When you think of Aardman Animation, you usually think of Wallace & Gromit, Chicken Run, Flushed Away, Shaun The Sheep, Arthur Christmas, there’s one project put under their name that’s not techinically there’s….sort of… on the original DVD releases, it says it’s by Aardman and in fact, though not technically an Aardman production, several of the company’s staff did work on the project, since it has Aardman’s-esque visual style.
So, this not Aardman but kind of is sort of project is Robbie The Reindeer:
Robbie the Reindeer is a series of three animated comedy television specials shown on BBC One at Christmas, filmed in aid of Comic Relief.
Written by Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, the programmes follow the adventures of Robbie, the son of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The three episodes produced so far are titled “Hooves of Fire”, “The Legend of the Lost Tribe” and “Close Encounters of the Herd Kind”. Mark Knopfler composed most of the music for the television specials; along with the accompaniment of Guy Fletcher.
Robbie is portrayed as being the lazy, overweight son of (an implied, but never explicitly mentioned nor seen) Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with a nose possessing many unique capabilities and powers. Whilst his father’s nose lights up Robbie’s works as a worldwide tracking device that assists him in locating the North Pole and he hopes to join Santa Claus’s famed team of reindeer. He is depicted as being an underdog character due to his lazy personality aspects, but is trained under the tutelage of elderly reindeer coach Old Jingle for the Reindeer Games. Other characters featured in the story are based on several traditional reindeer depicted on Santa Claus’s team, including Vixen, Robbie’s attractive original love interest (who he later abandons in favour of Donner, who also is depicted as being female); Prancer, a male reindeer; Donner, Robbie’s later love interest and wife; and Blitzen, the primary antagonist of the first and second film who bitterly despises Robbie’s famous father for overtaking his position as the head reindeer and frequently conspires against Robbie out of vengeance.
Rudolph is not mentioned by name for copyright reasons, and I’ll delve into how clever the jokes are around that.
In the original British production, Robbie was voiced by Ardal O’Hanlon and was narrated by Robbie Williams. Other voices were provided by Jane Horrocks, Steve Coogan, Paul Whitehouse, Harry Enfield, Jeff Goldblum, David Attenborough (as himself), Alistair McGowan and Ricky Gervais, among others. The director was Richard Goleszowski of Aardman Animations. The executive producer was Richard Curtis.
The programme was first shown in the United States on Fox Family with the original British voices until 2001.
I actually do remember the first time they aired this on Fox Kids in 2000 and then it played on Fox Family the following year.
CBS then acquired the rights to both the original and the sequel and began airing the special in 2002. However, the program was redubbed with American accents. Ben Stiller voiced Robbie, while other voices included Hugh Grant (as Blitzen; Grant largely imitated Coogan and kept the character’s British accent), Britney Spears (Donner), Leah Remini (Vixen), James Belushi (Santa Claus), NFL on CBS announcing team Dick Enberg and Dan Dierdorf (Des Yeti and Allan Snowman), Brad Garrett (Prancer), and Stiller’s father Jerry (Old Jingle and a talking garbage bag). CBS stopped showing the program after the 2005 holiday season; Nicktoons Network aired the original British version for the next two years, meaning CBS likely either lost or gave up the rights to the special after the breakup of CBS Corporation and Viacom. Neither version had a broadcast home in the United States from then until 2016, when CBS will bring the specials back to U.S. television for the first time since, again using the American dub.
And yeah, the two versions of these are very off and different. Lines of dialogue are definitely changed over for the American audiences like in the original version, you hear somebody saying that ‘you’re chucked, you’re chucked’ but in the American version, it’s changed to ‘you’re out, out of here’. Lines like that get changed around very much in both versions of the specials.
And before you ask, the original version is the better version. The American versions basically just takes every recognizable talent in Hollywood in 2002 and just brings them all in here for name recognition. So, if you’re gonna watch any version of this, watch the original British version.
