There are no Moomin originals – anymore
Meet Series creator Marika Makaroff
There are no Moomin originals – anymore.
Meet Series creator Marika Makaroff
WeAnimate 2023-12-11 | wam#0024
Each new adaptation of the Moomin stories adds something to what we have seen and learned from the true Nordic classic. So does the latest Finnish-UK version Moominvalley in 3D, made by strong-willed women who did not know so much about animation at first, but were eager to learn.
Since 25th February the Finns have been talking about the new animated version of the Moomins on social media and over coffee. When one-quarter of the population has seen the first episodes, either at its prime-time, 8 PM TV slot or via Yle Areena, the online streaming service for the Finnish national broadcaster, it is definitely a hit and a keen topic of conversation. The Moomins have a special place in Finnish minds, as they do in many parts of the world.
From the perspective of the Finnish animation industry, it feels great that there is this kind of interest in a new animation series. Generally, people think that animation belongs in the children’s block on morning TV, and assume that journalists or adults, in general, would not be interested. Moomins, however, uniquely unite people across generations, from grannies to the smallest children. The new version is rated K7, not for preschoolers. Instead, Moominvalley is dramatized and visualized for the whole family, even for adults who know their Moomins already.
The new series became a possibility when the rights to the early 1990’s version had expired. Since then, the only other offering has been the Moomins on the Riviera feature, a French-Finnish coproduction that premiered in 2014. The feature film, which reached its main audience through cinemas in cities, had a strategy for sales, distribution, and finding new audiences, which was very different from that of the Moominvalley series. The movie did quite well in places where the Moomins were already an established brand, like in the UK and in Finland, but it did not manage to expand that audience significantly “The cinema distribution company in France, chosen by the producers of the film, was good but very small and independent. They did not make a lot of effort to market the film in France; hence its success in the cinemas was limited. Moomins are not very well known in France and would have needed more PR to attract a bigger audience” says Sophia Jansson (b. 1962), Creative Director for Moomin Characters, the company founded in the late 1950s by the original creators Tove Jansson and her brother Lars Jansson, father of Sophia.
The 1990-91 version of the Moomins, animated in Japan but produced by a Finnish-Dutch company, still lives strongly in people’s minds. For some, the beloved animated representation of the Moomins has taken on the feeling of a new original, taking over from the original children’s books or the 1950’s comics originally written for adults. The Finnish-Dutch production was a huge success when it was created and was lifted further by the flow of popular, licensed products that have made the Moomin character one of the most successful of its kind in Northern Europe.
Moominvalley, as the new series has been named, began in Stockholm where Marika Makaroff (b. 1973), a producer and a Creative Director in Finland, was working with Filmlance, the company behind the famous Nordic noir crime series The Bridge. At the time, Makaroff was ferrying between Finland and Sweden once a month due to work, “I was with my then 2-year-old son when I saw a glimpse of Moomins on the Riviera in the children’s playground area. I started to think that someone should do a new TV-version of the Moomins. I ended up founding my own production company Gutsy Animations in the UK and Finland, and hired a top-level production team to fulfill that vision.
Shared work with the shared heritage
To look for talent to help the vision along, Makaroff talked to directors and scriptwriters from around the world. Among them Steve Box from Aardman Animations, who ended up becoming the Moominvalley director. “People were excited about the new series when I told them about the idea” Makaroff says, “and it was a bit a snowball effect: if you get a good team around you, you get the great actors, from Jennifer Saunders to Taron Egerton, not to mention popular musicians, all huge fans of Tove Jansson’s work”. The Finnish animation scene became happier than ever when Makaroff chose the Finnish 3D masters in Anima Vitae to be the lead studio, with its Malaysian sister company Anima Point helping to make the series a profitable success. Even better, the Finnish cash rebate came just in time for the new Moomin production, at the beginning of 2017.
“We know it is of utmost importance to work with people who are both skilled and professional, so we were very happy that Gutsy Animations chose such talented people to work on the new Moominvalley series,” says Sophia Jansson. Moomin Characters is well known in Finland for having a tight policy regarding how the characters are allowed to be represented on various products. From a Moomin shaped lamp by Harri Koskinen to dresses made by Ivana Helsinki, only the most renowned and rewarded designers and the best manufacturers get access to use the heritage brand. During the past two decades, the Moomin brand has developed into one of the central icons of Finnish and Scandinavian design.
