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EDITIONS
 Thursday, 26 December, 2002, 01:10 GMT
Top comic cast for Reindeer Robbie
Robbie the Reindeer
Robbie and chums are trying the tourist industry

Award-winning animation Robbie the Reindeer was back on the small screen for Christmas, with a cast list that reads like a Who's Who of comedy.

Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan, Ardal O'Hanlon, Jane Horrocks and The League of Gentlemen are among the stars who provide the voices for the 30-minute animated film.

The second film, Legend of the Lost Tribe, sees Robbie being voiced once again by Father Ted star O'Hanlon, after the success of Robbie's first outing, Hooves of Fire, in 1999.

It was the hit of 2000's British Animation Awards, has won 19 international prizes and has been sold to more than 20 countries, including the US.

Both films are raising cash for Comic Relief through video and DVD sales.

Robbie the Reindeer, Hooves of Fire
Hooves of Fire won 19 international awards
Legend Of The Lost Tribe, brought to life by the BBC's animation unit in Bristol, sees Robbie and co running a tourism business in the North Pole.

Writers Kevin Cecil and Andy Riley, whose work includes Black Books, Smack The Pony and So Graham Norton, said it was difficult coming up with a new script.

This was "partly because there was a decision not to set it at Christmas" but also due to the demanding format.

"It's almost like a film that's set in 30 minutes," said Cecil.

"It would have been just as easy to write a 90-minute feature. You have to tell all that story in a very short period of time."

Prancer the reindeer
Prancer is voiced by Paul Whitehouse
The roles of Robbie's love interest Donner (Jane Horrocks) and his arch-enemy Blitzen (Steve Coogan) are reprised with relish.

The story sees Blitzen get released from prison, despite the hopes of the other characters.

Meanwhile, Robbie is having trouble with his burgeoning relationship with Donner.

"He doesn't like kissing in public," said Cecil. "I think she's been reading Stags Are From Mars And Does Are From Venus, trying to work out what's going on."

Cecil and Riley were familiar with half the characters following Hooves of Fire, but they were faced with writing for a raft of new stars.

Robbie the Reindeer
Robbie does not like kissing in public
There's a rabbit voiced by Jeff Goldblum, a penguin played by Ricky Gervais and The League Of Gentlemen masquerading as a gang of Vikings.

The pair said working with the voice cast was "like being able to play with all the toys in the box".

"They get it so quickly. They are giving their time for free for Comic Relief. Often they have only got a couple of hours and they just manage to do it," they said.

Riley added that Blitzen was his favourite character "because of his nastiness".

Cecil plumped for Prancer, played by Paul Whitehouse, and explained: "He doesn't act like an animated character - he just acts like a bloke. He goes on this very important hiking trip and he takes a mobile disco with him and starts playing garage tunes."

'Surreal'

Voices for Legend Of The Lost Tribe were recorded 15 months ago, before the animation was put together.

"You're seeing it come to life and then it gets better and better as they do the animation," said Cecil.

The pair are not writing for their usual audience with the family-orientated Robbie films.

But they insist there are similarities between the Bafta-winning comedy Black Books, about the cantankerous owner of a second-hand book shop, and Legend Of The Lost Tribe.

"A lot of adults lose a taste of the surreal, but kids always like the weird stuff," said Riley.

'Hurtful'

"It means you have got this link between people who like all these shows and kids who haven't found them yet."

And they are philosophical about the changes made to their first animation before it could be shown in the US, including substituting the voices of British stars (including Robbie Williams) for those of home-grown icons such as Britney Spears.

"It's just one of those things that are necessary," said Riley. Cecil added: "It's great for Comic Relief that they have managed to sell it."

They are more concerned about the film being cut from 30 to 20 minutes for US viewers. "That's the bit that hurts."

It remains to be seen if Legend Of The Lost Tribe can emulate the success of Hooves Of Fire, but Riley and Cecil are unperturbed, saying: "We are every bit as proud of this film as we are of the first one."

In the meantime, they are focusing on their latest animation project, a Disney film which, just when you thought it couldn't get any more surreal, they describe as "Romeo and Juliet in the world of garden gnomes".


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13 Nov 02 | Entertainment
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