Robin Robin, review: a warm, fuzzy Christmas tale that unexpectedly evokes Thatcher

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It can be hard for actors to let go of a character. That’s the only possible explanation for Gillian Anderson’s performance in Robin Robin (Netflix), an animated Christmas adventure from the people at Aardman. Because in this sweet little fable, aimed at young children, she plays a cat with the unmistakable voice she gave to Margaret Thatcher in The Crown.

Kids will be none the wiser. But as an adult, you watch this evil, saucer-eyed cat terrorising a little bird and think: is this what it was like for poor Geoffrey Howe?

Perhaps this is now Anderson’s default voice for super-villains. The other voices here are, thankfully, less forbidding. Adeel Akhtar is a delight as the father of a mouse family that adopts a newly-hatched robin, fallen from a nest. The robin (child actress Bronte Carmichael) grows up believing herself to be a mouse, and later befriends an eccentric magpie played by Richard E Grant.

It only lasts half an hour, and the story is slight. This is not in the league of Aardman’s greatest hits, A Grand Day Out or Chicken Run, but it’s warm and fuzzy – quite literally fuzzy, with the stop-motion creatures made of felt and bringing back old memories of Fingerbobs.

The whole thing is gentle and charmingly old-fashioned. Netflix has some wonderful programmes for younger viewers but also plenty of tat, with knowing jokes aimed way over children’s heads. This is entirely wholesome family fare.

Robin sets off on a sort of jewel heist in a nearby house, accompanied by the magpie. Grant has as much fun as he’s able with his character, magpies being inherently kooky (hoarding all that shiny stuff). Aardman’s attention to detail is evident in every frame, and there’s a good action sequence inside the house as the heist doesn’t go quite as well as expected.

But it keeps reminding you of better things: the opening woodland scenes bear a resemblance to the BBC’s festive Julia Donaldson adaptations, and the so-so songs have you wishing that Aardman could afford the services of Lin-Manuel Miranda. At one point, the Magpie pulls a sock over its head and what springs to mind is the penguin with a rubber glove on its head in The Wrong Trousers, a film that truly had moments of genius.

There’s a heartwarming message about family and belonging, and young children will love it. A word of warning: very sensitive kids might be scared of the cat, even if they’re not au fait with Baroness Thatcher.