a score of 3/5, and said, "Cartoon tale is darker, more complex than others in series".[citation needed] Steven D. Greydanus of Decent Films Guide gave it a C, and said, "Works even less well than The Hobbit, which really is a children's story… overbearing folk-ballad soundtrack doesn't even gesture lyrically to Tolkien's poetry".[citation needed] It currently holds a score of 67% on Rotten Tomatoes.[3]


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. 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. Other omissions in the Rankin/Bass version include the characters of Gimli, Legolas, Arwen, and Saruman. Aragorn is present but he has very little dialogue or screentime.

Home Media[edit]

The animated The Return of the King was available on DVD from Warner Bros., both individually and as a "boxed trilogy" with the Rankin/Bass's The Hobbit and Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings. It is now out of print. It was released on a Remastered Deluxe edition DVD on July 22, 2014 by Warner Home Video.


  1. ^ J.W. Braun, The Lord of the Films (ECW Press, 2009)
  2. ^ Tolkien Online: The Return of the King
  3. ^ Rotten Tomatoes page

External links[edit]