Hooves of Fire [1999]

Robbie the Reindeer is as short as many of the made-for-TV classics that have preceded it, like How the Grinch Stole Christmas, but so much action, zippy dialogue, and witty visual puns have been packed into its 29-minute running time that you'd swear it was longer. For this reason, it also stands up to repeat viewing better than some of the more straightforward programs of recent years, although it is directed toward a slightly older audience--age 10 and up--due to some sexual innuendo. Whether Robbie will become a holiday perennial in the U.S. is yet to be seen, but he appears to have won the hearts of the U.K. and shares a lineage with another stop-motion favorite, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Robbie just happens to be Rudolph's son, and Pop is keen to see his lovable--but lazy--progeny follow in his famous hoof prints. Adults may get a kick out of the fact that the story line was actually inspired more by Rocky than by Rudolph. As in Rocky, there's a supportive female (Donner) and a crusty old trainer (Old Jingle). Together they help Robbie get in shape for the Reindeer Games, where he'll have the chance to show Santa whether he has the right stuff or not. Fans of Aardman Animations should appreciate the detailed animation and clever humor. The cream of Britain's comic crop provides the voices, including Jane Horrocks (Absolutely Fabulous) as Donner. Pop singer Robbie Williams narrates the story, and Mark Knopfler provides the music. --Kathleen C. Fennessy

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