Makaroff believes her enthusiasm has been crucial to the whole project coming off the ground. “I believed that sharing my enthusiasm with the whole team, from the director and main scriptwriter Steve Box to episode writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler, would be enough to motivate and convince them.”
The shared vision included the use of full 3D CGI with a painterly effect to achieve the look of the Moominvalley. That process, turning 2D Moomin characters into 3D, was one of learning, as well as building trust between all companies involved and between the creative people themselves. “Making the second season comes easier,” says Makaroff. “I know by now what works and what doesn’t.” For Sophia Jansson, the challenge was with the change from the drawn 2D shape to the rigged 3D characters, “The first 3D models of the characters I tried to correct and comment on as I would a normal 2D rendering of a Moomin character, but my remarks only made the end result look worse. This was mainly due to my lack of experience in how rigging for animation is done.
We started all over and I realized I had to trust the animation professionals to know what would work and what not. I was very happy to see how well the final rigs worked on screen,”
“Early on, Marika pointed out the importance of making the new animation in 3D as it was the only way to reach an audience on a global scale. This was our ambition, of course.” Jansson adds.
Both Jansson and her husband Roleff Kråkström, managing director of Moomin Characters since 2008, looked very happy at the Moomin gala organized by the city of Helsinki, Yle and Gutsy Animations on the 25th January. The event was also the world premiere of Moominvalley.
It looks as if some of the most devoted fans would like to have their say in the handling of every licensed product and worry even deeper about carrying out Tove Jansson’s original intentions than the team working at Moomin Characters.
The Moomins have certainly grown into a global phenomenon beyond their creator.
Japan has experienced Moomins in three different versions, in 1969, the early 1970s and the latest in the early 1990s.
Germany, Poland, and even Sweden also have their own past Moomin versions, that later audiences may think of as new originals. Johan Hagelbäck’s 1980 animated short of Tove Jansson’s picture book Who will comfort Toffle was very loyal to the original, published in 1960. Theatre director Vivica Bandler (b. 1917), Tove Jansson’s first female lover, created a wilder interpretation of the same story for Dramaten, one of the main theatrical stages in Stockholm.
There are a lot of emotions linked to how each fan experiences their favorite characters and stories in the Moomin canon, sometimes pleasant and sometimes dark. Originally in a book format with 200 original illustrations by Tove Jansson, a lot was left to the reader’s imagination. Later, Tove Jansson created around 3200 drawings for the comic strips, and Sophia Jansson’s father Lars Jansson created even more. The comics ran continuously from 1954 to 1975.
The United States of America, however, has historically been a difficult international market for the Finnish post-war creations. Details that are completely acceptable by Scandinavian standards – nudity, queerness – have not always been well received in all markets abroad. Moomins do actually drink alcohol and have even taken drugs in one comic strip by Lars Jansson from 1967. Sophia Jansson mentions that there was once an attempt to work with an American team, with ambitions to rewrite the stories and make them more politically correct for the US market. The suggested changes were too drastic and Jansson never felt it was acceptable to change Tove Jansson’s original stories to that extent.
For the Moominvalley series, the reception at the New York film festival in February showed that there is a potential market in the US. There certainly is in Northern neighbor Canada, where original Moomin comics have been published in color by the Montreal-based company Drawn & Quarterly since 2006. For the small publisher, it became a big hit and copies are sent globally to English speaking countries, with some titles translated into French too.
Moomin Characters and their agents, Bulls and Rights & Brands, license the right to use Moomin artwork on new products. Concept images for the new Moominvalley animation, made by, among others, the Finnish design studio Piñata, are already printed on trays, notebook covers, and postcards. They appeared on the shelves at Moomin Shops in Central Helsinki the same week as the new series, but there is much more to come, as Moominvalley is rolled out on different markets.
Words: Liisa Vähäkylä
Photos: Per Olov Jansson
Photos from Moomin © Moomin Characters & Gutsy Animations
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