#1 Fun for the whole family adventures
Moominvalley is a lush, peaceful land, situated amongst steep mountains, deep forests, and a large sea. It is the home of The Moomins, a family of… things. They are rotund creatures that look like hippos, but walk on two legs and speak eloquently. The family consists of Moomin, Moominpappa, and Moominmamma, but they are regularly joined by all kinds of friends, creatures, and strange visitors.
Moominvalley is no stranger to adventure. The feature film Comet in Moominland already deals with the family taking shelter from the apocalypse, and things only get weirder from there. One day the entire valley is turned into a lush jungle. On another it is beset upon by pirates. In one episode everybody sets out to explore an island, but in another Moomin’s girlfriend gains psychic abilities after being struck by lightning
All these adventures are entertaining and imaginative, which mainly appeals to younger viewers. You got lighthearted comedy, the goofy-looking characters, and the upbeat atmosphere of Moominvalley, which is all super kid-friendly. However, like with the apocalyptic movie, there is content in here that strangely appeals to older audiences. I found several characters to be relatable and the stories often still managed to click with me on an emotional level. The sharp writing of the dialogue also helps a lot, leading to a lot of surprisingly brutal lines and subversive jokes.
#2 Adorable & weird characters
This dialogue also benefits from how likeable the characters are. Moomin is an adventurous and excitable youth; morally upstanding and kind, but still prone to emotional outbursts and excitement. His dad is an old adventurer whose memoirs are constantly delayed due to writer’s block, while his mother is a saintly woman who cares for everyone in the community.
Moomin has a bunch of friends as well. Little My is a small, mischievous girl who seems like a bully at first, but is actually quite good-hearted. Little My likes danger and adventure; she matches Moomin in bravery, but also has the go-getter attitude to tackle problems head-on. In a way, she earns her right to be a little mean to people.
Snork and Snorkmaiden are two other Moomin-people who live nearby. Snork is an ambitious inventor who is forever haunted by bad luck. His dream of creating a flying machine is an arduous quest, but he always finds the motivation to carry on regardless of the setbacks. His sister Snorkmaiden is girly and carefree by comparison, but often prone to bouts of jealousy when it comes to Moomin.
But the real OG of Moominvalley is Snufkin; an enigmatic vagabond who frequently camps down by the lake. Moomin greatly admires Snufkin’s freedom-loving spirit and worldly experience, so the two become adventuring partners. What makes Snufkin stand out is that he balances Moomin’s emotional tendencies. He is pragmatic and intelligent, which often turns him into the voice of reason or the hero who gets everybody out of their (self-inflicted) problems.
There are also a wealth of recurring side-characters to enjoy. The obnoxious imp Stinky, the evil witch and her granddaughter, the mysterious Groke, there’s too many to name. It’s a vibrant and diverse community!
#3 Lovable art-style
The Moomin anime is based on a long-running series of comics by Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson. This is an unusual source of inspiration for an anime, but one that leads to a different style of animation. I’ve read some of Tove’s comics for myself and, I gotta say, Moomin the anime really does right by them.
The artstyle of the comics is mostly fine, but the level of details fluctuates wildly between different strips and the various novels. To be fair, the series hails from the 1940s and was likely far more impressive at the time. The producers behind the anime went to great lengths to adapt these comics properly and they succeeded; Moominvalley has truly come to life. It’s bright, colorful, and warm, with characters that look beautiful and a setting that feels incredibly well-realized.
This stands in stark contrast to other attempts at bringing the comics to anime. The 70s saw the World Masterpiece Theater produce a crude, ugly adaptation of the series. It was criticized for its lack of respect for Tove’s work, who eventually disowned the anime entirely. Allegedly, this prompted the Japanese team to make the series even more vulgar out of spite.
Only in recent years has a new animated series being attempted, which is the CGI series Moominvalley. While it does look nice and is probably more appealing to today’s children, to me it can’t match the charm of the traditionally-animated 90s classic.
#4 International cooperation
Projects that adapt Moomin are always fascinating from a cultural perspective. Tove herself was born in Finland, then part of the Russian empire, to a family that was part of a Swedish-speaking minority in the country. Baltic and Scandinavian influences thus inspired much of her writing, as did her travels all around Europe.
This specific Moomin anime was animated by the Netherlands-based Telecable and the Japanese studio Telescreen, with directing work by Hiroshi Saito (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Katri) and Masayuki Kojima (Monster, Made in Abyss). Overall production lay in the hands of Dennis Livson, a producer who’d previously worked on another Dutch-Japanese hybrid show called Alfred J. Kwak; an amazing cartoon that many Dutch children grew up with. In fact, it was his splendid work on Alfred that convinced Tove to give anime another chance.
Like with Alfred, this strange international production team led to interesting results. Moomin feels like a Western cartoon, but it enjoys a quality and consistency of animation rarely afforded to Western productions of its time.
This mixture of sensibilities and cultures also set Moomin up for unprecedented success. Moomin media had always done well in Scandinavia and the Baltic States, and of course Livson had the anime dubbed for releases in these regions. Moomins also aired dubbed in The Netherlands, the rest of Europe, and North America. It even became a hit sensation in Japan itself. This widespread success sparked a new boom of interest for Moomin, truly reviving the decades-old series for a whole new generation.
#5 Continuous storyline
A final point of praise for Moomin has to go to the format of its storyline. Many adventures fit into a single episode, making them easily-digestible, but this is not strictly an episodic series. There is one ongoing storyline with a scope that constantly expands.
Characters and plot devices from earlier episodes frequently come back up in later adventures, which can be surprising if you’re used to the throwaway plot of something like Pokémon. Some stories also develop over the course of several episodes, even if they aren’t the main focus. For example, the aforementioned evil witch is in a rivalry with the Moomin family, because her granddaughter Alicia is too nice, friendly, and not like a witch at all. She believes that The Moomins are corrupting Alicia with their goodness, but constantly struggles to keep her from playing with the other children.
It’s fun to see these developments happen and actually stick, or to have new characters become permanent cast members. It creates several mini-arcs throughout the anime with satisfying conclusions of their own.
I commend Moomin for finding a balance between keeping episodes largely standalone, but still having this rewarding continuity.