Moomins On The Riviera

Directed by Xavier Picard and Hanna Hemilä

Starring Maria Sid, Mats Långbacka, Kristofer Gummerus
In UK Cinemas Friday May 22nd, 2015

by Paul Foxcroft

I’m at the BFI.  The place is swarming with enthusiastic children and tolerant parents. A clutch of BFI staff jog past me, one asks of another “Are your guns ready?”; I have no idea what she means.

Anyhow, the film. The whole thing is charmingly drawn in the style of Tove Jansson’s original illustrations, it looks gorgeous. The opening title sequence alone is heartwarmingly simple, just Snuffkin wandering Moomin Valley alone as folk music plays. Adorable.

Very little of the film is given over to establishing characters, it labours so heavily under the assumption that the audience is familiar with the source material, it feels like a sequel. The Moomins don’t help as they accept even the weirdest events with the minimum of fuss, leaving the audience with questions that we expected them to ask – I wonder if this is an attempt to demonstrate the innocence at the core of Jansson’s books? If it is, it’s bungled. There’s actually plenty of things going on in this film – the Moomins spend their time being interrogated by pirates (Moominpappa is so blase, I’m forced to assume that this happens every week), stranded on an island and navigating the social minefield of high society – it’s just all so disjointed. Once they arrive at the titular Riviera, the principles each have their own little narrative to pursue which only really connect arbitrarily at the end because they sort of have to.

Without wanting to give too much away, once the Moomins are at the resort they try to fit in by adopting the moniker “D’Moomin” and are immediately mistaken for royalty, because plot. Snorkmaiden tries to infiltrate high society as she’s wooed by rictus-grinned Clark, Moomin[troll] battles with his jealousy, Moominmama attempts to help a puppy who comes out as only really liking cats and Little My is a sociopath of some kind. I kind of hate Little My. She’s a dick.

I wanted so badly to like this film… and I sort of do. I love Jansson’s art, which is brilliantly brought to life here – but almost every other aspect of this film lets the side down, the script verges on minimalism – I’d love to think that that was a stylistic choice, but it feels lazy or born out of fear of screwing up Jansson’s work. There are a handful of genuinely brilliant lines in the 90 minutes, helped a little by some gentle satire of socialites and celebrity. Sadly much of the voice acting is limp too, underselling reactions and poorly paced.. Before the screening, Tracy-Ann Oberman (Moominmama) was asked about the recordings and told us that one goes to Soho and without any idea of what the other characters are saying or doing, just does three reads of each line. Frankly, that sounds like a pretty believable, almost willfully terrible procedure that leaves the dialogue feeling disjointed throughout.

Disjointed… BUT.

The kids seemed to love it. I can’t recall a cinema with quieter children. (And my god there were a lot of children.) It held the attention of a room full of four to seven year olds for 90 minutes, so it’s doing something right. Maybe it’s just too high a pitch for someone my age to hear, if that’s a thing? And there’s a charm to it, it could be that it’s unabashedly old-fashioned in its composition, it might be the music direction. It isn’t Little My. Because Little My is a dick.

If you’re a big Moomin fan, you were going to see this anyway, enjoy. If you’ve got little kids, this is a lovely looking and largely peril-free way to entertain the youngsters – but I doubt it’ll be a firm favourite unless the kids are already Moomin-aware.

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