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TV Reviews: Reindeer games get rough in 'Robbie'

Friday, December 13, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

CBS's British import "Robbie the Reindeer" harks back to the stop-motion animation of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" while leaving a more modern, veddy British mark.

Although "Robbie," which first aired overseas in 1999, has aired stateside in the past, CBS got a mostly American cast to re-voice the characters.

Two "Robbie" installments air tonight. At 9 p.m., "Hooves of Fire" introduces Robbie, who is the son of Rud ... (a running gag is that no one is allowed to say the red-nosed reindeer's name).

Robbie (voice of Ben Stiller) wants to join Santa's sleigh team, but Blitzen (voice of Hugh Grant) nurses a psychotic jealousy toward Robbie's father that he takes out on Robbie.

"Let's throw him to the wolves and then blow up the wolves!" Blitzen exclaims.

Reindeer rage is just one element that differentiates this update from the more genial '60s programs. For inexplicable reasons Mrs. Claus has a beard in this one. Female reindeer have breasts (but no nipples), including Donner (voice of Britney Spears), Robbie's love interest.

In addition, Robbie doesn't suffer from low self-esteem because of a glowing nose. Instead, he's sidetracked by attention deficit disorder and laziness.

The second "Robbie" show, "Legend of the Lost Tribe" at 9:30 p.m., finds Blitzen breaking free from prison and plotting revenge against Robbie. This disruption of friendship in the reindeer ranks may upset some children, but adults will get a subversive kick out of Blitzen's schemes.

CBS does the "Robbie" specials a disservice airing them back to back. A full hour of these reindeer games gets a little tedious. Taken individually, the "Robbie" shows are welcome new additions to the annual Christmas special roster, but I'm a traditionalist. I'll stick with the classic "Rudolph," which airs tonight at 8 on CBS.

(9 p.m. tomorrow, Hallmark Channel)

Vether or not you like zese movie depends, in some part, on your fondness for zee German-accented English that runs rampant in zee film.

Linda Hamilton stars in this earnest movie set during World War II as German school teacher Elisabeth Vincken, who, with her 12-year-old son Fritz, welcomes both American and German soldiers into her family's cabin during the Battle of the Bulge on Christmas Eve 1944.

"Silent Night" begins with the claim that it's based on a true story, but it still has too many "yeah, right" moments, such as the soldiers obeying when Elisabeth demands they leave their weapons outside her home.

There's a nice American soldier and a nice German; a gruff American and a more duplicitous German. Naturally, Elisabeth is no fan of Hitler even as her impressionable son is eager to join the Nazi youth.

Throughout a tense meal and into the night, the opponents learn from one another, share food and mostly respect Frau Vincken. It's a wonder no one breaks out in "Kumbaya." Instead they sing "O Tannenbaum/O Christmas Tree!" in German and English.

Cynicism aside, "Silent Night" has moments of palpable tension and it's tough not to feel empathy for Hamilton with her perpetually creased visage and furrowed brow. But this one is not destined to be a Christmas classic.

Rob Owen can be reached at 412-263-2582 or rowen@post-gazette.com. Post questions or comments about TV to www.post-gazette.com/tv under PG Online Talk.

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