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Review: In ‘Moomins on the Riviera’ the Beloved Finnish Icons Remain Timeless and Wise

Review: In 'Moomins on the Riviera' the Beloved Finnish Icons Remain Timeless and Wise

Fervently adored in their homeland, most of Europe, and,
Japan, the Moomins might be less of a household name for American audiences,
but the lack of familiarity should in no way hinder their enjoyment. The
characters created by Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson originally
appeared in 1945 when the first book on their adventures was published. Since
then, the Moomins have endured over 60 years of a fast-changing world and
countless iterations including a long-running comic strip, stage productions, animated
series in various technique from traditional to stop-motion and 3D/CGI, and
even a live-action broadcast with suit actors.

The love for these endearing charmers is such that entire
shops a la Disney Store dedicated to all things Moomins exist across Europe and
a themed park, appropriately named Moomin World, is one of the main attractions
in the town of Naantali, Finland. Not surprisingly when Xavier Picard and Hanna Hemilä’s “Moomins on the Riviera” opened across the pond late last
year fans of all ages were delighted. Since the hand-drawn animated film is the
Moomins first appearance on any audiovisual medium in over a decade,is evident that the need for
some Moomin warmth had to be quenched.

Those unacquainted with the plump, huggable, and hippopotamus-like
characters (although Moominpappa assures us scientists have proven there is no
relationship between Moomins and hippopotami), are sure to be enchanted by
their kindness and disarmingly positive attitude. But regardless of how savvy
or not one is about them, “Moomins
on the Riviera” can either be a terrific introduction to their unpretentiously magical
world or a heartwarming reminder of why we’ve fallen heads over heels for their
picturesque exploits.

Picard’s tight 78-minute film encounters the protagonists in
a colorful natural environment avidly baptized Moomin Valley, a place where
they peacefully coexist with other fairytale and forest creatures. Tender and
lovable as can be, the family includes the nonchalant top hat-wearing patriarch
Moominpappa
(Nathaniel Parker), the caring Moominmamma (Tracy-Ann Oberman) who is a
gardener at heart, their brave but
apprehensive son Moomin (Russell Tovey), and his romance-obsessed
girlfriend Snorkmaiden (Stephanie Winiecki).
Their existence is humble as they find pleasure in the simple things their
fertile land provides and each other’s company.

If one thing is true about the Moomins
is that they are joyful folks without a hint of malice in their heart, so when
a pirate ship crashes near the shore they only way they know how to deal with
is by welcoming them with open arms. This is when we meets one of the property’s
most memorable characters, Little My (Ruth Gibson), an energetic little human girl with an
acid sense of humor. She steals every scene with humorous comments that often
veer into the darkest shades of comedy, which swiftly contrast with the Moomins
ever-present friendliness.

As a result of their meeting with
the group of clumsy pirates and persuasive magazine article, the Moomins embark
on a trip to the sun-drenched Côte d’Azur. Dangerous storms and a barren
island aren’t enough to defeat the tight-knit clan’s resolve. Once on the
lavish Riviera the Moomins check into a fabulous hotel as the “De Moomins,”
which prompts the staff to believe they are royals from a far away land. They cater
to their every need under the assumption that money is not a problem, unaware
that the concept of currency is foreign to the eccentric new arrivals.  Inspired by a famous socialite named Audrey Glamour
(Shelley Blond), Snorkmaiden rapidly becomes accustomed to the wealthy
lifestyle and fits right in with the other glamorous guests. For the rest of
the family the transition is not as smooth and tensions rise as a sophisticated
fellow tries to steal Snorkmaiden’s heart and Moominpappa’s new friend, an
aristocrat who wishes to be an artist, get them in more than a little trouble with
the authorities.

Elegantly executed like a delicate
storybook, the hand-drawn frames employ pastel hues, peculiar backgrounds, and seemingly
modest character design that maintain the timeless quality of the Moomin universe.
There are no frantic displays of high-stakes action or an epic journey to save
the world from its destruction, yet the Moomins might have better lessons teach
us in order to save humanity from its destruction than a score of rugged superheroes. While everyone around them treats them differently based on
their presumed status, the Moomins remain easygoing and uniquely themselves. In
fact, is such the divide between the pastoral fellows and the outlandish
patrons, that their innate compassion becomes alluring to those who
treasure financial wealth above all.

The Moomins every action reflects Jansson ‘s thoughtful intention,
channeled now by Picard, to create characters that embody the best in mankind
and who aim to preserve the shared beauty of the world. When everything in the
Riviera bears a sign that reads “Private,” Moominmamma builds an open garden free for
everyone to enjoy. Indeed sharing is caring. When the shipwreck happens, what
the Moomins save is not the gold and jewels but the tropical seeds, the books,
and the fireworks. These are things with more value than shiny coins. And then
the pirates ask why they keep their dirty dishes under a couch; their immediate
response is to explain they must wait for the rain to wash them. “Moomins on the Riviera” is not the blockbuster animated film
of the year, but one with some of the wisest characters with lots of down-to-earth
philosophy to share. It’s a tiny marvel. If more of us would follow the
Moomins’ teachings, who knows what our own valley could be.

“Moomins on the Riviera” opens today in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Royal

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