He's a bit lazy, a bit chubby, and totally lovesick. Robbie's not sure where he's going in life and is soon convinced he's hopelessly unfit for Santa's sleigh team.
Leave it to those wonderful, wacky Brits to create a Christmas special that is lively, fun, and filled with just enough offbeat humor to keep the audience in stitches the whole time.
Facts of the Case
Our hero Robbie (Ardal O'Hanlon) has arrived at the North Pole to follow in his father's footsteps and join Santa's famed sleigh team. However, senior reindeer Blitzen (Steve Coogan) has other ideas. He knew Robbie's father in the old days, and resents the fame and fortune that came his way. Blitzen has even forbidden any of the other reindeer to say the name of Robbie's father—the dreaded "R"-word. Now he sets out to make life miserable for the new red-nosed upstart.
As is turns out, Robbie is not very promising as a member of the sleigh team. He's terribly out of shape, and falls for Blitzen's encouragement to take it easy and forget about training. Making matters worse is his desperate crush on Vixen (Caroline Quentin), a seductive and manipulative female reindeer. He fails to see that Donner (Jane Horrocks—Chicken Run, Absolutely Fabulous) is a much more suitable love interest.
Finally, when all seems most grim, Robbie has a chance to redeem himself, impress Santa, and earn a place on the sleigh team. All he has to do is enter himself in the annual Reindeer Games and win the steeplechase event. It's a last minute fight to the finish as Robbie takes on Blitzen for a shot at glory and, just possibly, true love.
Robbie the Reindeer: Hooves of Fire is presented in a 3D animation style similar to that used in Chicken Run and the Wallace and Gromit shorts. It is an animation method that requires excruciating attention to detail, but when it is done right, the results are delightful. I'm happy to report that director Richard Goleszowski and his crew indeed have done it right, and have brought a number of interesting and quirky characters to life in this short presentation. The visuals are very well done, and capture exactly the right slightly ridiculous feel. The writing is even better, and is the true strength of this program. The script by Andy Riley, Kevin Cecil, and Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Bridget Jones's Diary, The Black Adder) is full of the quirky asides and hilarious non-sequiturs that have been the trademark of British comedy at least since the advent of Monty Python. It is this sense of fun, combined with the equally playful visual elements, that makes this short such a delightful trip. I would tell you more, but I hate to spoil any of the jokes, visual or otherwise. Suffice it to say that Santa is an aging hipster in a succession of "retro" outfits, and that the elves all look like rejects from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. As a kicker, the soundtrack music was created by Mark Knopfler, better known as one of the forces behind classic rockers Dire Straits.
The voice talent is excellent as well, using the combined talents of some of the most talented comedians and comic actors in Britain today. Sadly, most North American audiences will not recognize many of these names, with the exception of Jane Horrocks. They do a uniformly excellent job in bringing life and humor to their characters. Especially noteworthy is Steve Coogan, who makes Blitzen into a sinister baddie with a chip on his shoulder.
This DVD is a BBC Video release, distributed on this side of the pond in partnership with Warner Brothers. It is presented in an anamorphic 16:9 aspect ratio. The picture is sharp and clear, with bright faithful colors and solid blacks. There is a minimum of edge enhancement and most other digital defects, although there are some pronounced instances of aliasing. Overall, this is a very nice video transfer. This is to be expected, as the feature was shot digitally to begin with.
The audio mix is quite pleasing as well. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is sharp and clear, with voices easily understood. The mix is for the most part a front-and-center "Comedy 5.1" mix heavily favoring the front soundstage, but the rears do see some action handling the soundtrack songs, which tend to be a bit overmixed.
The extra content is not overwhelming, but there is a nice selection of material. Biographies are available for the cast members and the characters they portray. There is also a gallery of cast photos, each one featuring a cast member with the foam-latex puppet of their character. There is a short making-of featurette that is a quick look behind the scenes at the construction of the characters and sets. Finally, we also have a commentary track by director Richard Goleszowski. He gives some interesting tidbits about the film, and seems like a genuinely nice fellow, but the commentary track is a bit dry and is short on any really meaty insights into the filmmaking process.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have few complaints with the film itself. I'll start with the depiction of the female reindeer. These characters have strange spherical breast-like appendages that certainly point out their gender, but are more than a little bit creepy.
More to the point, the storyline was a bit thin and clichéd. I really didn't much care about Robbie's troubles or their ultimate resolution. However, the bizarre humorous bits that kept popping up kept me riveted to the screen, and laughing out loud, to the bitter end.
My sole complaint with the DVD is in the menu system, which is colorful and attractive and harder than heck to navigate. It is difficult to see exactly what the options are, and which option one has selected at any given time. It's a small thing, but a bit annoying.
If you enjoy quirky British humor or the claymation techniques seen in films like Chicken Run, then by all means you will want to check out this DVD. As an added bonus, all profits from the sale of this DVD are being donated to Comic Relief. Now that's what I call a bargain—buy a witty, entertaining Christmas flick for the whole family, and contribute to a good cause at the same time.
Not guilty! Everyone involved deserves a round of applause for their efforts, and are released with the thanks of the court.
We stand adjourned.
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