Sunday, 24 May 2015

"Moomins on the Riviera" (Telegraph 22/05/15)

Moomins on the Riviera ***

Dir: Xavier Picard. Animation with the voices of: Russell Tovey, Tracy Ann Oberman, Nathaniel Parker, Stephanie Winiecki. U cert, 76 min

Images flood the mind, of pallid, potbellied creatures dragging their marshmallow-soft forms along the Croisette. But enough about my colleagues on Cannes duty; back home, we have a brand new Moominmovie to consider. Moomins of the Riviera isn’t the first big-screen runout for Tove Jansson’s beloved creations, and on paper, it sounds among the least immediately compelling: this dubbed, hand-animated 2D patchwork of Janssonalia can’t really compete with, say, 2010’s stopmotion Moomins and the Comet Chase – still unreleased in the UK – which boasted an apocalyptic narrative, several Skarsgårds on vocal duty, and a theme song by Björk.

Early pootling suggests Riviera did need more oomph – that it simply wasn’t enough, in our age of aggressive rebooting, just to nudge these characters around their lakeside comfort zone. It takes Snorkmaiden’s obsession with superstar Audrey Glamour to get us to the South of France, whereupon matters liven up. Any fears that Moominland has been tainted by modern celebrity culture – as Greendale was in last year’s Postman Pat: the Movie – should be allayed by the film’s conception of Riviera glitz, which predates even Bonjour Tristesse: here be duelling artists and aristocrats, and a Grand Hotel to check into under the assumed name “de Moomin”.

What follows is composed of bits and skits, some of which likewise go back a while. Parents will sense what’s coming when Moominmamma (voiced by Tracy Ann Oberman) is handed a seltzer bottle in a fancy restaurant, even if their gurgling offspring won’t. The visuals, too, return us to a more innocent, pre-Pixar aesthetic: in place of dazzling 3D spectacle, we’re offered the occasional static long shot that, preface-like, maps the chaos of the Moomin parlour, with its dirty dishes filed away under the furniture, or the precise positions of the main characters on the island they at one point wash up on.

Gradually, the simplicity yields an idiosyncratic charm. The animators have been freed to sketch traces of personality into every passing cat, rat and insect: family dog White Shadow initiates a job swap with his identical cousin so as to elope. More such flourishes would have been welcome; as it is, the film will probably hold under-fives longer than it will older siblings. For accompanying adults, though, its mellow vibe and laissez-faire worldview should make for a pleasurable throwback: a reminder of the literary teatime telly we were raised on, rather than more of the eardrum-perforating, retina-scorching, toy-hawking product we’ve been stuck with.

Moomins on the Riviera is now playing in cinemas nationwide.

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