The Return of the King (1980)

return of the king poster 1980 movie
5.0 Overall Score
Story: 4/10
Acting: 6/10
Visual: 7/10

Like some of the art

Garbled partial adaptation

Movie Info

Movie Name:  The Return of the King

Studio:  Rankin/Bass

Genre(s):  Animated/Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Action/Adventure/Family

Release Date(s):  May 11, 1980

MPAA Rating:  Not Rated


We all go a little mad sometimes, Sam

It is Bilbo’s birthday and his nephew Frodo has come to celebrate.  With Frodo’s arrival, Bilbo is about to hear the story of how Frodo lost his finger and the ring Bilbo loved.  Frodo tells his tale of the nine fingers and his voyage to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mordor with Samwise Gamgee…and the epic battle for Middle-Earth!

Directed by Jules Bass and Arthur Rankin, Jr., The Return of the King is a loose adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s massive The Lord of the Rings published from 1954 to 1955 and taking its title from the last book in the trilogy.  The film is a follow-up to Rankin/Bass’s adaptation of The Hobbit in 1977.  The TV animated film aired on CBS on May 11, 1980 but was not as well received as the previous film.

The Hobbit was a childhood favorite due to good feelings surrounding the book.  I never really got into The Lord of the Rings as a kid since the book is targeted to an older audience.  It is bulky and sometimes difficult to read.  The movie had this all going against it to start out with and never overcame it.


My precious!

The first part of the movie that struggles is that the story is so dense and long.  There is a lot of territory to cover and this movie ops out of most of the first and second books (many perceive this is because Ralph Bakshi adapted those two parts in 1978 in his animated The Lord of the Rings).  It is required to give some background on the story and these are presented as sideways flashes to what’s going on with Aragorn, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf and company, but these portions of the film are quite distracting since it is hard to follow what has occurred with no background for the characters.

The primary story for the movie is the journey of Frodo and Sam.  This was always the more interesting portion of The Lord of the Rings to me, but it is rather shattered and hard to get any real feel for the drama and suspense.  When the story finally gets to Mount Doom, there is a strange lull in the story in which you go back to the other story and it takes away from the action which finally is occurring.


No matter what version, I always found this part sad

The animation for the movie is fun and akin to The Hobbit.  It was done by Topcraft which evolved into Studio Ghibli.  The anime style for the story isn’t as anime as many productions so it does have a bit more wide appeal but I don’t know that everyone would like it.  Fortunately, the movie does continue to cast great voice actors with Orson Bean and John Huston returning among others, but the movie also brings in William Conrad and Casey Kasem.

The Return of the King is rather disappointing movie.  I would have liked to see Rankin/Bass attempt something more like Peter Jackson’s version with two or three films to tell the whole story.  If the movie had been done that way, I think it would have worked like The Hobbit despite the darker tone and more adult material.  Stick with Peter Jackson’s versions of this story but pick up Rankin/Bass’s The Hobbit for the first part of the story…avoid the story of Frodo of the Nine Fingers.

Related Link:

The Hobbit (1977)

The Lord of the Rings (1978)

The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey (2012)

The Hobbit:  The Desolation of Smaug (2013)

The Hobbit:  The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)

The Lord of the Rings:  The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

The Lord of the Rings:  The Two Towers (2002)

The Lord of the Rings:  The Return of the King (2003)

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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