MOOMINVALLEY: THE COMPLETE FIRST SERIES / STARRING: MATT BERRY, WARWICK DAVIS, TARON EGERTON, EDVIN ENDRE, RICHARD AYOADE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Bringing a much-loved fictional universe to the screen must be a daunting task, especially when you’re re-imagining characters that most of us have loved since our earliest childhoods. In the case of Moominvalley, that level of daunt must be overwhelming. After all, who wants to mess with a world that first saw the light of day in 1945 and has already undergone so many hit-and-miss film and TV adaptations? The chances of getting it wrong (or of creating something that’s been attempted so many times before that a fresh interpretation is simply irrelevant) will far outweigh the chances of success, leaving older fans disappointed and new viewers wondering what all the fuss is about. In the loud, flashy, switch-your-brain-off chaos of children’s TV, do the thoughtful, be-kind-to-each-other-and-the-planet-we-live-on sensibilities of Tove Jansson’s beloved Moomins even have a place? As far as we’re concerned, the answer is unequivocally yes.
Moominvalley is a gorgeously painted fantasy world of lush greenery and changing seasons, where the ever-curious Moomintroll lives with his extraordinary family and a surreal collection of weird and wonderful friends. Over the course of thirteen episodes Moomintroll befriends (and is mercilessly teased by) the impish Little My, struggles with being separated from his best friend Snufkin, discovers it’s impossible to tame a baby dragon, and challenges his over-imaginative father to a story battle that has disastrous consequences. On top of that, he meets a ghost, overcomes his deepest fears by saving Moominpapa and Moominmama from the terrifying Groke, coaxes a shy invisible girl back to visibility, and almost freezes to death when he wakes up too early from hibernation. Watching Moomintroll’s growth from the first episode to the last is the kind of satisfying character arc we don’t expect from most animated TV, and it’s that kind of narrative care and attention which makes Moominvalley so special. Like the Moomins themselves, everything takes time in Moominvalley. Every story is multi-tiered and unravels gradually with a charming balance of humour, drama, and pathos before eventually revealing its true theme. It doesn’t patronise its audience and its key messages about acceptance, friendship, respecting nature and being comfortable in your own skin are more relevant now than they’ve ever been. The writing, animation and direction are superb and the voice-casting is perfect (especially Taron Egerton as Moomintroll and Warwick Davis as Sniff.) There’s also a nice soundtrack of shoegazey songs, which is worth tracking down and listening to in its own right.
When you’re feeling like a bit of gentle nostalgia, or if you want to introduce your kids to a world that will delight them while also firing up their imaginations and giving them a deeper appreciation of the real world we live in, take the Moominvalley DVD out for a spin. It’s wonderful and it put a smile on our face that lasted the entire weekend.