Cartoon capers on the Riviera

Xavier Picard talks about the global cult of the Moomins.

by Richard Mowe

Xavier Picard on Moomins’ universal appeal: “Jansson has created complete eccentrics who have a lot of humour yet live a simple life in harmony with Nature and with respect for others."
Xavier Picard on Moomins’ universal appeal: “Jansson has created complete eccentrics who have a lot of humour yet live a simple life in harmony with Nature and with respect for others."
Based on the hand-drawn work of Finnish comic strip guru Tove Jansson The Moomins have become a global phenomenon. They head for the Riviera for assorted holiday misadventures in a new extravaganza directed by Xavier Picard, a French filmmaker who had been fan for many years. I met him in Paris at the Unifrance Rendez-vous with French Cinema ahead of the film’s Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival and before its UK release later in the year.

Ricahrd Mowe: Were the Finns slightly suspicion about a Frenchman hijacking one of their national treasures?

Xavier Picard: I was a bit wary about it but now I can give you an answer with a bit more confidence than might been the case a few months ago. The film of Moomins On The Riviera has been in Finnish cinemas (and still is) from the beginning of October. There have been more than 200,000 admissions, which in a country of only five million inhabitants signals a big successs with the public. Not only that but the critics were positive about it, too. They said not only had I respected Jansson’s work but I had translated it sympathetically in to animation

RM: It was also a significant anniversary for its creator?

XP: Yes last year was the 100th anniversary of Jansson’s birth and it was also the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Moomins. So there was a lot of competition for the rights from some of the big American and Japanese studios. They are very well known in Japan and also in the UK because in the Sixties the comic strip was published in a British newspaper [the now demised Evening News in London]. There is even a Moomins store in Covent Garden for all the toys and merchandise.

RM: When did you discover the Moomins ?

XP: I had been working in the comic strip world as an artist since I started my career, and at the age of 25 I was working with Jean Chalopin who created Inspector Gadget and other big series. He had a company in Japan where I was working and it was at that time I discovered the books and the comic strips and I loved the design, the drawing, and the stories. So I have been familiar with the world of the Moomins for quite a long time. I wanted to do justice to Jansson even though a TV series exists they don’t exactly reflect what I’ve seen when reading the comic strip.

RM: How long did the whole process take, given that you introduced colour because the original was published in black and white?

Xavier Picard: “I wanted to do justice to Tove Jansson."
Xavier Picard: “I wanted to do justice to Tove Jansson."
XP: It took two years to write the script and to find the funding. Then it was another two years to direct and produce with a team in Paris and also with post-production taking place in Finland. We ended up with around 120,000 drawings because I did not want to use a lot of computer software. A Moomin has a very pure line so I wanted to respect that. For the colours I did not want them to be realistic but rather to reflect the moods and feelings of the characters.

RM: Why did you choose the Riviera as a backdrop?

XP: I wanted to place them in a completely different universe and to see how that affected their reactions and behaviour. One of the original comic strips did include a short section of the Moomins on the Riviera, which provided a base. We did a huge amount of hand drawn work and only later scanned and coloured them digitally. Some of it was done with animators in China as well as at my studio in Paris and all the post-production and sound was completed in Helsinki.

RM: Did you have any reference filmic points in mind?

XP: I am a huge admirer of Jacques Tati so obviously his work in M Hulot’s Holiday had some influence, especially on the sound-scape. It is very stylised – I did not want any realistic sound effects.

RM: What is it about Tove Jansson’s work that makes it so universal with an ability to cross frontiers?

XP: I think it is because she has created complete eccentrics who have a lot of humour yet live a simple life in harmony with Nature and with respect for others. It is a simple message that is delivered with strength and tenderness. They live in peace and have this capacity to dream, and in these tough times that is something that touches people. The proof is that the film has been sold to more than 30 countries and we are doing versions in Japanese, Swedish and French as well as English and Finnish with more to come.

Moomins on the Riviera screens at Glasgow Film Festival on Saturday, February 21, Odeon at the Quay, 12pm and on Sunday, February 22 at Cineworld Parkhead, 3pm.

It is released in the UK on May 1

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