ANIMATION SPIN
December 17, 2013 posted by Greg Ehrbar

“The Hobbit” on Disneyland Records

With Peter Jackson’s latest installment of The Hobbit breaking records at the box office, I thought it would be a good time to look back at the original “records” of The Hobbit: The Rankin/Bass Production on Disneyland/Vista Records.

No less than six recordings were tied to the first screen adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of The Rings prequel – four LP records and two cassette releases – produced for Rankin/Bass by Disney’s in-house record company.

HobbitBoxSet1

THE RANKIN/BASS PRODUCTION OF THE HOBBIT
Complete Original Sound Track Recording
Buena Vista Records #103 (Two 12” LP records with 11-page book / Mono / 77 minutes)
Dialogue and Music from the Original Sound Track
Disneyland Records Storyteller #3817 (One 12” LP record or cassette with 11-page book / Mono / 40 minutes)

Released in 1977. Album Producer: Jymn Magon. Film Producer/Directors: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass. Associate Producer: Masaki Izuka. Screenplay: Romeo Muller, from the Book by J.R.R. Tolkien. Music: Maury Laws. Lyrics: J.R.R. Tolkien, Jules Bass. Choral Director: Lois Winter. Sound Engineering: Bob Elder, John Curcio, Dave Iveland. Sound Effects; Tom Clack. Production Design: Arthur Rankin, Jr. Character Design: Lester Abrams.
Voices: Orson Bean (Bilbo Baggins); John Huston (Galdalf); Hans Conreid (Thorin); Theodore Gottlieb (Gollum); Cyril Ritchard (Elrond); Richard Boone (Smaug); Otto Preminger (Elvenking); Paul Frees (Bombur, Troll, Spider); John Stephenson (Bard, Dori, Great Goblin); Don Messick (Balin, Lord of the Eagles, Goblin, Troll); Jack DeLeon (Dwalin, Fili, Kili, Oin, Gloin, Nori, Bifur, Bofur, Goblin); Glenn Yarbrough, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Lee, Gene Merlino, Gloria O’Brien (Vocalists).
Songs & Verse: “The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of The Hobbit),” “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates,” “Gandalf’s Recitation,” In the Valley, Ha! Ha!,” “Down, Down to Goblin Town,” “Gollum’s Riddle,” “Roads,” “Rollin’ Down the Hole,” “Funny Little Things,” “The Mountain King’s Return,” “Misty Mountains Cold.”

The Rankin/Bass legacy has largely become their holiday specials, some of which still command high network ratings and all of which can be found somewhere on TV or home video at this time of year. Their other landmark, Mad Monster Party, has grown in stature and recognition over the years. But The Hobbit was probably the most prestigious and highest-profile production they ever undertook.

Animation fans and Tolkien enthusiasts will forever debate whether they succeeded. But when it aired Sunday night, November 27, 1977 on NBC, the ratings and the response was largely positive, and the film won the George Foster Peabody Award and the Christopher Medal. There was no Emmy nomination at all; Rankin/Bass was nominated only once, for The Little Drummer Boy Book II.

According to TV Guide, scriptwriter Romeo Muller—who had written almost all the other Rankin/Bass specials—went through numerous drafts before the final one was approved by the Tolkien estate. Arthur Rankin said Orson Bean was his first choice for the voice of Bilbo Baggins.

“I loved doing The Hobbit!” said Orson Bean on The Larry King Show. The veteran actor/humorist was a frequent guest on panel and talk shows, where he promoted the film in earnest, comparing it to Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and likening the Rankin-directed voice sessions to classic radio drama. He even appeared on the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade (also on NBC) to promote the upcoming broadcast and describe the film as a gigantic animated Smaug float blew smoke around the street.

The lavish Abrams coffee table book was certainly on many holiday gift lists (the book was also reprinted in paperback and in a concise hardcover edition). And there were records—lots of records, all on the Disneyland label and its more generic brand, Buena Vista).

“Rankin/Bass approached us to release some of their sound tracks, since they didn’t have a record label,” said Emmy winning and Grammy nominated writer/director Jymn Magon, who was Supervisor of Product Development at Disneyland/Vista. “[Record company President] Gary Krisel negotiated the deal. So we did sound track albums for two of their holiday specials, Frosty’s Winter Wonderland and ’Twas the Night Before Christmas.”

