December is here, and just in time for Christmas I want to introduce you to Robbie the Reindeer.
Robbie the Reindeer is a claymation franchise from the BBC. As far as I know, there are three short films in this franchise, all of which are roughly half an hour long. I recently snapped up a DVD from the 1-Euro-bin that contains the first two of these shorts:
1) Hooves of Fire (1999)
“I’m going outside. I may be some time.”
Robbie is a young reindeer who has been called to the North Pole to be on Santa’s sleigh team. However, a lack of self-confidence, as well as a lack of self-discipline and commitment, threaten his place on the team almost as much as the knavish plots of his detractors.
This short film sees Robbie overcome adversity (and his own self-doubt) and find love along the way.
2) Legend of the Lost Tribe (2002)
“Power! One of the few things in life that’s nicer than toast.”
Robbie and his friends are running a tourist agency at the North Pole. But when they are taken prisoners by an evil gang, Robbie has to appeal to a lost tribe for help.
The stories of Robbie the Reindeer are not your average children’s cartoons. Hooves of Fire is a RomCom/coming-of-age-story condensed into 29 minutes, which emulates and subverts these genres at the same time. There are many funny lines and visual gags, and a number of pop-culture references. Legend of the Lost Tribe is an adventure and battle story and it contains a number of scares.
So, these two stories are not exactly suitable for small children, partly because of the subject matter, and partly because the humour and references are aimed at an older audience. The writing duo behind these two shorts, Andy Riley and Kevin Cecil, have over the years worked on a number of shows like Black Books, Little Britain, and Come Fly with Me. Which should be another sign that the Robbie the Reindeer’s tone and humour are not entirely suitable for kids. In other words, these shorts would be a very good fit for adults and teenagers, especially those who enjoy Aardman-style animation and slightly darker, edgier humour. Both directors – Richard Starzak (Hooves of Fire) and Peter Peake (Legend of the Lost Tribe) – have worked with Aardman on numerous occasions. But just to reiterate: tonally, Robbie the Reindeer has little in common with Wallace & Gromit, or Shaun – it has more similarities with Creature Comforts and Pirates. In fact, Pirates is good comparison in tone and humour to Legend of the Lost Tribe. While Hooves of Fire reminds me most of is another “non-Aardman Aardman-style short”, Hamilton Mattress, which I had recommended on this blog a while ago. I would call both Hamilton Mattress and Pirates slightly more sophisticated than Robbie the Reindeer, but if you are looking for some nice winterly/North-Pole-themed claymation, Robbie is a very good choice.
The quality of the animation in this franchise is good, but there are certain elements that show that the producers’ pockets were not overflowing with money. You know how it generally is with animation made for TV – the limitations are visible.
I would rate Hooves of Fire at 7.5 out of 10, and Legend of the Lost Tribe at 7 out of 10.
CBS used to broadcast these two shorts in the US, but they re-dubbed them, replacing most of the British voices with American ones. You can see clips of both versions on Youtube, so you can compare for yourself.
At some point (not sure when) CBS also cut scenes out of the two shorts and combined them into a 45-minute programme (thus leaving room for commercials).
My Region 2 DVD contains both shorts at their original length and with their original British voices. I have no idea if the all Region 1 DVDs offer the option to switch to the original British voices (some apparently do). So, if that matters to you, you need to check before buying.