10-year-old Ronja is the daughter of the chieftain of a clan of bandits, living in a mountain stronghold at the centre of a vast forest. On the night of her birth a bolt of lightning split the keep in two, leaving a wide chasm separating the halves, and now a rival tribe has moved in to the empty side. With them came their leader’s son Birk, with whom Ronja develops first a mutual antagonism and then a growing friendship as she begins to mature from girl to adolescent.
Animated by multi-disciplined animation studio Polygon (with unspecified co-production from anime titans Studio Ghibli) and directed by Gorō Miyazaki – son of Ghibli co-founder Hayao and previously the director of the mediocre Tales From Earthsea and far more accomplished From Up On Poppy Hill – visually Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is luminous. Animated with CG cel shading over painted backgrounds, every frame allows you to bask in the wild verdant majesty of the sprawling forest, smell its fresh unsullied foliage, and feel the crisp chill of winter’s snow or the warmth of the summer sun. As well as the expansive woodland terrain, the medieval fantasy setting also contains the wonderfully weird creations Ronja encounters, such as the malevolent bird-women harpies, the territorial porcupine-like grey dwarves, and the tiny subterranean humanoid rumphobs, all further developing the self-contained but highly believable world.
Adapted from the children’s novel of the same name by Pippi Longstocking author Astrid Lindgren, Ronja’s core themes are universal and will easily appeal to its younger viewers. As you grow up, you begin to see your parents not as unassailable deities ruling your whole existence, but as mere people with their own faults and fallibilities. As you separate from them you seek to establish yourself and develop your own identity, and with Ronja herself being so independent, carefree and adventurous, kids will see in her someone they would love to be like.
Although the story follows its source material fairly faithfully, the pace at which it does is borderline glacial. Entire episodes are spent on single situations that could be resolved to equal satisfaction in a matter of minutes, and the overarching plot is nowhere near complicated enough to require anything like the series’ 26 episodes to fully tell it. It would have worked far better as a feature film (like the book was previously adapted in 1984) and also wouldn’t have run the risk of straining the limited attention span of its target audience.
Overall, Ronja the Robber’s Daughter is a bright, charming and inoffensive series that will delight the children at which it’s aimed, but adults will find their patience wearing thin long before the conclusion.
RONJA THE ROBBER’S DAUGHTER / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: GORÔ MIYAZAKI / SCREENPLAY: TOM PALLAI, DAVID FREEDMAN, LYN FREEDMAN, DAN HENRY / STARRING: TERESA GALLAGHER, RUFUS HOUND, MORWENNA BANKS, KELLY ADAMS, GILLIAN ANDERSON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW