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What's with the name?

Allow us to explain.

There And Back Again

Beautiful Long-Lost Hobbit Cartoon by Tom & Jerry Animator

How did the world wind up with this twelve minute long version of The Hobbit, written and directed by Gene Deitch (creator of some of the most commercially successful Tom & Jerry cartoons), designed by Adolf Born (premiere Czech illustrator), storyboarded, drawn, cut together, narrated and scored in no more than a month?

Why, the unexpected success of The Lord of the Rings and the Tolkien estate’s initial ignorance of film contracts. Here’s the story:

In 1967, filmmaker William L. Snyder approached his collaborator Gene Deitch with a nearly unknown 1927 children’s novel called The Hobbit, informed him that he had acquired the film rights to the story, and that he’d like him to start working on a feature length adaptation of it. Charmed by the story, Deitch went to it with gusto:

We were well into the Hobbit screenplay when The Lord of The Rings came out in paperback editions. Having assumed there was only The Hobbit to contend with, and following Snyder’s wish, we had taken some liberties with the story that a few years later would be grounds for burning at the stake. For example, I had introduced a series of songs, changed some of the characters’ names, played loosely with the plot, and even created a girl character, a Princess no less, to go along on the quest, and to eventually overcome Bilbo Baggins’ bachelorhood! I could Hollywoodize as well as the next man…

When I did manage to get and read “THE LORD OF THE RINGS,” I realized I was dealing with something far more magnificent than what appeared in THE HOBBIT alone, and I then back-spaced elements from The Lord into my script so as to logically allow for a sequel.

Then, Snyder went to Hollywood to attempt to drum up some financial backing for the film, with Deitch following afterward.

By the time we arrived in New York, however, Snyder had already blown the deal by asking 20th for too much money. Tolkien’s name hadn’t yet reached them either. I had a fat script, but no other film companies were then interested. It was crushing. Even today, when I flip through my screenplay, and can almost see the fabulous scenes I had imagined, I feel a heavy regret.

That was all that Deitch heard of the project, until, some months later, Snyder called him up and requested that he immediately start work on a twelve minute version of the entire story… and have it read in a month

What had happened was that in the meantime, the Tolkien craze had exploded, and the value of the film rights reached outer space. Suddenly Bill had the possibility of getting a hefty profit without having to finance or produce anything!

Why invest money, plus a year-and-a-half of work, when you can make money without all that sweat? Not only had the Tolkien estate lawyers given Snyder the rights for peanuts, but in their ignorance of film terminology, they had left a million-dollar-loop-hole in the contract: It merely stated that in order to hold his option for THE LORD OF THE RINGS, Snyder had to “produce a full-color motion picture version” of THE HOBBIT by June 30th 1966. Please note: It did not say it had to be an animated movie, and it not say how long the film had to be!

All Snyder had to do to keep the rights, was fulfill his contract. If he had the rights, he could sell them to the highest bidder. Deitch assembled just about the best talent that could be considered in the circumstances, nixed almost all actual animation from the adaptation, sliced the story liberally, and managed to turn out what is actually a very cute short film… if an understandably loose interpretation of The Hobbit.

After a quick test screening – and Snyder was duly impressed – I ran downstairs and stopped people on the sidewalk, asking them if they would like to see a preview of a new animated film, for only 10¢ admission. I handed each willing customer a dime, which they handed back. After the screening, the few, puzzled audience members were asked to sign a paper stating that on this day of June 31, 1966, they had paid admission to see the full-color animated film, “THE HOBBIT!”

Snyder had the rights, and sold them shortly afterward for $100,000 in 1966 money.

For the rest of the story, including just how Deitch managed to do all this in a month, see his website.

(via CartoonBrew.)


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  • Frodo Baggins

    Cool. Good ol’ weird Eastern European animation.

  • Anonymous

    “motion” picture?  “animation”?  Breach of contract!  Return the money!

  • Eric Lindberg

    That was bizarre but kind of charming. Other than some name changes and plot abridgements, I rather enjoyed it.

  • Egypt Urnash

    Gene Deitch made some very unique Tom & Jerry cartoons, but he is by no means “the creator of some of the most successful Tom & Jerry cartoons”. That honor belongs to Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera, of later Hanna-Barbera fame. Bill and Joe created the duo at MGM in 1939, with the first short released in 1940. They made 114 cartoons about them in the next twenty years, winning no less than SEVEN Oscars.

    Much later, a few years after Bill and Joe had left MGM to form their well-known TV animation studio, MGM wanted some more T&J cartoons made. They ended up contracting out to Deitch’s studio in Prague for them. He made 13. They won no awards.

    Deitch is on record as not actually liking T&J much. He and his studio only saw a tiny handful of cartoons for reference. The budget was minimal. The resulting shorts are some of the most… um… *distinctive* T&J shorts made. They are not among the best. But they are distinctive. The soundtracks are spare. Sound effects are weird electronic noises. The cartoons are not timed or paced like any other short you’ve ever seen. They are, in a word, *broken*.

    There is a hypnotic appeal to this sheer *wrongness*, but this is an appeal that’s really only available to the jaded connoisseur of animation, similar to the way some hardened music fans claim to actually, unironically, like the Shags. Deitch’s T&J shorts are outsider art. If you think you’re ready for them, I suggest the first one delivered, Switchin’ Kitten. It’s a nightmarish introduction to the alien world of Deitch’s T&J work.

    He deserves a place in animation history for his lovely work in pioneering highly-stylized animation at UPA. But nobody would ever call him “the creator of some of the most successful Tom & Jerry cartoons”.

  • Torsten Adair

    According to Wikipedia, Deitch’s Tom & Jerry shorts dethroned Looney Tunes 16-year record in 1961 and 1962 as the highest grossing series.  So they were commercially successful, if not critically or fanatically popular.  

    Even Chuck Jones’s Tom & Jerry cartoons are subject to criticism. 

  • Jen D

    That was like the strangest/maddest Jackanory episode ever (not counting Rik Mayall acting out George’s Marvellous Medicine)! lol

    Brilliant, wrong but yeah brilliant & quite sweet. Can imagine Tolkien/Hobbit/LOTR experts/purist heads exploding at all the changes, watching this (not literally, that’d be terrible ‘-) .