Producer Jules Bass died the other day. If the name isn’t immediately familiar, it’s because people are probably more familiar with his name in the context of his partnership with Arthur Rankin, Jr, known as Rankin-Bass. Those two produced some of the classics of animation in the mid-to-late 20th century, including Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. For me, the best thing they did was their animated adaptation of The Hobbit, in 1977. I remember watching it on teevee, and then a year or two later going to a screening of it with my sister at our local library. (This, I believe, was when we lived in Hillsboro, OR.)
I’ve watched a lot of Rankin-Bass stuff over the years, but that adaptation of The Hobbit ranks with Star Wars in its influence on my tastes after I saw it. I suspect that my love of epic fantasy starts right there, with that film; a few years later I would read the actual book and notice all the material left out: Beorn, the whole matter of the Arkenstone, and the foreboding stuff regarding Gandalf and his concern about “the Necromancer” (who would later turn out to be Sauron, a.k.a., Sir Not-Appearing-In-This-Film). But that animated film really does The Hobbit justice in a lot of ways: it gets the tone and feel right, capturing Bilbo Baggins’s reluctance to go with these thirteen dwarves and one wizard on “an adventure”: Hobbits just don’t do that sort of thing! And yet, on some level, Bilbo actually not only wants to go on the adventure, he’s excited by it, and before long the various travails have Bilbo turning out to be the most resourceful person in the entire party.
It’s interesting to me, looking back, to note the very short length of time–just a few years long–in which I was exposed to so much of what would guide me in all the days since. In just a handful of years came Star Wars, Tolkien via the animated The Hobbit, Superman: the Movie, and at the end of that run, in 1981 or so, I read John Bellairs’s The House with a Clock In Its Walls. In the middle of that was Moonraker, and my introduction to James Bond. And through all that, my sister was a burgeoning musician, so I heard a lot of classical music in that period…and John Denver was a huge star…and on and on and on. An entire life of tastes and obsessions, kindled within three, four, five years or so. Jules Bass was a big part of that.
In his memory, here is the title song from The Hobbit, “The Greatest Adventure”. It’s really quite a fine song, in that late-70s folkish kind of way; it’s somehow both wistful and optimistic at the same time.
I remember watching this in its original run. It had a BIG influence on me, not least encouraging me to find a copy of “The Hobbit” and read it (I think I was in third grade; I remember at some point my dad asking me if I found the book ‘scary.’ No, I did not, not at all, it was EXCITING…..on a re-read in adulthood, I realized yes, yikes, it IS scary in places, did not like all the underground-trapped stuff).
I also miss that “wistful optimism” thing. I was a kid in the 1970s so I recognize my nostalgia might be colored by the fact that my whole life was ahead of me then, and I had relatively little life experience, and I grew up in a pretty secure situation but…..I don’t FEEL that same optimism in pop cultural stuff now; it seems either there’s a certain degree of doomerism, or a sense of “I’ve got mine and I’m doing fine, forget about you.” I remember a sort of weird hopefulness in the 1970s that I don’t see now.