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The Return of the King (1980)

TV Movie  |  Not Rated  |   |  Animation, Action, Adventure  |  11 May 1980 (USA)
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Ratings: 5.7/10 from 2,517 users  
Reviews: 53 user | 17 critic

Two Hobbits struggle to destroy the Ring in Mount Doom while their friends desperately fight evil Lord Sauron's forces in a final battle.


(novels), (adapted for the screen)
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Cast overview:
Aragorn (voice)
Lord Denethor (voice)
Gandalf (voice)
Samwise Gamgee (voice)
Brother Theodore ...
Gollum / Smeagol (voice) (as Theodore)
Paul Frees ...
Don Messick ...
John Stephenson ...
Sonny Melendrez ...
Eowyn / Dernhelm (voice)
Glenn Yarbrough ...
The Minstrel (voice)


This film adapts the final book of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy where the Hobbits, Frodo and Samwise, struggle through the barren land of Mordor to destroy the Ruling Ring in Mount Doom. At the same time, Gandalf and the others wage a desperate battle against the forces of Sauron at Minas Tirith, but Sauron seems to have the upper hand while the source of his power, the Ring, slowly threatens to corrupt its bearers. Written by Kenneth Chisholm <>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


The thrilling climax to J.R.R. Tolkien's classic hobbit stories ... in animation. See more »


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

11 May 1980 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

El retorno del rey  »

Box Office


$3,000,000 (estimated)

Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See  »

Did You Know?


The characters of Gimli and Legolas do not appear in this film, despite being major characters in The Lord of the Rings (1978), and both of their fathers being characters in the previous Rankin/Bass production, 'The Hobbit (1977)(TV)'. Gimli's father is the dwarf Gloin, while Legolas's father, Thranduil, is the King of the Elves in Mirkwood. See more »


Many names of locations and characters are mispronounced: Gorgoroth as Gorogoroth, Minas Tirith as Mine-as Tirith (instead of Me-nas), Cirith Ungol as Sirith Ungol (insteaf of Kirith), Smaug as Smog (instead of Sma-ug), Sauron as Soron (instead of Sow-ron), Lebennin as LebEnnin (instead of LEbennin). See more »


Orcs: Where there's a whip there's a way, left right, left right. Where there's a whip there's a way, left right.
See more »


Referenced in Ringers: Lord of the Fans (2005) See more »

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User Reviews

The Ascent of the Animated King
4 February 2005 | by (New York City) – See all my reviews

It was the first time that Rankin/Bass had dared to take on a two-hour special. But, having plunged into Tolkien's Middle-earth once before, it was a challenge they could pull off with the expertise R/B fans had always expected of them. Hence, The Return of the King: A Story of the Hobbits, to give the film its full title.

One wonders, I'm sure, what inspired Romeo Muller to change Bilbo's age from "eleventy-one," as Tolkien wrote the number, to one hundred and twenty-nine. Still, it was a thrill having most of "The Hobbit"'s vocal contributors back: Orson Bean, John Huston, Theodore, Paul Frees, Don Messick, Glenn Yarbrough --- and adding Casey Kasem, Theodore Bikel and Sonny Melendrez to the mix, too --- to take us on the journey that Ralph Bakshi should have finished, but didn't.

Many are the tales told about how Bakshi was only given enough financing to see us through most of The Fellowship of the Ring and approximately the first half of The Two Towers. When it became apparent, though, that the second Bakshi Ring movie would never come to pass, that made it possible for the folks at Rankin/Bass to seize a golden opportunity. And this they did, as we know by now, with a vengeance. Playing the story straight, as they did with "The Hobbit," the R/B team set out to take all the best elements from Return of the King and begin the film in flashback, with Bilbo's 129th birthday party, as he, Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, Gandalf and Elrond look back at the good times and excellent adventures that culminated in the end of the Third Age of Middle-earth ..... and with it, in Gandalf's words, "the beginning of the New Age of Man."

Again, as I did with Peter Jackson's version, I will dispense with a plot synopsis, assuming that you are already familiar with the legend without having to hear me tell it to you. Among the several strange moments that one does not notice about Rankin/Bass' Return of the King occurs during the sequence in which Gollum battles Frodo for control of the One Ring of Power. In a move considered unprecedented at the time of its original showing, Rankin/Bass decided to depict this climactic showdown graphically. The closeup of Frodo's just bitten hand shaking as though it were an earthquake monitor was, for its time, the most horrifying scene R/B's animators had ever attempted. To this day, one shudders in surprise that this scene was even cleared by ABC's censors!

In place of Tolkien's original songs, Maury Laws and Jules Bass save the day again (assisted partially by Bernard Hoffer, who would later write the score cues and theme songs for R/B's classic 80s series, Thundercats, Silverhawks and The Comic Strip). "It's So Easy Not to Try," "Small Things," "Retreat!", "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way" and "The Ballad of Frodo of the Nine Fingers and the Ring of Doom" are all singable, they help the story along (indeed, in the case of "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way," it has the proverbial great beat you can dance to --- or, one presumes, torture your enemies with!) .... and they're songs you can believe in!

But no one sequence in the film is as deeply powerful visually as Aragorn's Coronation Procession, set to the film's title song. Here's something you didn't know: For one short panning scene, the animators went to Jerusalem, where they shot live-action footage of people cheering. The footage was then studied and brilliantly rotoscoped, so that it actually looks like there are citizens of Minas Tirith cheering on the coming of their King!

Once again, we see that the Rankin/Bass team were second to none in their constant efforts to share with their audiences adventures unlike anything they had previously experienced. And because they were the only production entity that had pioneered the "dramatic animated television special," they could take this type of story and put it into the context that was its rightful due.

This, then, was the power behind The Return of the King --- a simple, straightforward saga that would not bow to the attitudes of so-called sensationalism, but would nevertheless be the only Tolkien adventure that one could truly believe in.

And then, as the world knows by now, came a man named Peter Jackson. But that, again as they say, is another story.........

11 of 19 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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