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How Netflix’s ‘Robin Robin’ Posed New Challenges for Directors

Netflix’s “Robin Robin” uses stop-motion animation and felt figures to tell its charming, musical story of a bird who doesn’t quite belong in a family of stealthy mice and discovers her real place in the world. It’s a Christmas tale that’s also made the Oscar shortlist for animated shorts. Directors-writers Dan Ojari and Mikey Please had been working with each other off and on for about 10 years and formed Parabella Studios, where they began developing “Robin Robin.” A serendipitous meeting with Aardman’s Sarah Cox led them to that legendary studio, which they found to be a perfect match for their own sensibilities. It’s Aardman’s first musical. Film’s voice stars include Bronte Carmichael, Richard E. Grant, Adeel Akhtar and Gillian Anderson.

Why a musical?

Mikey Please: We loved musicals and I think the idea [was] because of carols and the tradition of singing. So that’s kind of how we started thinking about it as a musical, but then once we started digging into the story and really trying to tell Robin’s journey and this story of a loud, exuberant bird living in a family of sneaky, quiet mice. We realized it was a brilliant sort of layer and storytelling device. Her melody and the mices’ melody, they kind of clash too.

It makes sense because birds sing.

Please: Yeah, exactly. It was madness to have not done a musical. (Laughs.)

Gillian Anderson is evil as the cat — she sounded like Margaret Thatcher on “The Crown.”

Ojari: I couldn’t think of anyone more evil (laughs). She was filming “The Crown” and was definitely in that zone (laughs). We felt it when we were recording.

The hand-crafted, stop-motion brings a level of poignancy to the film that maybe CG wouldn’t have.

Ojari: There is something when you can kind of feel that someone’s made something by hand.

There is genuine peril and grit in the film.

Please: We like the idea of having the contrast that having like a little bit of, of like, I don’t know, grit in the oysters. And, and like a little splash of grit in a very positive story just adds the drama and it kind of gives it perhaps more meaning. We’re not shying away from the kind of dangers of the message that we’re talking about. It makes the brighter moments brighter, I think.

We were really pleased that we took that emotional power up and what was at stake was Robin losing a sense of herself.

What about working with new materials?

Ojari: We’ve done little experiments with it in the past, but nothing on this level. it comes with a set of challenges. You have to build quite complicated feats of engineering underneath this very simple surface. So they look really simple on the outside, but actually to get them to move in the way that you, you want you have to build in very sort of, uh, particular seams around like neck lines in order to get it right. There was a degree of digital cleanup to hide those seams. We’ve always enjoyed it on various projects. Like the pushback that a material will give and then working with that to find an interesting aesthetic solution — that’s part of the joy of stop motion.

What’s next?

Please: The Robin Robin theme park (laughs).

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