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The Road To Moominvalley: A History Of The Moomins

In 1945, Finnish author and illustrator Tove Jansson published the first book featuring The Moomins. A family of eccentric, friendly, fuzzy, hippo-like creatures ( who are apparently some kind of troll) they would go on to star in a series of books as well as a long-running comic strip series and numerous TV series and films, right up to 2019's new adaptation Moominvalley.

In the 70 plus years since The Moomins And The Great Flood was published, they have become a global phenomenon. The books and series have been translated into numerous languages and spawned screen adaptations in several countries-  Germany, Russia, Japan, Poland, and France as well its native Finland. They've been adapted into stage plays and operas. There are two Moomin theme-parks- one in Finland, a second opening in Japan this year, museum exhibitions and 15 Moomin themed cafes. And there's a veritable mountain of merchandise- enough to fill the 20 themed Moomin shops spread around the world.

On screen they have been adapted in numerous different forms. Their first appearance was in 1959 as a German puppet series featuring marionettes. The first animated adaptation would air on Japan's Fuji TV from 1969-70, and would begin a love affair between the franchise and Japan that would last to this day (as the new theme park can attest). The first anime adaptation played it somewhat fast and loose in adaptation, changing the characters and atmosphere from the original. Jansson herself reportedly disliked the changes. Nonetheless, the series ran for 65 episodes and was followed by a movie and a 1972 follow up series Shin Moomin (New Moomin).  1969 also saw a Swedish live-action adaptation (featuring actors in Moomin costumes).

Between 1977 and 1982 the series was adapted as a stop-motion series, as a co-production between Polish, Austrian and German studios. This series was much more faithful to the original source material, and Jansson herself oversaw the scripts to make sure that was the case. This series has had a long life, being adapted into English for broadcast in the UK on ITV between 1983 and 1988. In 2010, the series was remastered in high definition and this version was later given a brand new US-produced dub in 2017.  The series was also edited into three movies, released in 2008, 2010 and 2017.

In 1990, yet another adaptation began, this time a Japanese/Finnish/Dutch co-production. This series stuck much closer to the books than the previous anime adaptation, but still made the occasional change or addition of its own. An English version of the series was produced and it aired on the UK on Children's BBC and later Boomerang. It was broadcast in over 60 countries but was not widely shown in the US.

Art from Yasuhiro Nakura,  original character designer on Moomin (1990)

Jansson herself passed away in 2001, but her creations will live on. In 2014, the 100th anniversary of her birth, a hand-drawn French animated movie Moomins On The Riveria was made, adapting a storyline from the comic strip.

But what is the secret behind the enduring appeal of the characters? They're cute, sure, but there's much more to them than that. Jansson drew on her own experiences to inform the characters and stories. This came to the fore not only in the character's warmth, openness and bohemian lifestyle that were based on her own family and upbringing. But also her own experiences with depression, living through the Second World War and living as an openly gay woman in the mid 20th century. These perhaps inform the stories streak of melancholy and the spooky feel of certain stories. The best adaptations of the stories are able to bring all of that to life on the screen.

As the latest adaptation, Moominvalley brings the characters to life in CGI for the first time. Despite its modern trappings though, it remains highly faithful. Not only in the visuals- which combine CG characters with beautifully painted backgrounds- but also in the stories and the general atmosphere. The series is equally adept at comedy as with more completive moments or spooky set-pieces.

Moominvalley is produced by Gutsy Animation and is a UK-Finnish co-production. Aardman veteran Steve Box is the series' head director and it's written by Box and award-winning duo Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler. The visual development of the series was initially financed by a successful crowdfunding campaign .

Reflecting the franchise's wide appeal and large adult fanbase, the series premiered in the UK in a primetime slot on Sky One. The project attracted an impressive cast featuring Taron Egerton, Matt Berry, Rosamund Pike, Bel Powley, and Akiya Henry with the likes of Richard Ayoade, Kate Winslet and Jennifer Saunders in guest roles.

The first series adapts some of Jansson's most beloved tales- such as the appearance of the Hattifatteners, The Last Dragon, the great flood and of course- the much-feared Groke. Unlike the anime adaptation, which featured multi-episode storylines, in Moominvalley, all the stories are self-contained. A second series is currently in the works.

Thanks to a wealth of material in both the books and the comic strips, the producers aren't likely to run out of stuff to adapt anytime soon. However, the writers understand the characters so well that if they do choose to write original stories for them, it's hard to imagine them going far wrong.

The exploits of Moomin (or Moomintroll,  as he is known originally) and his family and friends have a timeless quality to them. In a fast-moving and often confusing world, it's little wonder so many choose to escape to the welcoming green and pleasant land of Jansson's creation. And thanks to the new series, it's time for a whole new generation to discover the joys of Moominvalley.

Moominvalley Season One is available on Blu-Ray and DVD in the UK from Dazzler Media.