Robbie the Reindeer is a series of three animated BBC Christmas comedy television specials, filmed in aid of Comic Relief. It has been shown on CBS and Nicktoons, as well as the CBC. The programmes are based on the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Robbie as Rudolph's son and the tenth of Santa Claus's reindeer. Mark Knopfler composed most of the music for the television specials; along with the accompaniment of Guy Fletcher.
Relation to original story
Robbie is the eponymous hero, the son of Rudolph. Like his father, his power is concentrated in his nose; however, Robbie's nose does not glow, instead it can target just about any location in the world and also has other various supernatural powers.
Various parts of the original story have been changed for the purposes of plot or jokes. The gender of Donner has changed from the traditional role (Donner has been portrayed as male in previous creations); the most notable result is that Donner, who according to the Rankin/Bass Rudolph storyline would be Robbie's grandfather, is instead Robbie's love interest and eventual wife (a possible play on the common female name of Donna). Vixen's role as the attractive female, as well as Prancer's portrayal as a powerful male, however, are retained nearly intact.
A running gag in the program is that none of the characters can ever mention Rudolph by his full name. The reason given is that the villain, Blitzen, is outraged to hear the name of his rival, but the implication for the viewers is that the program's producers were unable to get copyright permission to name Rudolph (while popular and nearly ubiquitous, the character has not yet fallen into the public domain).
The three episodes produced so far are titled "Hooves of Fire", "The Legend of the Lost Tribe" and "Close Encounters of the Herd Kind".
Hooves of Fire
The story begins when overweight reindeer Robbie arrives at the North Pole in August to be the navigator for the sleigh team. There, he meets the other deer on Santa's team and falls in love with the beautiful Vixen. However, he has an enemy in the sleigh team's captain Blitzen, his father's jealous arch-rival. Blitzen gets Robbie kicked off the team, and the only way to regain his place is to win the steeple-chase at the Reindeer Games.
Robbie is trained by Old Jingle, a mad old coach. Just before the race is due to start, Old Jingle's house begins to slide down the hill on which it's built, forcing Robbie to abandon the race for a rescue mission. Nevertheless, he manages to join the race late, and catch up thanks to his heavy training. A photo finish is taken between himself and Blitzen - and he sees to his horror that Blitzen has won. He is then stampeded by the other competitors. However, he is given a kiss from Donner (similar to when Clarice tells Rudolph he is cute), and in his happiness promptly beats every single record for every single event.
As Blitzen is arrested for taking drugs, Santa Claus let's Robbie borrow his new sleigh which he takes to the moon with Donner and they enjoy a romantic day together. It then shows Blitzen being forced to paint Robbie dolls in prison, Vixen hitchhiking out of the North Pole, Prancer using a tennis racket as a guitar and Santa washing his underwear.
Legend of the Lost Tribe
The second Robbie special originally aired on BBC One in 2002. 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 with plans to use them for his and his partner Long Eared Jack's attraction "Blitzen's Reindeer World". 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 "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".
Close Encounters of the Herd Kind
A third installment was broadcast on BBC One during the Christmas 2007 period. O'Hanlon and Horrocks returned as their original characters, with additional voice appearances by Keira Knightley as Em, Ozzy Osbourne as the Vicar, Gillian Anderson as Queen Vorkana, Sophie Ellis-Bextor as a singing female Earth Guardian and Russell Brand as a male Earth Guardian. Robbie and Donner's wedding is interrupted when Donner is kidnapped by aliens. Robbie saves the day again though with the help of his friends and an alien crystal.
In the original British production, Robbie was voiced by Ardal O'Hanlon. Other voices were provided by Jane Horrocks (Donner), Steve Coogan (Blitzen) Paul Whitehouse (Prancer), Harry Enfield (Old Jingle), Caroline Quentin (Vixen), Jeff Goldblum (Long Eared Jack), Sean Hughes (Tapir), David Attenborough (as himself), Alistair McGowan and Ricky Gervais, among others. The director was Richard Goleszowski of Aardman Animations. Though not technically an Aardman production, several of the company's staff did work on the project, hence its heavily Aardman-esque visual style. The executive producer was Richard Curtis. The program was first shown in the United States on Fox Family with the original British voices until 2001.
CBS then acquired the rights and began airing the first two specials in 2002. However, the program was redubbed with American accents. Ben Stiller voiced Robbie, while other voices included Hugh Grant (as Blitzen; Blitzen was the only character to retain a British accent), Britney Spears (Donner), Leah Remini (Vixen), Dick Enberg (Allen Snowan, in a cameo), Brad Garrett (Prancer), and Stiller's father Jerry (Jingle and a talking garbage bag).
In addition to the dub, the first two specials have been aired as a single hour long (i.e. 45 minutes + advertisements) special in America, cutting around fifteen minutes of material from the original versions. One of the most obvious edits is the removal of the scene where Robbie actually discovers the vikings in the first place. The US DVD is uncut, alternate credits aside, and has the original British dialog as an alternate audio track. Prior to CBS getting the rights, the first special had aired on Fox Family uncut. Even after CBS got the rights to the first two specials, however, they also aired on Nicktoons Network uncut and with the original British dialog.
The edited and redubbed versions of "Hooves of Fire" and 'Legend of the Lost Tribe" premiered on CBS on December 13, 2002.
Airplay of this version was discontinued by CBS after the 2005 holiday season. Nicktoons Network then aired the original (though slightly shortened) British versions of the first two specials from 2006 to 2007.
Starting in 2016, CBS began airing the 2002 American versions of "Hooves of Fire" and "Legend of the Lost Tribe" again. These versions continue to air on CBS every holiday season.
Home video releases
In the United Kingdom, Hooves of Fire was released on DVD on November 27, 2000.
A "Collector's Edition" release adding Legend of the Lost Tribe followed on November 24, 2003 and a collection of all three specials, subtitled The Whole Herd, was released on November 2, 2009.
The 2009 release contained the special features from previous releases, including a 5.1 sound mix on Hooves of Fire, directors commentary on the first two specials, the complete Hooves storyboard, behind the scenes footage and an interview with Peter Peake.
In the United States, Hooves of Fire was originally released on DVD on September 4, 2001, containing the British voice cast and the same extras as the UK release.
A DVD adding Legend of the Lost Tribe was released on October 7, 2003, this time containing both the British and American dialog tracks; This release also contained the extras from the UK edition, with the exception of the 5.1 mix and storyboards for Hooves of Fire.
- The films appear to be based on the original 1939 Rudolph story with Rudolph being born to normal reindeer instead of one of Santa's. Donner (who was Rudolph's father in the Rankin/Bass version) is now female, younger and is instead Robbie's love interest, whilst Blitzen (who was Rudolph's father in the 1998 film) is now Robbie's rival.
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