Most of the other major R/B sound tracks had already been released on other record labels, so when the highly-touted Hobbit came their way, Disney went all out with a line of products and promotional materials equivalent even to those projects originating in the Walt Disney Studios. Magon was given the voice, music and sound effects tracks, along with the script to create the various versions.

HobbitStoryteller-250The top of the line was the complete sound track of The Hobbit, a two record set boxed with an eleven-page book illustrated with stills from the movie. Interestingly, this set is only the third in the Buena Vista catalog of multi-record sound track packages, the first being Fantasia (#101) and the second Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (#102). The two-record set was nominated for a Grammy Award.

As in virtually all Rankin/Bass specials and most of their features, the audio can carry the story on its own since so much is described either through narration or dialogue, one can follow along easily. Even edited to 40 minutes, as The Hobbit was for Disneyland’s Storyteller edition (cover at right – bound with the same picture book), very little is lost without the visual, impressive as The Hobbit was in design, especially for television at that time.

One little item to listen for on either album: Hans Conried’s identical read of Thorin’s line, “Our lookout has spied something,” is used twice.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Gollum Loses the Ring to Bilbo (Sound Track)
Certainly not claiming to be anything near a Tolkien scholar, I can’t guess as to whether “Brother Theodore” originated the unmistakable Gollum voice in the Rankin/Bass version or if Andy Serkis was in any way influenced by this performance. No matter. Theodore’s Gollum is, to many, the most memorable thing about the Rankin/Bass version, with Richard Boone’s Smaug (is that “Smogg” or “Smawwg?”) coming up second. It’s also cool to hear Dr. Benton Quest destroy Smaug.


hobbitLLP368-2

THE RANKIN/BASS PRODUCTION OF THE HOBBIT
Read Along with 24-Page Book
Disneyland Records #368 (7” LLP record or cassette with 24-page book / Mono / 14 minutes)

Voices: Robert Holt (Narrator, Smaug); Corey Burton (Bilbo Baggins, Thorin, Gandalf); Jymn Magon (Incidental Goblin).

The Disneyland and Buena Vista’s read along series still thrives—albeit in different formats—to this day. These books and recordings, which began for Disney’s in-house label in 1965, have been known to help kids with their reading skills. As a kid, my mom, dad and Robie Lester were all my story readers. Let’s begin now…
“I usually wrote the read-along scripts myself,” Magon recalled, “But for the read-along adaptation of The Hobbit, I asked Don Ferguson. He also wrote the Winnie the Pooh comic strip with artist Richard Moore for ten years. Don added a lot of clever touches that I never would have thought of.”

Budget was such that the original sound track dialogue could not be used on the read-along record. So Magon directed a “studio cast” (or what Disney called a “second cast”) to perform re-created dialogue to Maury Laws sound track music and Tom Clack’s sound effects. (On both the Storyteller and the Read-Along, the music and sound effect tracks were re-mixed by Magon and company with the condensed or re-created dialogue to smooth out edits).

You may notice the abrupt cut when Narrator Bob Holt says, “This is the story of/The Hobbit.” Magon confirmed that he originally read it as “This is the story of the Rankin/Bass Production of The Hobbit,” but for some reason it was edited.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
Bilbo Meets Thorin (Disneyland/Vista Records Cast)
The Disney and Buena Vista read-alongs offered top Hollywood voice artist Corey Burton some of his first professional voice work, fresh from Daws Butler’s fabled classes. On this read-along Corey Burton’s many voices include Hans Conried’s Thorin, which developed into the official voice of Captain Hook. I love how his Thorin says “Let us go insyyde and refresh owwa-selves!”


