One thing is of the utmost importance and must be made clear from the outset: moomins are in no way related to hippopotami. So says Moominpappa (Nathaniel Parker), wearing his one customary piece of clothing, a top hat – accompanied by a bow-tie for appearances sake – as he regales new found friend the Marquis Mongaga (Bernard Alane) on the intricacies of his existence while lounging on a sunbed on the Riviera.
Based on the beloved books of Finnish author Tove Jansson, Xavier Picard brings the adventures of a very special family to the screen in two-dimensional, animated glory. From Moomin Valley, where one can “live in peace, plant potatoes and dream,” through a vicious storm, and via a brief stop on a desert island (probably Mallorca), the scantily clad creatures arrive to the south of France. The aforementioned head of the family – whom he proclaims are the “de Moomins” to add an air of prestige – and daughter-in-law Snorkmaiden (Céline Ronté) find themselves at home in the Royal Suite of Le Grand hotel amongst the glitterati of casinos, pretentious film stars and lavish balls. However, Moomin (Emmanuel Garijo) and Moominmamma (Tracy Ann Oberman) are two fish out of water, longing for the familiarity and intimacy of a home they know and love.
Little touches in the editing make transitions in the story more like the turning of a page than movement from one moment to the next, reflected by a book swiping from left to right across the screen or a fishing rod falling from top to bottom, each leading us into scenes in a pirate ship’s library or a dock on the water. It’s subtle, simple and very pleasing indeed. The muted but rich green and blue pastels of Moomin Valley bloom to vibrant orange in the sunny south. The film is visually resplendent and the attention to detail is superb – a deck chair and parasol attendant on the beach has some of the finest panda eyes you will ever see.
Each character has their own charm: Moomin fervent in always doing what is right but too easily distracted – “I must learn how to say no,” he says; his Mamma a woman of principle, she knows who she is and what she likes and is never happier than when creating a new rock garden; Moominpappa is a sage old sausage but has an adventurous side, hoping to find the eye of the storm when the family set out from home. The opening sequence, involving pirates and the introduction of ginger haired devil child Little My (Ruth Gibson), feels like an odd departure but by and large Picard’s 74-minute film is a moral tale with lessons for young’uns and old’uns alike about individuals being true to themselves, the closeness and integrity of family, a warning against trusting vapid movie stars, but most importantly that coming home is even better than being away.
Moomins on the Riviera is now available on DVD.