ROBBIE THE REINDEER in HOOVES OF FIRE
Original air date: December 25, 1999
Rudolph’s well-intentioned but ill-applied offspring heads to the North Pole to fulfill his destiny as Santa’s chief navigator, only to find that he’s up against both a territorial Blitzen and the march of technology. Will he step up his party-boy game in time, or have to return home a Prodigal Son?
Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire premiered Christmas Day 1999 on the BBC. The special was presented to benefit the charity organization Comic Relief, and it went on to win a prestigious BAFTA award in 2000, beating out such steep competition as Robot Wars and So Graham Norton.
Despite huge popularity in the U.K., it received a lukewarm reception in the U.S., where it was initially picked up by Fox Family and later sold to CBS. Attributing its lack of appeal to the thick and varied British accents (and, let’s be honest, looking to score some star appeal), CBS re-dubbed it for American audiences in 2002, enlisting the voices of such Hollywood illuminati as Ben Stiller, Brad Garrett, Hugh Grant, and the famous voice actor Britney Spears. Stripping the original characters of both their charm and comic timing, though, the U.S. version’s main value has proven to be as the clearest recorded example of voice-over work done through a mouthful of Cheetos.
The voice of Robbie the Reindeer: Father Ted’s Ardal O’Hanlon in the U.K., Ben Stiller in the U.S.
Robbie is the son of Rudolph, although that famous reindeer is never mentioned specifically by name. This allowed the production to play loose with the lore set in place by the 1964 Rudolph Christmas special. According to that legend, Donner should be Robbie’s grandfather, but instead she’s Robbie’s female teammate and eventual love interest. Try not to think about it too much.
Although Hooves of Fire wasn’t technically made by Aardman Animations (the studio most famous for the Wallace and Gromit series), many Aardman staff – including director Richard Goleszowski – worked on the production, and their influence is readily apparent in its characteristic style. Fans of the aforementioned limey and his inimitable pooch will find plenty to love in Robbie’s similarly detailed animation, vivid expressions, and twisted British sense of humor.
Two more Robbie specials were later created: Legend of The Lost Tribe in 2002 and Close Encounters of the Herd Kind in 2007. And having never seen either of them, that’s all I have to say about that.
Our story begins with Robbie’s arrival in Coldchester, North Pole – home of none other than jolly old St. Nick. Robbie is the son of a famous reindeer whose name we never quite learn (for copyright reasons, rumor has it – because asset protection is to Christmas as gluttony is to Thanksgiving), but if I had to guess, I’d wager that he probably had a very shiny nose.
I have no idea what this sign says, but I bet it’s full of dry British humour
Robbie’s immediately greeted by his new housemates and fellow sleigh-pullers: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome frat-boy Prancer; sulking sexpot Vixen; bubbly welcome wagon Donner; and malevolent alpha male Blitzen. Blitzen can’t wait to welcome the famous Robbie to the gang, but something about his Jeremy Irons-esque drawl (as voiced by Steve Coogan) seems to presage evil.
Check out special-needs Beaker on the right there...
Apparently the product of some sort of genetic lottery gone awry, Robbie’s got a schnozz that’s part GPS and part seeing-eye dog, with a dash of ESP thrown in for good measure. And, like most celebrity offspring, he’s also overweight, lazy, entitled, and all too quick to embarrass himself on film.
What not to wear
Still, his heart’s in the right place – poor Robbie just wants to take his rightful place as the head of Santa’s sleigh team (and if he gets to bone Vixen in the meantime, well, so be it). And with that Google-maps beak of his, he knows he’s got this one in the bag…
This hunk of red clay is smarter than Miss South Carolina.
Or does he? In the absence of he-who-shall-not-be-named, Blitzen has been playing leader of the pack, and he’s not about to give up his throne without a fight. Especially not to the son of some stinking red-nose who stole his thunder all those years ago.
Despite appearances, there is not actually a break-dancing sequence in this special. Sorry, kids.
