As well as the prose books, many not be aware that Jansson also created Moomin comic strips alongside her brother, Lars. It's these Jansson sibling written comic strips that provide the inspiration- and the storyline- for this film. It sees the Moomin family plus Snorkmaiden and Little My leave Moomin Valley for the sunny shores of 'The Riviera'. Yet while Snorkmaiden and Moominpappa become quickly enchanted by the new way of life, Moomin and Moominmama are not quite so sure.
The first thing worthy of comment here is the visual style. Picard and his team have done wonders to bring Jansson's original artwork to life. Although the Moomin characters may have appeared on screen many times at this point, never have they been brought to the screen in a style as true to the original illustrations as seen here. In bringing the original monochrome artwork into full-colour animation, the film-makers have opted to utilise a limited colour-palette. The visuals look very clean and simple and the result is extremely effective.
Before heading south, the film opens with a sequence set in Moomin Valley. For fans of the characters and the world, these scenes are a joy, showing the familiar settings and cast at their best. The opening sees the Moomins meet the mischievous Little My and Mymble for the first time, and also works well as a introduction for newcomers.
Before long though, it's time to head off to the Riviera itself. As a setting it's perfectly fine, nicely designed and full of characters with Jansson's unique charm. The scene is set for a standard fish-out-of-water tale, with the Moomin family's sheltered lifestyle clashing with the glamorous lifestyle of the rich and famous residents of the resort. This provides plenty of entertaining scenes with the Moomins innocently bumbling from one situation to the next. For example, the Moomin clan don't even understand the concept of money, an idea completely alien to the Riviera's materialistic and shallow citizens.
The biggest problem here is probably in the choice of storyline to adapt. It's all perfectly charming enough, and beautifully made, but the plot can't help but feel a bit inconsequential. Of course, not every feature film needs to have an epic, world-in-peril type plot by any means. Yet the Moomin's world holds so many wonders, with such wonderful creations as the Hattifatners and The Groke, that picking this (frankly slightly dull) storyline feels like a missed opportunity. When Moominpappa is pictured recounting his past adventures to a new friend we can't help but wonder, "why can't we watch that film instead?".
Still though, it's never rally fair to criticise a film for what it isn't, and what this is, is a gorgeously made 2D animated film. It will play well to very young audiences too, who will most likely warm to the beloved characters in no time. On the audio side there's also some top-notch music here too, that fits the tone of the film perfectly. The voice acting on the UK-made English dub - featuring Russell Tovey and Stephanie Winiecki- is perfectly fine too, although nothing special.
In the end, there's nothing really wrong with Moomins On The Riveria, but it's hard not to wonder what could have been. It ultimately doesn't deliver on the promise of the opening, but this is still a perfectly decent film. The Moomins are reportedly due to return to our screens in the near future in a new TV series. The producers of the series could do worse than to take notes from this film, because flaws aside this is the most authentic adaptation we've seen. A TV series that looks this good could be a very exciting prospect indeed.
MOOMINS ON THE RIVIERA is available on DVD in the UK from LIONSGATE and is streaming on NETLFLIX UK.