Ardman's back catalogue of animations are brought out at Christmas, from Wallace and Gromit to Chicken Run and even their lesser-known works such as Pirates! An Adventure with Scientists, and even Flushed Away. There's one set of Christmas specials though that we never see, and that's the sublime Robbie the Reindeer.
The first one being made in 1999 for Comic Relief, these specials weren't actually officially made by Ardman, although they were made by a branch team and the look and feel is quite obviously Ardman to its core. The key fact that these specials were made for charity allowed for an all-star cast of comedic voice talent.
We see Ardal O’Hanlon as the very Dougal-like reindeer: Robbie, son of Rudolf. Due to copyright issues they couldn't actually say Rudolf, so this became a running gag. Jane Horrocks plays Robbie's ally Donner, with Steve Coogan as the evil Blitzen, and Paul Whitehouse as a very dim-witted Prancer. Adrian Edmondson plays my personal favourite character Old Jingle, who can only really be described as Obi Wan Kenobi gone wrong: a lunatic old deer who has a house on top of a hill!
Those are just some of the celebrity voice talents involved. Other notable names include Ricky Tomlinson, Caroline Quentin and Alistair McGowan, all this great talent crammed into half an hour.
The animation is beautiful, but the key here is the tight script. Stopmotion animation has never seen a better one. The first Special was written by Richard Curtis with Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley (names that may be familiar to you if you're a fellow comedy nerd). This genuine comedy pedigree is clear to see and every joke lands.
The jokes and plot are surreal, but never to the point of being alienating. The show doesn't pitch itself to a younger audience either. This could easily have been an extremely half-hearted animation about a reindeer thrown together to keep kids entertained for half an hour at Christmas time, whilst raising a bit of cash for Comic Relief. However, this is entirely not the case; Robbie the Reindeer is so different to what you might understandably be expecting.
Robbie the Reindeer is cool.
Robbie the Reindeer was such a success that it returned in 2002. The Legend of The Lost Tribe saw Robbie discover a tribe of Vikings and Blitzen take his evil plans up a notch.
However, Richard Curtis had left the writing team and this sequel wasn't set at Christmas this time. Nonetheless, this was a quality follow up with all the original voice cast returning, and the high-quality of jokes did not diminish.
After that, Robbie the Reindeer did return again, much later, eight years later from the original in fact for another special, but sadly this one was made on the cheap with CGI animation attempting to recreate the look and feel of real stopmotion and entirely different writers.
Unfortunately the money and technology wasn't there and it didn't look good. The overall feel of the special was lost as was some of the voice cast. Although it was nice to know that there was still enthusiasm for Robbie, this last Special didn't really stand up against the others.
Although Robbie the Reindeer has somehow become forgotten these days, the show was a big deal at the time and the first even scooped a BAFTA for Best Entertainment Programme.
For me it wouldn't be Christmas if I didn't watch Robbie the Reindeer at least twice, so why not make it a part of your Christmas traditions this year? In fact, why don't they repeat them on TV? I'm looking at you, UKTV Gold. Or alternatively you can watch it here:
Written by Rhianna Evans