The Return of the King (1980 film)

From Tolkien Gateway
The name The Return of the King refers to more than one character, item or concept. For a list of other meanings, see The Return of the King (disambiguation).

The Return of the King (subtitled A Story of the Hobbits) is an animated adaptation of the novel by J.R.R. Tolkien which was produced by Rankin/Bass as a TV special which originally aired on ABC in the U.S. on May 11, 1980. It has since been released on VHS and DVD.

The film was created by the same team which had worked on the 1977 animated version of The Hobbit.


Actor Role(s)
Orson Bean Frodo Baggins, Bilbo Baggins
Theodore Bikel Aragorn
William Conrad Lord Denethor
John Huston Gandalf
Roddy McDowall Samwise Gamgee
Theodore Gollum/Sméagol
Paul Frees Orc, Goblin, Uruk-Hai, Captain Shagrat, Lieutenant Snaga, Orc Sergeant, Lord Elrond
Don Messick King Théoden, Easterling, The Mouth of Sauron
John Stephenson Gondorian Guard, Dwimmerlaik - The Witch-King of Angmar
Casey Kasem Meriadoc 'Merry' Brandybuck
Sonny Melendrez Peregrin 'Pippin' Took
Nellie Bellflower Éowyn/Dernhelm
Glenn Yarbrough The Minstrel
Thurl Ravenscroft (uncredited) Ensemble

NOTE: Due to the fact that Cyril Ritchard, who originally voiced Elrond in The Hobbit, had died not long after completing his voice work for that movie, Paul Frees replaces him in that role this time around.


Because Rankin/Bass had begun production on this movie even before Ralph Bakshi's theatrical adaptation of The Lord of the Rings had been released,[1] they present The Return of the King as a sequel to their 1977 adaptation of The Hobbit — giving the audience a brief recap of the events, and adapting a few story events from The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers while leaving out some major details and literally beginning the movie where its literary counterpart does (apart from its use of a framing device to bookend the movie). The movie's visual style is largely shared with the 1977 The Hobbit. Its plot unfolds as follows:

During the 129th birthday celebration for Bilbo Baggins in Rivendell, Frodo, Bilbo's nephew, tells the story of his quest to destroy the One Ring. Frodo begins his story with Samwise (Sam) Gamgee, his friend and companion, treading through Mordor as Ring-bearer in Frodo's absence, as he is being held captive there by orcs. During his journey, Sam begins to question his thoughts about claiming the Ring himself, but being humble, he never gives in to the treacherous temptations. In due course, he progresses back to Cirith Ungol to rescue Frodo.

Meanwhile, the wizard Gandalf the White and the hobbit Pippin arrive at Minas Tirith, the capital of the country of Gondor to warn Denethor, the Steward of the Throne, about the upcoming war—only to discover that the Steward has lost his mind by believing the war will be the end of mankind.

Back at Cirith Ungol, Sam rescues Frodo and returns the Ring. The two then continue on to finish their quest at Mount Doom, only to be attacked by their past guide, Gollum. As Sam holds Gollum off, Frodo makes it to the Crack of Doom. But at the Crack, Frodo is finally unable to resist the power of the Ring any longer and claims it for his own. At the same time, Gondor's neighboring country, Rohan, helps it claim victory in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields.

After searching for some time for Frodo in Mount Doom, Sam discovers Gollum and an invisible Frodo fighting over the Ring, which results in Gollum biting off Frodo's finger to claim it. While dancing with joy at the retrieval of his "Precious," Gollum loses his footing and falls into the fire, taking the Ring with him. With the destruction of the Ring, Sauron is defeated. Months later, Frodo's friend, Aragorn, is crowned King of Gondor. The film concludes back in the present with Frodo agreeing to accompany Bilbo, Gandalf and Elrond in leaving Middle-Earth. Sam, Merry and Pippin bid them all farewell as they depart across the sea.


  1. "Prologue: A Ring's Tale"
  2. "Frodo of the Nine Fingers"
  3. "Credits"
  4. "Crossing Into Mordor"
  5. "The Bearer of the Ring"
  6. "Samwise the Strong"
  7. "Less Can Be More"
  8. "Under Siege"
  9. "Denethor's Black Vision"
  10. "The Two Watchers"
  11. "Great Elf Warrior"
  12. "Rescuing Frodo"
  13. "The Power"
  14. "Team Magic"
  15. "Weary Fugitives"
  16. "Vale of Gorgoroth"
  17. "Where There's a Whip"
  18. "Enemy at the Gates"
  19. "Leave Tomorrow Till It Comes"
  20. "Mount Doom"
  21. "The Gollum"
  22. "Théoden Falls"
  23. "Claimed By the Ring"
  24. "Éowyn Triumphs"
  25. "Choice of Evils"
  26. "End of the Ring"
  27. "On Eagles' Wings"
  28. "The Return of the King"
  29. "Farewells"
  30. "End Credits"


Reception for the animated TV special is varied. Some commentators view it affectionately as an adaptation which children and parents can enjoy together.[2] However, others regard it with disdain, comparing it unfavorably to Ralph Bakshi's earlier animated film and Peter Jackson's later live-action film.[3][4] Glen Yarbrough's songs are widely derided, although some admit to a campy affection for the surprisingly tuneful Orc marching song "Where There's a Whip, There's a Way" or the ballad "Frodo of the Nine Fingers".[5]


In the absence of an official sequel to Ralph Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings, The Return of the King has come to be marketed by Warner Bros. as the final part of a loose animated Tolkien trilogy, preceded by The Hobbit. The middle film is very different in tone and character design, however, and the final two films do not join up seamlessly, as both omit various segments from The Two Towers, most notably regarding the events in Shelob's lair and the Ents' march on Isengard. Other omissions in the Rankin/Bass version include the characters of Legolas, Gimli, Arwen, and Saruman entirely, while Éomer and Faramir may have only been given unidentified cameos (the former alongside Théoden in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields and Aragorn during the march to the Black Gate; the latter as the man who accompanies Éowyn on horseback during Aragorn's coronation with whom she exchanges rather knowing looks -- neither character has any lines of dialogue or are ever spoken to, so it cannot be fully confirmed whether or not they were actually even intended to be Éomer and Faramir at all). The entire Army of the Dead arc is cut as well; thus, even Aragorn doesn't have much dialogue or screentime despite being the 'King' of the movie's title.

The animated Return of the King has been released on home video (VHS, DVD and Blu-ray) from Warner Bros., both individually and as a "boxed trilogy" with the Rankin/Bass The Hobbit and Bakshi's The Lord of the Rings.

External links

Licensed screen adaptations of J.R.R. Tolkien's works
Animation The Hobbit (1967) · The Hobbit (1977) · The Lord of the Rings (1978) · The Return of the King (1980) ·The Lord of the Rings: The War of the Rohirrim (2024, upcoming)
Live-action The Lord of the Rings film series The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) · The Two Towers (2002) · The Return of the King (2003)
The Hobbit film series An Unexpected Journey (2012) · The Desolation of Smaug (2013) · The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)
Other films The Lord of the Rings: The Hunt for Gollum (2026, upcoming)
TV series Hobitit (1993) · The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power (2022-present)