Moomins on the Riviera: It’s the Simple Things, by Scott Nye
The Moomins first appeared in Tove Jansson’s 1945 Finnish novel The Little Trolls and the Great Flood, and their adventures have continued in novels, picture books, comic strips, TV shows, and a couple films pretty much ever since. Yet I doubt I’m the only fairly-savvy American who had never heard of the blobby little guys before. Moomins on the Riviera is the first effort by a Western studio to bring the characters to the big screen, and among the first in any format to be actively distributed in America. For the uninitiated, the effect can be a bit bewildering – the humor doesn’t entirely carry, for one – but its gentle pace and generous spirit makes the film an excellent one for children and their parents.
Moomin and his parents – Moominpappa and Moominmamma – live peacefully in a small beach house, wiling away their days fishing and gardening and crafting other homegrown projects. Moomin is more or less destined to marry Snorkmaiden, though he’s a little clueless and she’s prone to daydreams. Her latest obsession is the French Riviera, with its famous celebrities and glamorous living, so, on a whim, she and the family set out across the sea.
Each takes to the Riviera life differently. Snorkmaiden quickly rushes to keep pace, hoping to impress everyone she meets, but especially the famous star Audrey Glamour, who treats her as a member of the waitstaff. More welcoming, if slightly predatory, is Clark Tresco, the epitome of a ladies’ man, whose attentions to Snorkmaiden are not at all welcome to Moomin. Moomin is having a tough time seeing the appeal of the Riviera as it is, and it’s not long before he and Moominmama, who simply can’t get a handle on things, have virtually abandoned the luxurious living into which they’ve temporarily stumbled. Moominpappa is doing most of that stumbling, and seemingly coming out on top at every turn, endlessly charming the bourgeois would-be artist Marquis Mongaga.
Again and again, the Moomins barely avoid ruin or fall upwards into the lap of luxury due to their essential decency and general lack of savvy. The lessons of the film are fairly straightforward – treat others well, and find contentment in life’s simple pleasures – but well worthwhile when American children’s movies endlessly prize the individual above all else. The animation, under the direction of Xavier Picard, is absolutely beautiful. You could pick just about any frame from this and put it on a wall. The color palette is slightly muted, accentuating the sense of melancholy and longing – first for a more exciting world, then for a more familiar one – that pervades the film.
The film is being presented in America with an English dub from the U.K., and while many of the phrasings certainly aren’t a straight translation from the original Finnish, the changes are not so strong as to fundamentally alter the cultural context in which the film (and original works) were made. Aside from literally every line uttered by Little My, the Moomins’ too-constant companion, the humor is fairly winning, if not terribly elevated. Children won’t have to reach far to find a laugh. The relaxed pace may feel somewhat unfamiliar to them, but for the right kid at an age early enough to not have their tastes too cemented, this could prove a transformative, vital experience in their development. The depiction of a loving, patient family makes it a delightful one to share together.