THE RANKIN/BASS PRODUCTION OF THE HOBBIT
Original Sound Track Songs Featuring Glen Yarbrough
Buena Vista Records #5007 (12” LP / Stereo / 28 minutes)

Released in 1977. Album Producer: Jymn Magon. Film Producer/Directors: Arthur Rankin, Jr., Jules Bass. Music: Maury Laws. Lyrics: J.R.R. Tolkien, Jules Bass. Choral Director: Lois Winter. Film Sound Engineering: Bob Elder, John Curcio, Dave Iveland. Disneyland Recording Engineer: George Charouhas.
Performers include: Glen Yarbrough, John Huston, Thurl Ravenscroft, Bill Lee, Gene Merlino, Gloria O’Brien.
Songs & Verse: “The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of The Hobbit),” “In the Valley, Ha! Ha!,” “Old Fat Spider,” “Roads,” “That’s What Bilbo Baggins Hates,” “Misty Mountains Cold,” “Down, Down to Goblin Town,” “Rollin’ Down the Hole,” “Gollum’s Riddle,” “Funny Little Things,” “In the Valley, Ha! Ha! (Reprise),” “Misty Mountains Cold (Reprise).”
Instrumentals: “Roads,” “The Greatest Adventure.”
Verse: “Gandalf’s Recitation.”

hobbitster-275If you’re a fan of the Rankin/Bass house sound, particularly Maury Laws music with Jules Bass’ lyrics (and adaptations from Tolkien in this case), this is an album to have, along with the sound tracks to Mad Monster Party, The Daydreamer, Cricket on the Hearth and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. The signature Laws flourishes abound: ascending strings, assertive trombones, mighty French horns—with that touch of reverb that sets the songs away from the narrative, like a vintage TV variety song.

“Very few of these song albums were made,” said Magon. “They weren’t as widely distributed as the other Hobbit releases. We produced this as part of our contractual agreement with Rankin/Bass. We would usually only do a Storyteller and a read-along for most projects, but I think Rankin/Bass requested the box set and the song album, too.”

A music publisher even sold a book of sheet music for piano with all the songs from The Hobbit. While I can see gathering the family around to sing “The Greatest Adventure” or “Roads,” few might want to warble “Gollum’s Riddle” or “Misty Mountains Cold” (unless they’re using the latter for vocal exercises). I will, however, confess to joining in on the Mitch Miller-like “Rollin’ Down the Hole” in the car—and also chanting “Down, Down to Goblin Town” with co-workers on the way to certain business meetings.

Side One contains all four Yarbrough solos (including “Old Fat Spider,” which I don’t hear at all in the final film) and two orchestral reprises. Side Two is all Tolkien, with verses that are also heard with different musical treatment in the Peter Jackson film versions.

GIVE A LITTLE LISTEN
“The Greatest Adventure (The Ballad of The Hobbit)”
Maury Laws and Jules Bass wrote this original song as an ongoing thematic device. In a skillful way that transcends the film and can be relatable to most everyone, it points up Bilbo’s natural inertia and love of comfort versus the thrill of adventure and the discovery of one’s own capabilities. This selection, which sounds marvelous in stereo, opens the “songs-only” LP release.


HobbitDisneyPoster-600

13 Comments

  • Wow! I have had the Read-Along book and record set since it came out and would have sworn it was Hans Conreid’s voice as Thorin. (But then, Corey Burton–student of Daws Butler–had a great teacher!)

  • I have listened to my 2-record set of “The Hobbit” (Vista #103) several times over the last month. I was surprised at how easy it is to follow the story with no visuals. It really does feel like listening to a radio play. I love John Huston’s strong, steady performance as Gandalf. It’s also fun to play one of my favorite games, “Where’s Paul Frees?” It really seems like he’s everywhere! However, hearing Otto Preminger as the Elf King, totally breaks by suspension of disbelief. I expect the King to tell the dwarves, “Ve have vays of making you talk!” Thank you for this breakdown of R/B audio history. Very interesting!

    • I love playing “Where’s Paul Frees!” We also enjoy playing, “Couldn’t Paul Frees have done this other voice, too?”

  • Thanks for this, Greg. I’m always amazed that people like you know more about the records than I do – and I produced the dang things! Glad this stuff is getting written down and shared.

  • Disneyland/Vista Records also released a drawstringed burlap record tote stamped with the Hobbit and Disneyland/Vista logos and Bilbo icon. The LP Box included a sheet of iron-ons in addition to a poster (final image). The Abrams hardcover book featured illustrations by a young Walter Simonson who appropriately would go on to write and illustrate a classic run of the Mighty Thor.

    • a shame I was just born when all this was going on, or I would’ve begged my parents for this set!

