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  Moomins on the Riviera Believing in sharing, caring and giving
Year: 2014
Director: Xavier Picard, Hanna Hemilä
Stars: Russell Tovey, Tracy Ann Oberman, Nathaniel Parker, Stephanie Winiecki, Ruth Gibson, Dominic Frisby, Philippe Smolikowski, Dave Browne, Shelley Blond, Irina Björkland
Genre: Comedy, Animated, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Those of a certain age may hold fond memories of the Moomins on television, either in the surreal stop-motion animated show from the Eighties or their Japanese anime incarnation in the Nineties, both of which aired in Britain. However in their native Finland, writer-artist Tove Jansson's classic children's characters have been a multi-media staple since their literary debut in 1945's 'The Moomins and the Great Flood.' Feature films appeared sporadically through the years including the anime-derived Comet in Moomin Land (1992) and computer animated Moomin and Midsummer Madness (2008), but Moomins on the Riviera proved an unprecedented success. Within two weeks the Franco-Finnish co-production became Finland's highest grossing film and thus the first Moomin adventure in years to secure an English theatrical release.

Adapted from one of Jansson's comic strip stories, with minor plot alterations, Moomins on the Riviera sets lovable Moominmamma (voiced by Tracy Ann Oberman), Moominpappa (Nathaniel Parker), their son Moomintroll (Russell Tovey), his beloved Snorkmaiden (Stephanie Winiecki) and friends the fiesty Little Mi (Ruth Gibson) and tiny Finn on a sea voyage that takes an unexpected turn when they wind up on the glamorous French Riviera. Immediately enamoured with their haute couture surroundings, Snorkmaiden delights at the chance to hobnob with the rich and famous including her personal style icon: movie star Audrey Glamour (Shelley Blond, voiced in the original version by Irina Björkland, one of Finland's biggest stars who appeared opposite George Clooney in The American (2010)). A misunderstanding sees the bemused Moomin clan mistaken for wealthy eccentrics as they unwittingly rent the royal suite at a fancy hotel. While Moominpappa regales aristocrat Marquis Mongaga (Philippe Smolikowski) with tall tales of his 'bohemian' exploits, the tall and dashing Clark Fresco (Dave Browne) takes a shine to Snorkmaiden much to young Moomintroll's displeasure.

You don't go to a Moomin movie expecting narrative fireworks although Tove Jansson's later works grew increasingly darker, melancholy and psychologically complex. Here the tone is buoyant throughout albeit with a witty line in social satire and a heartening message where style, wealth and glamour prove no substitute for kindness and decency. While the film assumes viewers are already familiar with the characters the story is instantly engaging and easy for youngsters to follow. The eye-catching and intricate animation captures the hand-drawn charm of Jansson's quirky fantasy world even if the undeniably meandering plot's make-it-up-as-we-go quality is liable to test the impatient. Animator Xavier Picard and producer/co-director Hanna Hemilä (a close friend of Tove Jansson's niece Sophia Jansson, custodian of the Moomin legacy) actually open the film in Moomin Valley as a means to shoehorn two fan-favourites absent from the original comic story: Snuffkin (Dominic Frisby) and the endearingly volatile pipsqueak Little Mi. No sooner has Moomin rescued Little Mi and her obsessed romantic big sister Mimble from rascally pirates then the latter decides she quite liked being their captive and returns to their clutches! Thereafter characters disappear and reappear at random and stuff just sort of happens.

By far the strangest subplot has Moominmamma play matchmaker for Pimple, a little dog attracted to cats, by bribing another little dog to disguise himself as a friendly feline! Quite what the subtext is meant to be is none too clear though things end happily enough. Increasingly uncomfortable with their superficial surroundings, Moominmamma and Moomintroll eventually abandon their luxurious suite to set up a humble abode on the beach growing potted plants and making sculptures. Yet when aspiring artist Mongaga joins their mini artist's commune he finds the life of a struggling artist is not all it is cracked up to be. The message that the simple life is best is well-intentioned though could easily be misconstrued as implying simple people should leave luxury to the rich and stay where they belong. If not a classic children's film, Moomins on the Riviera is at least artful, sincere and often amiable.

Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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