When I was about twelve years old I was off sick from school for several weeks and ran out of things to read in bed. During an exploration of a bookcase at home one day, for some reason one particular title caught my eye - Comet in Moominland.
When I studied the pictures within, many of which featured creatures who look a bit like hippos, my head was telling me I should probably be reading something a bit less ‘babyish’. My heart, however, was urging me to remove it. There was something alluring about those beautifully drawn illustrations.
That was my first introduction to the world of the Moomin family - Moomintroll, Moominpappa and Moominmamma - and all of the other bizarre and wonderful creatures who live within idyllic Moomin Valley. I’ve had a soft spot for the Moomins ever since. Written by Finnish author Tove Jansson between 1945 and 1970, the Moomin books achieve that rare feat of creating a self-contained alternative universe you can escape to within your imagination.
While home-loving at heart, the Moomins and their friends have a thirst for adventure and exploration. Their travels are both surreal and magical, and there is an underlying sense of foreboding and impending danger. The perils they encounter are counterbalanced by reassuring words of philosophy, usually uttered by the calming presence of Moominmamma, and a feeling that everything will be alright in the end.
I was an 80s teenager and a guilty, secret pleasure during that time was watching the Moomin TV series when I got home from school. The characters and landscapes were created in felt using stop-motion animation and, despite the basic techniques, its five-minute episodes perfectly captured the spirit of the books – as did its weird, eerily beautiful theme tune.
The writers of Moomins on the Riviera took the extremely odd, and fatal, decision to choose a tale that removes the characters from Moomin Valley and sends them to the very human world of the French Riviera. As a consequence, Moomins on the Riveria doesn’t so much capture the spirit of the Moomins as rip its heart out.
What we get instead is a rather dull morality tale, almost devoid of plot, in which two of the main characters are seduced by the lifestyles of the rich and famous people they meet. Yes, really. There is no magic hat, horrible Groke or Hattifatteners – just a load of pompous twits.
It won’t really be a plot-spoiler to reveal that in the end they eventually return to Moomin Valley and realise they were better off there in the first place. If only they’d come to their senses before they set off for the Riveria a decent film might have been created. It’s a shame, as the animation is nicely drawn.
At some point the world deserves a film that does the Moomins justice. Unfortunately, Moomins on the Riviera isn’t it.