  • Curiosity: On most of the covers above we see Bilbo with a tiny nose and a generally more eccentric (arty?) design; only the last poster has the actual animated Bilbo with his more standard nose, face and body.

    A case of early production art going to the merchandise team, and/or character redesign to make Bilbo more human and cute?

    • It wouldn’t surprise me if the original artwork of Bilbo done in the states looked that way before the Japanese studio involved on this decided to make the character slightly more appealing than before (if that’s what happened, I dunno, but I’m sure someone around here does).

    • Production artwork that appeared on merchandise from The Hobbit can be divided into two categories. What appears to be the earliest stage features less streamlined characters drawn in what could be watercolor or colored pencil. A few examples of this phase of artwork has the clarity of actual animation cels although none of it appears in the movie. The last image of the 24-page Readalong book of Bilbo smoking a pipe in his chair falls into this category, and looks much clearer and less sketchy than the same phase one character designs that appear elsewhere in the Readalong, the LP Box set, throughout the Abrams book, and on games, puzzles, and posters issued to coincide with the film. As was mentioned, there are several inconsistencies in production design in the primordial phase, including the Ring being set with a jewel, Smaug is green and other color changes. Oddly visible on the LP Box the Mirkwood Elves are depicted as diminutive winged fairies, and in the left hand corner above Gollum the tail and claws of what might be another dragon can be seen. Interestingly, the Fall 1977 Teachers Guide to Television for the Hobbit has an even rougher version of the LP Box (and songbook) cover, nixes Gollum and the Great Goblin, and incorporates the mystery dragon’s tail and claws into the upper portion of the tree.

      The second stage of artwork looks almost identical to the final design, and appears throughout all of the related media alongside the earlier production artwork. It can be identified by inconsistencies such as the Ring being set with a jewel and Gandalf is shown as bald when Bilbo is recruited (with a crystal wine glass in front of him). The above examples appear as fine as cel artwork while other drawings are much more loose, such as the cover of the single LP depicting Bilbo with ball and chain in tow. In addition to all of the above, what could be storyboard images are scattered throughout the Abrams book which themselves look like a mixture of category one and two production drawings.

      Finally, this little curiosity. In 1978 Milton Bradley released a 3-D The Hobbit Game with the odd subtitle, “The Adventures of Bilbo in Middle-earth from “The Lord of the Rings”" The game pieces incorporate complete rip offs of the Rankin Bass Hobbit AND Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings character designs. While allegedly the adventure of Bilbo, he and the alternate Bilbo playing pieces provided for the other 2-4 players are simply multicolored images of Frodo from Bakshi’s movie poster. The Gandalf depiction and 3/4 of the Gollum depiction are from Bakshi’s poster, while the Mirkwood Elves have the design of the Lothlorien Elves from the same film. However, the Goblin playing piece is not a Bakshi orc, but rather a copy from the Rankin Bass design. In this way Milton Bradley was able to provide the public with a Rankin Bass followup to Bakshi’s film two years before they released The Return of the King.

    • I found this article on the Lester Abrams and Topcraft designs for The Hobbit, which mentions the LP cover. Abrams’ version dates back to 1974. http://tolkiencourse.blogspot.com/p/the-artists-of-rankin-bass-hobbit.html

  • Delighted to have stumbled on your post while looking for samples of the Read Along online — it was one of my favorites as a kid and it’s fantastic to have these samples!

  • Where can we find the names of the musicians that played the score? What orchestra was on the soundtrack? Where can we find that out?

    • That is a good question. If they were using the isolated music cues under new voice actors on the Hobbit (and Return of the King) Readalongs then they must be lurking somewhere waiting for a proper release. Rick Goldschmidt, the Rankin Bass archivist and historian, gave me the impression that Maury Laws’ original orchestral scores might be available for viewing, but this was several years ago and I never heard anything more on the subject. There are some weird passages in the Hobbit, like the flutes playing descending fifths when Gandalf abandons the company at Mirkwood, and all the guitar/vibes/piano stingers, that I would love to hear without the dialogue. Also, there are some significant differences between the soundtracks for the latest WB dvd edition and the older pre-WB vhs editions (mainly missing sound effects) which need to be corrected with a better dvd reissue. It would be a good way to cash in on the live action movies and finally release the entire Laws soundtrack(s).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>