A History of Tove Jansson's Moomins

One of the delights of parenting is sharing favourite books, characters and TV series with your children, and enjoying their delight in new discoveries that you also enjoyed as a child.  I was really excited this weekend to be able to share the gorgeous Moomins with Lara, Sophia and Tatiana in the form of the new Moomins on the Riviera DVD, created to commemorate the life of Moomin creator, Tove Jansson, who would have celebrated her 100th year in 2014.

In case you don't know them, the Moomins are a family of hippo-like, fairy-tale creatures, like Finnish trolls, who live carefree and eccentric lives in Moominvalley.  They were created by Tove Jansson in the 1940s, and have made a long journey from books and comic strips to stage and screen over the past 70+ years, capturing the hearts of children and parents alike in the process.

The Moomintroll Character first appeared in the early 1940s in a series of anti-Hitler drawings for the Finnish, satirical magazine, Garm. The Moomin-like creature, called “Snork,” could be found in Jansson’s signature or as an active role in the illustrations, as you can see below.

In 1945 the first Moomin story, “The Moomins and the Great Flood” was published in Swedish by Söderström & Co, but nearly went unnoticed.  Luckily, Jansson’s second and third Moomin books, “Comet in Moominland” (1946) and “Finn Family Moomintroll” (1948) did not, and she went on to create an oeuvre of nine story books and five picture books.

In 1954, The Moomins arrived in Britain in the form of a satirical comic strip in London’s The Evening News, at the time, the world’s largest newspaper.  Tove's brother, Lars, was the artist from 1960 on, and the Moomins comic strip remained a daily part of the newspaper until 1974, with a total of 800 strips produced.

In the late 1950s, Jansson took The Moomins to the stage in Troll i kulisserna (Troll in the Wings), adding her own words and lyrics to the play and songs. The performance was a success, and productions in Norway and Sweden followed. Growing success saw the development of the first Moomin television series: a puppet animation aired in Germany.

The Moomins' television debut inspired the creation of an animated series in Japan, which aired between 1969 and 1970.  The series had 65 episodes and was aimed at an adult audience.  However, Jansson never approved the series due to dramatic differences from the original Moomin plot line.  Staying true to her books, in 1969, Tove Jansson and her brother, Lars, created their own Moomin television series in Sweden, called Mumintrollet (Moomintroll).  Continuing their evolution, the Moomins even performed an opera in Helsinki in 1974!

More recently, another Moomin series was created in Japan in 1990. It followed the original atroyline more closely and was dubbed, distributed and broadcasted in 124 countries.

Celebrating their Moomin heritage, the Finns have also opened a Moominvalley exhibit at the Tampere Art Museum, an exhibit featuring Jansson’s original illustrations, original Moominvalley media and 40 Moomin miniatures.  It even features a small Moomin house!

A theme park, Moominworld, opened in Naantali, Finland in 1993.  The perfect place for any Moomin fan, Moominworld brings Jansson’s illustrations to life with Moomin characters, activities and theatre performances.

Now the lovable Moomins have hit the big screen in the new feature film, Moomins on the Riviera.  In the film, The Moomins, Snorkmaiden and Little My sail away from Moominvalley in search of adventures of their own.  They set sail for the Riviera, where the unity and optimism of The Moomins is threatened, with only an exasperated Moominmamma trying to restore calm and get them back where they belong...

Based on the original comic strip created by Tove Jansson and her brother, paired with inspiration from 1950s French Riviera postcards with their yellow and orange hues.  The Moomins themselves are as close to Jansson’s creations as possible.  Voiced by Russell Tovey, Nathaniel Parker and Tracy Ann Oberman, the film was directed by Xavier Picard and co-directed and produced by Hanna Hemilä.

So what did we think?

Beautifully drawn, and with gentle colours, this animation is the antithesis of everything brash and bright that is fed to our children, and the girls appreciated the gentler tone and palette.  The storyline is slightly surreal, although not as surreal as the characters themselves, and contains some real proper laughs.  Perhaps predictably, Lara adored the subversive, crazy character of Little My, and has been talking about her a lot since watching the film.  We really liked the film as a whole, and there is plenty to pick up on in future viewings, although I am a bit concerned about tackling the themes of jealousy in love, and physical appearance that crop up...  It has inspired us to seek out some of the old illustrations and DVDs though, so I think the Moomins are certainly a hit in our house!

MOOMINS ON THE RIVIERA is out on digital platforms now, and on DVD from Monday 28th September 2015.

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