It honestly seems like Aardman Animation can do no wrong.
Whether it’s the cheese-saturated domestic adventures of Wallace and Gromit or the hilarious mischievous of Shaun the Sheep, Aardman, known chiefly for their inspired stop-motion animation storytelling, have a gift, like Pixar, their spiritual narrative-shapers across the Atlantic, have a gift for combining brilliantly good animation, cuteness and bold, weight, emotionally resonant stories in one delightfully affecting package.
That is very much the case with one of their new festive offerings – the other is a new festive Shaun the Sheep tale, The Flight Before Christmas, which drops this Friday 3 December, also on Netflix (BBC in the UK) – Robin, Robin, which tells the heartwarming story of a Robin whose egg rolls out of its nest one stormy night, only to be scooped by a kind, if hungry family of mice who instead of devouring the protein-rich present decide to let it hatch and rear the chick as their own.
Being an Aardman production, the odds of Robin being an item on the menu were remote anyway, but it’s cheering in the extreme in the film’s ridiculously cosy and adorable opening scene where mother squirrels, frogs and hedgehogs shepherd their children to snug-and-dry safety, to see the mice do the right thing and give Robin the chance to live where by rights he shouldn’t have.
Fast forward and Robin (Bronte Carmichael), like the Ugly Duckling of old, is part of the family in every way that matters except for the fact that unlike her, well, quiet as a mouse family members, she is not that good at sneaking it hoo-man houses to snaffle food.
Naturally her family, headed by Dad Mouse (Adeel Akhtar), love her anyway, bar some sibling pushback when hunger strikes – usually the result of Robin noisily alerting the humans to the presence of mice before food can be purloined – but Robin is acutely aware that she cannot sneak and is the one causing all kinds of problems for her adoptive family.
So as fate would have it, after yet another food-less disastrous run into a house to which they can never return – their crayon-etched map of neighbourhood houses is all red crosses for no-go and only one untouched, accessible house where there are likely to be no traps – Robin sets out to prove she can “mice” it with the best of them and make her dad and siblings, including the gorgeously sweet Dink (Amira Macey-Michael), proud of her.
Being Christmas there is food in abundance, if only Robin can be quiet enough to get it, and as Christmas trees twinkle in windows, and wine and fruit mince pies litter kitchen benches, it looks like Robin, with new thieving pal Magpie (Richard E. Grant) in tow – he has his eye on acquiring the bright, yellow Christmas star for his massive collection of shiny, burrow-clogging trinkets – might just get the food and the respect she is desperate to prove she deserves.
What follows, in all its softly appealing needle felt glory – the look is entirely different to the usual Aardman style thanks to new creators Daniel Ojiri and Michael Please pitching successful to the production house at the Annecy Film Festival – is a delightfully charming exploration of unconditional love and belonging and coming to terms with who you are.
The messaging, pleasingly, is delivered with subtlety rather than mallet-like heaviness, using a mix of whimsy, songs – there are three musical numbers in the special’s half-hour running time which slot in perfectly, dancing and singing cockroaches and all – and brilliant characterisation ( which winningly includes Gillian Anderson as Cat, who determined to end Robin’s self-determination excursion) to tell a story of finding out who you are and where you belong at a time of year when that is even more important than usual.
While Robin Robin may look different to Aardman’s traditional claymation style, it very much embodies the storytelling spirit of the production house which does cute without descending into schmaltz, which can deliver a sizable emotional blow without feeling manipulative or contrived, and which always wraps you in a warm-and-fuzzy blanket whimsical embrace, the kind that reaffirms your belief in the basic goodness of life.
You will, of course, fall absolutely in love with Robin form the get go whose heart is as earnest and pure as they come, and who simply wants to prove she is worthy of the love of her mousey family.
That’s never in question, something Dad Mouse makes lovingly but pointedly clear at the end of the special where, you will not be surprised to know, everything ends up rather happily and well, but it’s how Robin Robin gets there with emotional honesty movingly wrapped in sweetness and cuteness that always feel un-cloyingly welcome, that makes the heart swell, the spirit laugh and soul sink back feeling like Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year.
If, after two years of pandemic, you’re begun to feel ragged around the edges and feel like you don’t belong anywhere and life is rather irredeemably bad, it might be worth checking out Robin, Robin, which, while it might not cure all your existential ills, will go a long to make you feel right with a world where you most definitely have a unique and special place and where you loved, no matter who you are and what you do.