Sunday, March 19, 2023

NYICFF ’23: Moominvalley

Swedish-speaking Finnish writer Tove Jansson’s Moomins characters are popular throughout Europe and maybe even more so in Japan, where there have been numerous anime adaptations and one of two Moomins theme parks. However, they have a smaller cult following here in America, mostly from fans of Japanese animation. The British dub for Sky TV could still find an audience here, if a streamer picked it up, given the voice talent (including Kate Winslet and Taron Egerton during earlier seasons). For Moomins lovers, three episodes of the third season screen again today during the 2023 New York International Children’s Film Festival.

Moomins look like hippos, but they are trolls—of the pre-social media variety. They are also quite sweet-tempered. It is mostly Moomins in Moominvalley, but they are a few other creatures, like the Kangaroo-looking Sniff and some humanoids, who are referred to as “Hemulens.” Perhaps for accessibility’s sake, the three episodes selected for NYICFF feature the Moomins helping their human friends.

In “Toffle’s Tall Tales,” Moomintroll (son of Moominpappa and Moominmamma) and Sniff help the five-year-old-looking little boy Toffle, who was changed to non-binary in this series (to appease the new kind of woke trolls), find a safe place to stay while the residents of Moominvalley hibernate. Their journey gets thoroughly complicated by Toffle’s penchant for spinning outrageous yarns. Conveniently, Jansson has been dead since 2001, so she had no feedback on the revision to her original character.

In “Miss Fillyjonk’s Last Hurrah,” Moomintroll misdiagnoses a tiny chicken bone lodged in her throat as inevitably fatal, so instead of trying to cure her, he convinces his severe spinsterish neighbor to finally enjoy some adventures in life, while she can. It is a very O. Henry-ish “carpe diem” episode, but pleasantly so.

Finally, in “Snufkin and the Fairground,” Moomintroll’s best friend (who displays anarchist tendencies in Jansson’s books) takes over a popular amusement park, after the previous owner resigns. Not surprisingly, he turns out to be a weak manager.

All three episodes work fairly well, because the Moomins usually learn lessons along with their humanish friends. As a result, it never feels like the Moomins are talking down to the people or vice versa. The tone is almost always gentle, which is why the occasional intrusion of identity politics is so jarring. So, parents should note, they might have to answer some pronoun questions after the “Toffle” episode.

The Moomins themselves are still rather cute, in an ambiguously plump kind of way. It is rewarding to see such beloved characters maintain their popularity and cultural relevancy, but the current stewards should tread carefully when “updating” the franchise for contemporary viewers. Otherwise, they risk igniting a controversy like that of the woke rewriting of Roald Dahl. Regardless, these three third season episodes are agreeable enough and the animation is appropriately colorful. Recommended for dedicated Moomins fans (casual viewers can find plenty of prior series episodes online), the three selected
Moominvalley screen again today (3/19), as part of this year’s NYICFF.