A half-hour Christmas special using clay animation, produced by BBC Bristol in association with Comic Relief, directed by Richard Goleszowski of “Rex the Runt” fame (but not under the aegis of Aardman), and starring the voices of a bunch of famous British people (or American people, but that comes later).
Gifted with a nose that’s akin to a global positioning system receiver, Robbie the Reindeer is the son of a certain famous reindeer whose name and image are protected by trademark and copyright and thus are only hinted at in this special. At the request of his father, he arrives in the Arctic Circle town of Coldchester to train to be on Santa Claus’s sleigh team. However, he makes an immediate enemy of Blitzen, who hated his father, and develops a crush on Vixen, to the consternation of the other female reindeer Donner, who has a crush on him.
Worst of all, though, he can’t hack the training. He’d probably get on the sleigh team anyway due to nepotism, but Blitzen convinces him to pack it in and leave.
Following an unsuccessful stint with the elves, Robbie is “rescued” by Donner, who urges him to prove to Santa that he’s worthy of being on the sleigh team by winning the steeplechase event at the Reindeer Games, and he enlists insane reindeer Old Jingle as his personal trainer.
Of course, Robbie ends up facing off against Blitzen in the steeplechase, one of them ends up winning by a nose, and since this is a Christmas special, good triumphs over evil in the end.
”Robbie the Reindeer in Hooves of Fire” was originally broadcast by the BBC in December 1999. It was well received, even receiving a BAFTA award for Best Entertainment Programme or Series in 2000, plus awards at several film festivals worldwide. The international rights were sold to various television networks in various countries in the year 2000, including the Fox Family Channel in the United States.
In 2000 and 2001, Fox Family aired a version that was slightly edited so it would fit in a 30-minute time slot with commercials, but otherwise intact, as part of its “25 Days of Christmas” December prime time programming.
Then, in 2002, CBS bought the U.S. rights to both “Hooves of Fire” and its followup, “Robbie the Reindeer in the Legend of the Lost Tribe,” as a package deal, and chose to redub both shows with American actors (well, American actors plus Hugh Grant, who’s close enough), a suspiciously high percentage of which appear on programs airing on CBS.
CBS’s version was cut for commercials slightly differently from the Fox Family version, with fewer scenes of Robbie and the elves and more scenes of Santa’s barbecue. Very little of the dialogue was changed (“posh yogurts” became “yummy doughnuts,” and that’s about it), including the character names Des Yeti and Alan Snowman. Originally done by comedian Alistair McGowan as a parody of “Match of the Day” commentators Des Lynam and Alan Hansen, the voices for the CBS version were CBS’s primary NFL commentators Dick Enberg and Dan Dierdorf, not quite using their natural speech cadences because of having to match to the original voices.
Mark Knopfler’s original score was left intact, as were the songs, except for the extended mix running over the closing credits (which had also been cut off on Fox Family). CBS created a new closing credit sequence, airing at the end of the hour and serving for both “Hooves of Fire” and “Legend of the Lost Tribe,” showing live action footage of the American actors in the recording studio.
Fortunately, the original British version is still available on DVD and VHS, uncut, in the U.S. At any rate, here are the cast lists for both versions.
Character Original American (CBS)
Robbie Ardal O’Hanlon Ben Stiller
Donner Jane Horrocks Britney Spears
Prancer Paul Whitehouse Brad Garrett
Blitzen Steve Coogan Hugh Grant
Vixen Caroline Quentin Leah Remini
Santa Claus Ricky Tomlinson Jim Belushi
Old Jingle Harry Enfield Jerry Stiller
Mrs. Claus Jean Alexander Grey DeLisle
Head Elf Rhys Ifans Rob Paulsen
Des Yeti Alistair McGowan Dick Enberg
Alan Snowman Alistair McGowan Dan Dierdorf
Narrator Robbie Williams James Woods
(Grey DeLisle and Rob Paulsen are the two least famous people on both lists, through no fault of their own; they are almost exclusively cartoon voiceover actors.)