The Hobbit (Found Animated Film; 1966)
Many people are aware of the 1977 animated film adaptation of The Hobbit created by Rankin/Bass Productions, but it is a little-known fact that the first animated film adaptation of The Hobbit was made in 1966 (also the first adaptation of any of Tolkien’s works for that matter).
For decades, 1966's The Hobbit was known only to a handful of people. It wasn’t until 2012 that the film was rediscovered and uploaded to Youtube. It was produced by the late William Snyder and directed by animator Gene Deitch in the Czech Republic.
William Snyder obtained the rights to the novel at a very low price from the Tolkien estate in 1964 before it grew in popularity. Snyder immediately went to produce a feature length film with the screenplay written by Gene Deitch.
A great number of liberties were taken for the film, many of them from the instruction of Snyder. Some names were altered, the plot was changed, and a princess was added as a love interest for Bilbo. The director wanted to create the film using "a retro visual effect, combining cel-animated figures over elaborate 3D model backgrounds." The film became more ambitious as more time was put into it.
Eventually, the feature length project fell through. Since this was a few years before The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit boomed in popularity, no studio could be found who were willing to pick up the movie for the price that Snyder wanted to sell it for. The initial screenplay would never see the light of day.
Later, Snyder contacted Deitch with a seemingly impossible task: he instructed Deitch to make a 12-minute short and to bring it to New York City within 30 days.
By this point, Tolkien’s works had started to explode in popularity and Snyder wished to capitalise on it.
When Snyder bought the rights in 1964, the contract stated that he had to have a film produced by June 30, 1966. If he didn’t produce something by that date, then the rights would automatically revert back to the Tolkien Estate. Snyder noticed that the contract did not specify how long the film had to be. The plan was simple: create a film adaptation as quickly and cheaply as possible so that he could retain the rights long enough to sell them off for a large sum of money. Snyder thought, "Why invest money, plus a year-and-a-half of work, when you can make money without all that sweat?" Deitch's deadline was on June 30th.
Gene Deitch quickly flew the film to America on June 29 and showed it to William Snyder who was pleased with the result. Afterwards, they had to have a public showing. Deitch went outside and stopped people on the sidewalk asking if they were willing to see a quick film preview for 10 cents. Deitch would actually give the people a dime which they would simply give back as their “payment”.
After watching the film, the confused viewers were asked to sign forms stating they had watched The Hobbit on June 31th, 1966. Snyder later sold the rights off for about $100,000. None of the money would be seen by Deitch.
Loss and recovery
For decades this film was lost. The only members of the public to have seen it were the handful of people collected on the New York City streets.
The film was rediscovered by Adam Snyder, William Snyder’s son, who found the film reel in his father’s film archive. The film was uploaded to the Rembrandt Films' YouTube channel. Rembrandt Films is the production company founded by William Snyder and is now operated by Adam.
Those who are interested in learning more about this film are encouraged to visit Gene Deitch's blog.
- http://genedeitchcredits.com/roll-the-credits/40-william-l-snyder/ Retrieved August 11, 2015.