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TV Series Review

It's not Ronja's fault she's a robber's daughter.

Born on a stormy, harpy-filled night, Ronja instantly becomes the greatest treasure in Mattis' band of thieves … and the only treasure they didn't steal. And while Mattis and his swarthy bunch of bandits have their faults—plenty of them, truth be told—they're the closest thing Ronja's got to role models. In fact, living as they do in the wilds of a magical, mystical, Scandinavia, they're the only real people Ronja knows.

Well, unless you count that rival gang of bandits across the way as people. Mattis sure doesn't.

A Swedish-Japanese-British Import

Amazon's Ronja, the Robber's Daughter is about as multinational as a project gets.

The story was the creation of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren (she of Pippi Longstocking fame), and it was published in 1981. After being translated into 39 different languages, the fantastical tale made its way to Japan's Polygon Pictures and Studio Ghibli, the latter outfit noted for such anime classics as Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle. A 26-episode series played in Japan in 2014 before moving west, where it was dubbed over with a cast of British actors (including Gillian Anderson) and, finally, scrolled out to audiences stateside in early 2017.

Watching this series, it's easy to see why the story has proven to be so durable and, in its own way, universal.

Ronja's childhood is filled with both fairy tale wonder and terror, living as she does in a castle torn in two (by a lightning bolt on the day of her birth) in an enchanted forest filled with dwarves and harpies. It's the stuff of bedtime stories, and has been for centuries.

But this story's also an interesting exploration of growing up, of what happens when you realize you don't necessarily embrace—or even agree with—everything your parents do. Because while Ronja loves her pops, she realizes that being a robber isn't necessarily the best career choice. Even though she'll be expected to lead this band of bandits eventually, she's not so sure she wants to. And she deplores Mattis' unreasoning prejudice against the band of brigands (led by a guy named Borka) who come to live in the castle's other half.

That leads, however, to one of the story's narrative sticking points.

Not Perfect. But Not Bad, Either.

If the series follows the story—and it seems to be fairly faithful to it thus far—Ronja will strike up a friendship with Borka's son, Birk. But the platonic relationship has a forbidden, platonic Romeo and Juliet tang to it, given the hatred that Mattis and Borka have for one another and the antipathy for which their respective gangs hold each other. So the two children keep their relationship a secret and, eventually, they run off into the woods together for another series of adventures.

Now in the context of the story, we know that Ronja and Birk are often more mature than the adults in their lives are. Still, enterprising and creative children viewing the show may sometimes long to extrapolate those plot points in their own lives. It's one thing to run away into a forest with someone your parents despise in a fantastic fable. It's quite another to do so in real life. So while these narrative issues are navigable, they may require discussion about why some of Ronja's choices aren't meant to be imitated.

Also of note: Amazon's animated tale occasionally dips into some mild content issues beyond Mattis' obviously problematic career track. We're exposed to a bit of bathroom humor, and it's suggested that Mattis and his compatriots like a bit of grog now and then. And, as mentioned, Ronja's world is filled with magical beings from Scandinavian folklore, including nasty harpies and trolls.

But those are niggling concerns for this sometimes strange but often thoughtful adventure story, one that gives us a heroine that not only is winsome and brave, but really concerned about doing the right thing.

Positive Elements

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Crude or Profane Language

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Plot Summary

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Additional Comments/Notes

Episode Reviews

Ronja, the Robber's Daughter: Jan. 26, 2017 "Born in the Storm"
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