Flix for Short: The Hobbit (1966)

First Animated Hobbit - directed by Gene Deitch, produced by Rembrandt Films

Long thought lost, Gene Deitch’s 1966 adaptation of The Hobbit has made its way online. This beautiful and at times psychedelic 12-minute short is like looking through an older relative’s favorite picture books. “We had taken some liberties with the story that a few years later would be grounds for burning at the stake,” Deitch writes. He then jokes, “I could Hollywoodize as well as the next man.”

Deitch completed the short in just one month with the help of Czech illustrator Adolf Born and others. Why so short a timeframe? Producer William Snyder had exclusive film rights from the Tolkien estate, but better offers were being presented to the estate after the Lord of the Rings books became popular. In order to renew his rights, Snyder had to deliver a full-color adaptation (note the loophole: not “feature-length”) of The Hobbit. Deitch writes:

All he had to do was to order me to destroy my own [feature-length Hobbit] screenplay — all my previous year’s work, and hoke up a super-condensed scenario on the order of a movie preview, (but still tell the entire basic story from beginning to end), and all within 12 minutes running time — one 35mm reel of film. Cheap. I had to get the artwork done, record voice and music, shoot it, edit it, and get it to a New York projection room [from Prague] on or before June 30th, 1966! I should have told him to shove it, but I was basically his slave at the time. It suddenly became an insane challenge.

Deitch’s full reminiscences on Snyder and this animated version of The Hobbit are worth a read. Be sure to check them out at Gene Deitch’s official website.

[Gene Deitch via Cartoon Brew]

Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.