The first film treatment of J.R.R. Tolkien‘s The Hobbit has an interesting story attached to it. No, not the talk of Bilbo Baggins, who sets out from Bad End with a company of thirteen dwarves to bring an end to the dragon Smaug. This is the story of Princess Mika and General Torin Oakenshield of Dale, who set out to recruit Bilbo because of a prophecy about a Hobbit’s role in ending Slag the Dragon. It is also the story of producer William Snyder, who desperately tried to hold onto his license to Tolkien’s characters and make out like a, well, like a burglar.
In an excerpt from Deitch’s autobiography found at Animation World Network, the animator claims the original plan was to create a feature-length animated Hobbit film. But after Snyder had a disastrous meeting with 20th Century Fox, the plan was scuttled. Soon after, The Lord of the Rings hit paperback and was becoming a huge success. Tolkien was being courted by the major studios to make a Rings feature and Snyder saw the value in reselling the rights. Instead of a feature, he instructed Deitch to create the 12 minute version because all the contract required was a “full-color motion picture” version of The Hobbit to retain the film rights to Middle-earth.
Deitch’s adaptation greatly condenses the story and changes names, but it still manages to depict set pieces like the Stone Trolls — called “Groans” here — and Bilbo’s (riddle-less) encounter with Gollum, er … “Guloom.” And, curiously, the short film makes the Arkenstone as important as Peter Jackson did in his Hobbit film trilogy nearly 50 years later.
Produced in less than a month, Snyder’s Hobbit allowed him to hold onto his option and sell the film rights back to the Tolkien estate for a grand total of $100,000 dollars. Deitch received nothing for his work.
Watch the full short below and get a sense of how easily the story can change and yet still hit many of the same key beats, even if Bilbo’s ultimate in fate in Dale will leave you saying “hu-wah!?”