It probably says something about the mindset of Finland’s filmgoers that a movie about three unemployed men setting out to find a digital TV terminal in Lapland (Lapland Odyssey) was more successful than Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows. But then the Finns are a thoughtful and quirky nation, with a passion for thoughtful and quirky art.
And quirky is one word that definitely fits Finland’s most successful export because, while the rest of Europe tends to treat The Moomins like some old school version of the Teletubbies, they’re really not. If proof were needed then look no further than Moomins On The Riviera.
The bohemian Moomins live a life of unfettered simplicity. One day, a pirate ship is wrecked off the coast, and the family set out to see what treasures can be saved from the rapidly sinking vessel. Overlooking chests of gold in favour of books and tropical flower seeds, the family return with their spoils, unaware that a celebrity magazine hidden amongst the books is about to spell big trouble.
When the Snorkmaiden becomes obsessed with the ‘Riviera’ depicted in the magazine, the Moomins head off to see it for themselves. There, they’re quickly seduced by the world of easy living, fame and fortune. The Snorkmaiden starts wearing bikinis and gambling. Moominpappa takes to calling himself ‘De Moomin’ and getting outrageously drunk. Moomin challenges a slimy playboy to a duel. While Moominmamma – ever the steady beating heart of the family – sets up home on the beach with a dog who only likes cats, and waits for the family to come to their senses.
While sold as a U Certificate animation for pre-schoolers, Moomins On The Riviera is actually a surreal social satire, in which snobbery, celebrity culture, wealth and sexuality all come under the microscope. The moment when Moominmamma is asked if she is rich and replies ‘yes, but not in the way you think’ says it all.
Moomins creator Tove Jansson was a lesbian, feminist, socialist whose characters and stories echo the people she knew and events in her life. And this beautifully made film is seeped in Jansson’s wonderful worldview. Though short and sweet, it reaffirms the importance of things like love, nature, family and books, while mocking capitalism, selfishness, vanity and conformity. Moomins On The Riviera is a balm for the modern world. It’s a thoughtful and fun piece of filmmaking that, by rights, should be a cult circuit hit. It just ain’t for kids.