Treasures Under the Mountain: The Animated Soviet Hobbit (1991)

A while ago, I took a look at the 1985 Soviet adaptation of The Hobbit, in all its unique glory:

But it turns out that this was not the only Soviet cinematic/televised stab at Tolkien’s work. In 1991, they began work on an animated version of The Hobbit, which was subsequently aborted due to the dissolution of the Soviet Union later that year. By good fortune, the Prologue/Pilot Episode, amounting to about six minutes, actually survives:

So we get The Lonely Mountain, Dale, Smaug, Gandalf, and the Dwarves. We never get to see Bilbo, let alone any of the subsequent adventures, which means that properly reviewing it as an adaptation is rather difficult. From the bare six minutes, the animation is pretty decent, and arguably might have wound up more Purist than the live-action 1985 effort (there is great emphasis on the Bells of Dale). This Gandalf, however, looks much more assertive than other versions. You really don’t want to mess with him – not because he’s Odinic, a la Rankin-Bass, but because you think he’s fully capable of punching you in the face. It’s also interesting that the festive inhabitants of Dale engage in a bit of old-school Soviet fraternal kissing.

According to Wikipedia, there was also an attempted Soviet adaptation of The Fellowship of the Ring in 1991 – Khraniteli – but that appears to be totally lost.  

Addendum: Khraniteli is not so lost after all:

3 thoughts on “Treasures Under the Mountain: The Animated Soviet Hobbit (1991)

  1. Very interesting find. 🙂 Goes to show there was an interest in Tolkien on the east side of the Iron Curtain for quite a while, especially after the 1960s. Given the mostly unauthorised translations of his works to Russian in the 1980s and the success of the 1985 television adaptation, someone doing an animated short several years later isn’t that surprising. (I mean, Viktor Krupa first translated The Hobbit to Slovak in 1973, even earlier than the first Czech translation of anything by Tolkien. Outside of the USSR, there was a fair bit of interest in Tolkien throughout several countries of the East Block. Though it would mostly take until the 1990s for authorised translations to appear in full force.) Now, as a short from the last days of the USSR, it’s obvious that this is more of a prologue-appetizer than an attempt to adapt the whole story, but I do love the animation and atmosphere. This wasn’t a cheap shot at visualising something from Tolkien. This is a genuine labour of love. When I compare it with the intentionally flimsy 1960s short by Deitch and co., it’s “nebe a dudy” (“heaven and bagpipes”), as the Czechs like to say. For a seven minute short focused on recounting the events before the dwarves and Gandalf set out to recruit Bilbo, it’s very detailed and lovely. 🙂

    I’ve noticed a funny little detail: There are kites floating above Dale in this adaptation, before Smaug swoops in and starts burning the poor city. I forget… Was this detail briefly mentioned at any point in the novel ? Kites above Dale ? Jackson’s Hobbit films have some decorative kites above the city, and I thought that was an idea invented for those. With the kites in this short, I am now less sure about that assumption.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: The 1991 Lord of the Rings | Aliens in This World

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