Robin Robin (2021)
Directors: Daniel Ojari, Michael Please
Screenwriters: Daniel Ojari, Michael Please, Sam Morrison
Starring: Bronte Carmichael, Richard E. Grant, Gillian Anderson, Adeel Akhtar, Amira Macey-Michael
Aardman Animation are world-renowned for offering some of the most imaginative and critically acclaimed stop motion animated films ever made. Their repertoire in the feature length realm includes 8 BAFTA Film Award nominations and 4 Oscar nominations (1 win), the likes of Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit branding their unique stylings into the annals of cinema history. It is the production house’s work in short film that has established its legacy however, decades of Christmastime Wallace and Gromit showings on British television solidifying Aardman as a quintessential part of many a Briton’s favourite time of year. In Robin Robin, the animation group returns to the kind of story that earned them such a beloved place in the hearts of millions: a wholly British telling of festive love and acceptance that shuns big budget animation’s sarcastic attitudes to offer something altogether more wholesome. Aardman are once again leading the world in their respective industry.
Bronte Carmichael’s Robin is a robin who is adopted by a group of mice when she accidentally falls from her nest whilst still in her egg. As she grows, she struggles to adapt to the methods of her mouse family, her uncontrollable singing and inability to walk as quietly as her loved ones causing her family to miss out on pinching some crumbs from a number of families (“who-mans”) in housing close to where the mice live. Upon meeting a trinket-collecting magpie with an injured wing (Richard E. Grant), she decides to take the who-mans’ Christmas star and make a wish all her own, but a nasty cat (voiced by Gillian Anderson) stands in her way.
A robin red breast is, reportedly, the UK’s favourite bird. Their likeness is printed on seasonal greetings cards, their presence roundly accepted as part of the magic of the festive season. Magpies, by contrast, are often vilified as subjects of a well-known rhyme – “one for sorrow, two for joy” – but just as widely knowable to the British public. Mice and cats hold more universal appeal, but their presences in British culture have been the stuff of legend for millennia, some cities in the UK having at one time branded their buildings with statues of cats as a part of a superstitious ritual the people believed protected them from evil spirits. Robin Robin is constructed purposefully to bring light to these aspects of British culture, to offer a celebration of all these quirks the UK holds but rarely (more rarely than ever) seems to be able to present in any kind of far-reaching manner.
Here, the robin in question is beautifully animated (when are Aardman Animations not?), her bauble-like roundness sitting atop two spindly stick legs, the felt that makes up her body smushed around the top of her head to make two false mouse ears. The magpie, in contrast, is long-limbed, his beak angular, his palace of coins, bottle tops and shoes like something from an early German Expressionism film (ie, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari). The who-man houses are perhaps where the most shortcuts have been taken, the sumptuously detailed practical designs replaced in moments by CG renders, but make no mistake that this is as timeless as any Aardman animation and is of a style that now feels wholly more Christmassy than just about anything else.
The voice work on offer in this short film speaks to the reputation this monumentally important animation house has within the film industry. Bronte Carmichael is reliably adorable and very British in her offering as the Robin stumbling through uncomfortable truths on her way to discovering her own beauty, while BAFTA Best Actor nominee (2022) Adeel Akhtar (Ali & Ava) speaks in soft tones and at a slower pace than the rest of the cast, offering perhaps more to his character of the loving father figure mouse than any other character does. Even Richard E. Grant (Oscar and BAFTA-nominated for his role in Can You Ever Forgive Me?), known for his over-the-top antics, is softer here, toned down to an extent, as the Magpie. This proves important in juxtaposing the performance of Gillian Anderson as the cat, the former ‘X Files’ star’s wispy tones and slow delivery presenting a villainous feline as menacing and unmissable as any since Scar in The Lion King (1994).
With Robin Robin Aardman Animation have once again proven why their reputation is as it is, the layers of detail not only in the animation but in the writing and characterisation being of the highest quality. In this short release, available worldwide via Netflix, Aardman have offered another Christmas classic; a timeless stop motion film that shall act as both repeatable Christmas viewing for years to come and as an important snapshot of the better parts of British film and culture. Just as importantly, Aardman have once again worked to celebrate film in the short form, bringing attention to a medium that so often goes under the radar, offering work that is incomparable at any length.
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