Robbie’s none too keen on the 364-day training regimen portion of the program as it is, so a scheming Blitzen pounces on his opportunity to encourage him to eat and sleep his way off the team.
Uh, Robbie? You’re doing it wrong.
But wait – who said anything about anyone leaving the team?…
Oh yeah – this guy.
The reindeer soon learn that a mid-life-crisis Santa’s gone and gotten himself a souped-up new ride, complete with a navigation system so advanced even Mrs. Claus could drive this thing. And that means he’ll be needing one less steed to pull him to adulation, so it’s auf wiedersehen to the reindeer who is most unfit (criteria courtesy of local helping-hand Blitzen).
If you thought Santa’s calves were scary, wait ’til you meet this wigger
It’s a rude awakening for Robbie, who realizes he’s traded his legacy for a quarter-pounder. So he does what any troubled celebu-spawn would: runs away from home and slums it with a blue-collar job in the local toy factory.
As the product of a life of luxury, though, Robbie is woefully unprepared for even the most banal factory work, and he undergoes a series of demotions that culminate in the humiliation of being used as a human (ah, reindeer) forklift.
And you thought antlers were just for giving your decor that special “Palin” vibe
Fortunately, Donner spots our familiar forklift one day during a factory visit, and she’s got good news for Robbie – she has a plan! The way for Robbie to reclaim his place on the sleigh team is to win a medal in the upcoming Reindeer Games (sponsored by HayTM), thus redeeming himself in Santa’s eyes.
PSYCH! It’s a dream sequence, suckahs…
But for that to happen they’re going to need a miracle, or at least a “wise old coach who can save the day.” Enter Old Jingle, the local crazy-as-balls, older-than-dirt Mr. Miyagideer.
Homina, Homina, Homina
Jingle whips Robbie into shape with the workout montage to end all workout montages and, during a rare bout of lucidity, soothes his nerves with some sage old-man wisdom.
Aaaand Vangelis will be needing a clean pair of boxers
By the time the big day arrives, not only is Robbie a lean, mean steeple-chasing machine, but he’s also found new motivation in his spontaneously realized love for Donner (who’d been pining for him all along, but in that cryptic, passive-aggressive way that women do. So, you know, he could be forgiven for giving her the brush-off.)
“I love everything about the person I’m going to change you into”
Still, it’s not going to be a trot in the park. Turns out Blitzen’s ambitions are more A-Rod than Iditarod – he’s been juicing (apparently you can drink steroids now, which would have been nice to know before I had a forearm like a pimiento loaf…) to gain a hoof up on the competition.
Pop quiz: which one of these hairy beasts has bedded Madonna?
Fortunately, Blitzen’s ‘roid rage is no match for Rocky’s – er, Robbie’s – training (and general love-fueled mania). Even after sprinting out of the park pre-race to rescue a prostrate Old Jingle from his poorly placed (read: on top of him) house, Robbie manages to return and chase Blitzen down to a photo finish.
And the winner is…Blitzen, by a nose! BURN.
No matter – the Reindeer Games commission is onto Blitzen anyway, and Robbie could care less, what with the all-night romp-in-the-hay you know he’s in for (don’t think I don’t know that look, Donner…).
So Santa apologizes in the best way men know how – by lending Robbie his wheels and never mentioning this again – and Robbie and Donner ride off into the moonset to the sounds of a Mark Knopfler song cheesy enough to plug you up from now ’til New Year’s.
You kids be careful, now, or it’s gonna be more than just your hooves on fire.
PRODUCT INFORMATION (Support the Site!)
Hooves on Fire is available on DVD, packaged with Robbie’s 2002 follow-up, The Legend of The Lost Tribe. The disc contains both British and American voice tracks, but, in the biggest slap in the face since the Boston Tea Party, bills the original version as a bonus “alternate U.K. audio track.”
Hooves director Richard Goleszowski went on to work with Aardman studios on the Creature Comforts series, including this double-sized Christmas episode available on a stand alone DVD as well as the Wallace and Gromit spin-off Shaun the Sheep.