“Here they are for one and all / Moomins are about to call / C’mon and sit down here with me / They are here for you on your TV”
With that appalling clang of lyrics, in 1995 UK viewers were greeted with the 1990 Moomin adaptation, a co-production by TV Tokyo, Telescreen Japan Inc., Finlands Broadcasting YLE and Telecable Benelux B.V.
We’d had a dub of the Polish stop motion adaptation in the 80s, narrated by Richard Murdoch, and that one tends to be remembered the fondest of the two. There had also been Japanese adaptations in the late sixties / early seventies, but they are a tale for another day.
This particular series is a very competent adaptation of the Tove Jansson novels, directed by veteran, Hiroshi Saito. Growing up in the UK in the 80s you’d have seen his work in Real Ghostbusters, Dennis (Dennis the Menace renamed for the UK as we already have our own, better, Dennis the Menace) and Alfred J Kwak. Even earlier, if you lived in the right region, you could have seen his work on Vicky the Viking.
For those not familiar with Jansson’s novels, they are about a family of trolls who live in Moominvalley in Finland. They are also about family, friendship, the seasons, nature, and the general Finnish-ness of existence. They were pretty much the only non-Doctor Who, non-Roald Dahl or non-Dick King Smith books that I was interested in reading when I was in primary school. That was in part due to the stop motion adaptation.
I don’t know if this series had the same effect on kids’ reading habits when it came along in the UK in ’95, I was 19 years old at this point after all, but according to wikipedia this adaptation did trigger a “Moomin Boom”. Judging from the Moomin merchandise in Waterstones and the Moomin shop in Covent Garden we can safely assume the wave of that boom can still be felt.
OK enough blathering about a subject too huge for the intentions of this post, lets talk about what we are here for, the first episode of this series.
It’s the first part of an adaptation of Finn Family Moomintroll, that runs through the first eight episodes of the series. We get an introduction to main characters, Moomin, Moominmamma, Moominpappa, Little My (introduced here from the start, rather than later as in the books) and establishing shots of the valley. The adaptations of Jansson’s illustrations into the background paintings of the show is one of the strengths of the show. While it can’t use the white of the page in the way Jansson could, it does a great job of conveying place and season.
Waking from hibernation Moomin meets his friend Snufkin who has returned to the valley and the pair wake the ever complaining Snuff to go climb to the top of the valley. There they find a top hat that they take home. Too big to be worn they use it as a waste basket, but it proves to have magical properties. First it produces magic clouds that you can float on, leading to some entertaining action scenes with various characters flying on the clouds. Things take a more sinister turn when Moomin hides in the hat during a game of hide and seek, and turns into an creature that the other characters don’t recognise as Moomin. There’s some nice work in the change of expressions in Moomin as he realises his situation, particularly the scene in front of the mirror. Eventually Moominmamma acknowledges him as Moomin and he returns to his normal shape. The episode ends with the characters pondering the magic nature of the top hat.
Even ignoring the affection I have for the characters, it definitely feels a few notches above most of the early 1990s TV anime I’ve looked at so far. The UK dub is curious in its choice of “American” accents (coming from British, American and Canadian actors), and while the credits are great for giving credit to the Japanese animation staff, it doesn’t match voices to roles. A wasted childhood of watching cartoons and listening to Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy meant I instantly recognised Susan Sheridan as Moomin, but I was stumped on the others back in 1995 and still am now.
The series is available on DVD in the UK, but a word of warning, it is a pretty grotty transfer. Grainy picture and even sound problems abound. You can get it for £4 per volume on eBay if lucky, but I’d be tempted to see if you can get it even cheaper as these are a pretty rotten release.
AMAZE YOUR FRIENDS WITH THIS EXCITING FACT: Moomin took over the slot on TV Tokyo previously filled by Cat Ninja Legend Teyandee AKA Samurai Pizza Cats