But let’s talk about the special themselves:
In Hooves Of Fire, Robbie arrives at the North Pole in hopes of finding work on Santa’s sleigh team, where he instantly is besotted with a beautiful but icy doe named Vixen and becomes acquainted with several other celebrated reindeer, including Prancer, Donner (who does not pull the sleigh and instead serves as support crew), and Blitzen, who bitterly envies Robbie’s father Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for overtaking his position as the lead reindeer of the team, and schemes against his rival’s son in his goal to win the upcoming, anticipated Reindeer Games. Robbie meets an elderly, formerly well-known coach known as Old Jingle, convinced that he could assist him in attaining his goal of winning the Reindeer Games, but later he winds up sacrificing his dreams to help his coach in a time of need after his home slides from a slope. Although Robbie is able to compete against Blitzen, who has secretly taken performance-enhancing substances in defiance of the rules of the games, he winds up barely losing a race; however, after Blitzen’s secret is revealed, he is imprisoned and Robbie is crowned as winner by default, ending the special with a romantic evening with his true romantic interest in Donner.
The overall special is really solid, the animation is pretty damn good here, it’s like they took the animation style of Wallace & Gromit and expanded it and made it much easier to create these faster paced animated sequences through the incredibly tough process of Claymation.
The jokes are pretty solid, like I said, they do such a brilliantly hilarious job of coming up with these references, there’s a great gag with a Seal song being sung by an actual seal and there’s a really good running gag in which because they can’t say the name Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, anytime somebody is about to say the name, they just cover the characters’ mouth, even when it’s just two people in one shot, a third’s hand just comes out of nowhere to say “don’t say that name,” it’s hilarious.
There’s also some pretty adult gags in this such as a scene with an intelligent ashtray right down to a pretty extreme sex joke right in the middle that I was surprised they actually got away with. Also, kind of odd that all the female reindeer have their boobs out in the open.
As far as the story goes, it’s about as standard as you can get with it, it’s essentially a story where the underdog has to become the big hero of the day. But overall, the first Robbie The Reindeer special is pretty damn good, nicely animated, very funny, decently told story, it’s a pretty enjoyable little special.
In the sequel, Legend Of The Lost Tribe, Robbie and the other reindeer now run a bankrupt holiday resort. While rescuing a tourist, Robbie falls of a cliff and is rescued by a Viking, who then disappears. Meanwhile, Blitzen returns and captures the reindeer, turning them into robots with special remote-controlled hats. Robbie is the only one to escape, and he seeks the aid of the last remaining Viking tribe (whose diminutive members are all named “Magnus”). He brings them out of their shame and they agree to help. He discovers that the reindeer have been put into an exhibit at Blitzen’s Reindeer World. Robbie rescues them and Blitzen is once more jailed. “The Legend of the Lost Tribe” was directed by Peter Peake (also of Aardman), whose credits include the animated short “Captain Sarcastic” and the Oscar nominated short “Humdrum”.
This one was definitely trying to be a lot like The Wrong Trousers was for Wallace & Gromit, a sequel to a fun little short with bigger effects and a bigger storyline and more emphasis on action and adventure, right down to a scene where they parody Return Of The Jedi towards the end.
It’s still got its’ funnier moments, the animation still looks good, but the overall story is kind of mediocre compared to the first special and a lot of it is very predictable. The first special was clever enough to have a lot of its’ scenes seem predictable but have clever twists to keep it flowing better. Here, it’s just kind of a mixed bag and a little too predictable.
Not gonna talk about the third one, Close Encounters Of The Herd Kind because….I’ve never seen it, it has never aired on American television before so I have no idea if it’s any good or not.
But overall, the two Robbie The Reindeer specials are about what’d you expect for a typical Aardman production, fun, greatly animated, nicely told stories, likeable characters, surprisingly quick witted jokes that appeal to both kids and adults, they are quite enjoyable for the most part but like I said, avoid the American version if you can and go find the British versions.
Follow The Reviewing Network at our Facebook page at Facebook.com/TheReviewingNetwork for continuing updates and debuts for new blog posts and also follow my Twitter feed so you can see new postings right as they are posted.