It's tough to live up to the example set by your famous father... particularly when "Dad" is the famous glowing-nosed reindeer immortalized in song for coming to the rescue on a certain foggy Christmas eve. Nonetheless, Robbie (Ardal O'Hanlon) is ready and willing to prove that he can fill his father's shoes... although admittedly he's a little pudgy, a bit easily distracted, and not particularly keen on the vigorous exercise program that he needs to get fit for the big day. In fact, the prospects of a career on Santa's team look very dim indeed, but with the help of his stalwart friend Donner (Jane Horrocks), there's a chance that Robbie might be able to redeem himself and get the best of the situation after all.
Animated with stop-motion plasticine figures in the style of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit, Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire is funny, charming, and visually appealing. The animated figures of Robbie, Donner, Blitzen, Santa, and the other reindeer, elves, and various inhabitants of the North Pole are meticulously crafted and amazingly expressive, and with the excellent voice-acting on top of that, they really seem to come to life. Robbie's voice in particular is perfect, but even the most minor characters have been given distinctive personalities with their voices (including a polar bear who keeps popping up at inopportune moments).
I'd guess that Robbie the Reindeer is mainly slanted toward an adult audience, who will appreciate the humor in the elements drawn from films like Chariots of Fire and Star Wars, though of course the film would be enjoyable for kids just for the cute figures and the basic storyline. While Robbie the Reindeer is only thirty minutes long, the fast-paced storyline makes great use of every moment, so it feels neither too short nor too long. The script, written by a team that included the Richard Curtis, the writer of Notting Hill, Bridget Jones's Diary, and Four Weddings and a Funeral, is clever and funny, with just the right balance of serious elements and wry humor.
BBC Video has done a nice job with Robbie the Reindeer, presenting it in anamorphic widescreen at its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The distinctive look of the stop-motion animation does make it difficult to directly compare the image quality to that of live-action films, but my general evaluation is that it looks quite good. The picture appears sharp and clear, with no noise, and the colors are bright and cheerful.
Robbie the Reindeer is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound quality overall is quite good, with dialogue clear and the music score well-balanced with the rest of the soundtrack.
This DVD gets low marks in the extras department. To begin with, there's a forced introduction before you can get to the menus, and then the menus themselves are really annoying. The menu choices made to look like different items in a scene from the film, making it very difficult to see what the choices are, or whether a particular item is selected.
The special features themselves are lackluster. The commentary track with director Richard Goleszowski is quite boring, as he does a lot of describing what's happening on scene, in between substantial silences, and doesn't really contribute much by way of insights into the film. The making-of featurette is only about five minutes long and is a jumpy, MTV-style glance behind the scenes. There's also a picture gallery and a full set of storyboards for the entire movie.
Sometimes I want to watch an epic film that touches the profoundest emotions, and sometimes I want something with a light touch that will make me smile and laugh. For the latter case, Robbie the Reindeer is just the ticket. I found it to be refreshing, funny, and cheerful, perfect for some light entertainment on a chilly winter's evening. It's very well done on all counts, from the animations to the script to the voice acting. While the extras are unfortunately rather disappointing, this inexpensive DVD is definitely worth picking up for the movie itself.