With its delightful hand-drawn animation, gentle pace and humour Moomins on the Riviera is a charming antidote to more frantic comic-based children’s films. While it mostly fails to recreate the magic of Tove Janssen’s classic books, it offers an appealing introduction for younger children to the weird and wonderful world of the Moomins.
Based on the comic strip adventures of the hippo-shaped family and their friends, the film begins at home in the idyllic Moominvalley, introducing the characters in their natural habitat. The animation here is faithful to the exquisite original drawings – Snufkin playing his mouth organ, the elegant turret of Moominhouse and surrounding flora and fauna. Fans of the green-hatted free-spirit Snufkin will be disappointed that he declines Moomintroll’s invitation to go on their sailing adventure.
But there is always Little My to keep us entertained. This feisty little rebel with the cross-patch frown and tight bun is guaranteed the best laughs, whether biting a shark fin, getting bitten by a crab or devouring a steak.
There follows an encounter with pirates and their sinking ship, The Black Shark. In true bohemian style Moominmamma and Papa are more interested in salvaging its books, tropical seeds and fireworks than its chest of treasure. As one of the pirates observes: ‘this lot are a right bunch of nutters’.
Their eccentricities make them stick out from the ritzy crowd when they arrive on the Riviera, where the Snork Maiden is keen to meet her heroine, Audrey Glamour. But all the glitz and high-living in expensive hotels threatens the Moomin family harmony. Moomintroll (voiced by Russell Tovey) becomes jealous when the wolfish Clark Tresco smooches after his beloved. With his Leslie Philips smarm, how could a young Maiden resist? (‘Well, hello …’).
‘I’m starting to think,’ says Moominmamma, ‘that life in the South isn’t good for us.’ Her husband, meanwhile is enjoying himself telling stories to an artist called Marquis Mongaga, who specialises in sculptures of worried elephants. Happily, order is eventually restored and they return safely home, where they can ‘live in peace, plant potatoes, and dream.’ This is the film’s message: it is the simple things in life that bring most riches.
After the beautiful opening credits the film’s animation is a bit patchy. The golden sun-drenched backdrops and glittering façade of the Riviera reminded me of the elegant artwork of Disney’s classic 101 Dalmations. At other times, the characters and backdrops look a bit rushed, more like a cartoon episode of The Pink Panther.