Any film adaptation of a Tolkein epic is going to have to make some major edits if it clocks in at twelve minutes. The elaborate history of Middle Earth and the sagas that shape it are so painstakingly constructed, a totally faithful movie would just have been boring as hell—there’s the medium to consider. However, this version of The Hobbit, rendered as a 1966 cartoon fairy tale, barely even uses the book as a framework. The producer actually obtained film rights before The Hobbit became popular, and after his attempt to produce a feature-length movie fell through, he was left with a contract that still required him to create a “full-color film” to retain them.
Spotting a loophole, he realized no specific length of color film was mentioned, so he threw together what you see below. Avoiding legal breach with a twelve minute cartoon, he was then able to sell the rights for roughly $100,000—a pittance for what he could have made, of course, but nothing to sneeze at back then, either. Of course, this leaves us with a totally random film, with a hastily tacked on princess, a total deficit of dwarves, and an inexplicable series of name-changes—goblins are “groans” and “grablins,” Gollum is as “Goloom,” and Smaug is “Slag.”
Taken as an cartoon that has nothing save for the title to do with The Hobbit, the short actually does quite well for itself. The narration is compelling, the story is constructed well, and the classic Gene Deitch animation is great—distinctively Eastern European work from Czech illustrator Adolf Born is jagged and erratic one minute, ethereal and shimmering the next.
I’d say it’s a must for any Tolkien completist, but only if you can refrain from having a nerdfit with all the liberties taken.