TV Series Review: Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter (2014-15)
They don’t get much bigger in Scandinavian than Astrid Lindgren, the beloved children’s author responsible for such cherished characters as Pippi Longstocking, the brothers Lionheart, and Ronja, the robber’s daughter. I have lived in Scandinavian for the past many years, and Lindgren’s works and their many screen adaptations are nothing less than canonical, beloved in these nations of the north. Children in Lindgren’s universe are fierce, funny, cheeky, clever, bold and brave. They are also vulnerable, naïve, silly, vicious, stubborn, always pushing boundaries, searching, seeking, learning, doing. In short, they are complex, little people, allowed a full range of human emotions and actions. I have become a huge fan, as have my own children.
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So, what happens when two of my favorite things meet, when Lindgren meets Studio Ghibli? Well, the fangirl in me squeals. Yes, middle-aged moms can still giddily squeal, and yes, Studio Ghibli together with Polygon Pictures has made an award-winning, 26-episode, animated adaptation of Lindgren’s Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter, a medieval fantasy, coming-of-age tale.
It is the studio’s first TV series. Gorō Miyazaki directs. And now it’s won an International Emmy Award for children’s animation. So, it appears that the Lindgren-Ghibli combo works and works well.
The Robber’s Daughter
Ronja is the only child of Mattis and Lovis. On the night Ronja is born, a lightning strike cleaves the castle in two, creating “Hell’s Gap” – a deep chasm separating wings of the fortress. It is a fortress of thieves, and Mattis is the ringleader. Despite the moral questionability of Matthis’s employment, he loves his daughter, is absolutely besotted with her. Indeed, all the robbers love this little girl. Lovis is the calm, no-nonsense woman, who sternly puts all the men in their places. Mattis, on the other hand, is volatility itself, hot-headed and hot-blooded, all emotions erupting out of him in great violence. He wails, he sobs, he guffaws, he rages, and he loves – obsessively and suffocatingly so. And he loves Ronja more than anything. Ronja is her daddy’s little girl, endowed with her father’s fierceness and volatility.
Mattis’s greatest fear is losing his Ronja. Protecting her, caring for her, is his purpose, and it pains him to let her go into the world alone. Ronja spends her days exploring the surrounding woods, getting into minor and major scrapes, learning about her world. There are dwarves and trolls and harpies in this world, great rivers, and high mountains, and there are Borka bandits.
The Bandit’s Boy
Borka bandits and Mattis robbers do not get along, to put it mildly. But when Ronja spies a red-haired boy across Hell’s Gap one day, the delineations between Borka bandits and Mattis robbers become blurred. The boy is Birk, and he is Borka’s son, born the same night as Ronja. Neither has ever played with another child before. They have both been taught to hate the other, but when the Borka gang takes up residence across the gap, Birk and Ronja repeatedly begin to run into each other while out exploring. They save each other’s lives on multiple occasions.
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Birk is a very straight-forward boy, kind, smiling, earnest. And he wins over the stubborn, scowling Ronja with her propensity for bravado. They must keep their growing friendship a secret. And through her relationship with Birk, Ronja comes to question the ethics of her father’s thievery. She begins to reject Mattis’s suffocating love, which would control her. So, indeed, the very thing that Mattis fears most – losing his daughter – might just be something he precipitates by his own actions, his own volatile brutality.
I won’t give it all away. But Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a story about a girl who challenges the course of her life as plotted by her father. It’s a story about friendship, love, forgiveness, stubbornness, family. And it’s cheeky and shocking and sad and poignant and beautiful.
A Faithful Adaptation for the Whole Family
Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter is a rather faithful adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s novel. It is beautifully animated, with an eye for the sensual details – something for which Ghibli is well-known. Walking on wet moss in bare feet. The rustle of falling leaves. A baby’s first tottering movements. The robbers drink. Ronja swears. Lovis breastfeeds. The animation is hopping between 2D and 3D, so is in a slightly different style from other Ghibli works. But it is still striking, harmonious, beautiful in its way.
While perhaps slightly lacking that je ne sais quoi, magic quality, it is pleasurable viewing for the whole family – parents and kids alike. The story unravels at a steady pace, with lots of moments of stillness, as well as abruptness and action and all the rest. The family dynamics presented are engaging, encouraging much discussion and reflection – at least amongst my own brood.
And now I’m wondering what Studio Ghibli could do with Pippi Longstocking or The Brothers Lionheart or Mio, My Son or Children of Noisy Village…
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Content Note: Rated TV-Y7 (over 7 years). There is minor language, some nudity (stinky robbers forced outside in the snow to “bathe”), some drinking, and a boy is beaten at one point.
Where to Watch: Amazon Prime.
Photo Credit: Studio Ghibli/Polygon Pictures.
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