Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson’s lovable characters, the Moomins, sprung to life as a comic strip and picture books, then made an indelible mark in the UK as a 1980s stop-motion animated children’s television series narrated by Richard Murdoch.
A Japanese anime TV version and a theme park on the island of Kailo followed in the 1990s as part of a merchandising boom that has firmly installed these rotund creatures, who resemble hippopotamuses, in global pop culture.
Jansson’s inquisitive creations set sail for the big screen in this lovingly hand-drawn animation, based on the original comic strips.
Moomins On The Riviera is a cautionary tale about the corruptive power of greed and jealousy, which takes a few gentle sideswipes at the cult of celebrity and the inflated price of modern art.
The inoffensive script maintains a gentle pace, despite the extravagance of the setting with its luxury yachts and speedboats, reminding audiences of all ages that money can’t buy the happiness of a family united.
In the aftermath of a pirate shipwreck close to the Moomins’ island home, Moominpappa (Nathaniel Parker), Moominmamma (Tracy Ann Oberman), Moomintroll (voiced by Russell Tovey), Snorkmaiden (Stephanie Winiecki) and Little My (Ruth Gibson) embark on an exciting adventure by sea to the French Riviera.
In this sun-kissed playground of the rich and fabulous, there are manifold distractions. “Why do people in the south keep their hedgehogs in the water?” innocently wonders one of the clan, glimpsing a sea anemone in the rippling water.
Snorkmaiden’s head is turned first by her Hollywood idol Audrey Glamour (Shelley Blond) and then by suave aristocratic playboy, Clark Tresco (Dave Brown).
“Cousin, I need you to take my place in the story. I’m getting married,” she coos to Moomintroll in a sweet moment of script in-jokery.
He is particularly infuriated by the skimpiness of Snorkmaiden’s two-piece bikini.
“You can’t wear that!” he scolds. “It’s like you’re wearing nothing!”
Meanwhile, Moominpappa befriends artist Marquis Mongaga (Philippe Smolikowski) and adopts the name de Moomin in order to impress his new acquaintance.
Moominmamma becomes exasperated and retires to the relative calm of the family’s trusty boat, hoping that the rest of her brood will come to their senses and remember the family motto - “Live in peace, plant potatoes and dream” - in time for the journey home.
Directed with a light touch by Xavier Picard, Moomins On The Riviera is an entertaining introduction for younger audiences to the cuddly characters, and a nostalgia trip for the rest of us, created with the blessing of Jansson’s niece Sophia.
Visuals retain the naive charm of original illustrations, even with the introduction of potentially grown-up scenes like Moominpappa suffering a whiskey-induced hangover.
Vocal performances for this dubbed English language version are solid, and the 77-minute running time passes in the blink of an eye.