Do you know the Moomins? They are the characters in a series of Swedish/Finnish children books and comics dating back to the 1930s that have found their way to scores of languages around the world. Now they come to the big screen in Moomins on the Riviera, a hand-animated film that is very much child-oriented.
The Moomins, created by Tove Jansson, are a family of trolls who live in the northern woods in Moominvalley. They resemble small white hippopotami, but we are assured that they are not related. The family is made up of Moomin, a very agreeable young man (he always seems to say “yes” to any request, his parents Moominpappa and Moominmamma, and Snorkmaiden, his girlfriend and playmate. These are happy and live in harmony with their neighbors and with nature. Moominpappa reflects that he loves being in Moominvalley “where I can live in peace, plant potatoes, and dream.” When they scavenge a wrecked pirate ship, they leave the gold and bring back a treasure chest filled with tropical seeds. Theirs is a life of simple pleasures.
While we see a bit of their life in Moominvalley and meet a few of the other characters from the story (such as Little My, a bit of a bratty human child that revels in the negative), most of the film is about their adventure to the south to go to the Riviera. When they get there, they do not really fit in. They go to an expensive hotel not realizing that they will have to pay. The jet setters and glamourous movie stars bedazzle Snorkmaiden (raising Moomin’s jealousy). Everyone there thinks that the Moonmins must be wealthy enough to be eccentric and so they try to make friends with them. Yet it is clear that the swanky lifestyle is not for the Moomins. As Moominmamma says, “It wouldn’t matter so much if the high life was good for them.”
The idea of simplicity is central to the Moomins and to this film. In a world of Pixar’s technical expertise, and of the beauty of animated films from Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon, some may discount the simplicity of the animation here. But the almost rudimentary style of animation fits very well with the philosophy behind the Moomins. The Moomins live by very simple values: hospitality, honesty, resolving resolutions peacefully, enjoying life. This story teaches those values. It speaks to a life that is not centered in materialism, but in contentment with the basic things in life: family, friends, home, nature. When one of the jetsetters discovers the truth about the Moomins he asks, “You’re not rich?” To which Moominmamma responds, “Not in the way you understand it.” Perhaps these simple lessons and simple values would make good foundations for the children for whom this film is designed.