If you’ve never heard of the Moomins, you were probably born yesterday. The internationally and famously loved, friendly yet adventure-filled characters created by Tove Jansson have been seen in all sorts of merchandise since the original books, comics and cartoons, ranging from yarns, films, language schools, earrings, theme parks, games, coffee shops, smoothies to you name it.
Marika Makaroff understands where the immense and everlasting popularity stems from.
“The incredible positivity and faith in life, as well as their values, such as friendship, love, tolerance, courage and respect for nature, are difficult not to share,” she tells.
She should know: as the CEO of Gutsy Animations, the creator of the new Moomin series that premiered this week in Finland and is set to be broadcast around the world this spring, she has been working with the Moomins pretty much every day for the past few years.
And she doesn’t even mind.
“The Moomins are great to work with. Because work is such a big part of your life, it’s superb to be able to do something you truly believe in.”
A global yet Finnish production
As with all huge production projects, the road that led to the creation of the new Moomin series was lengthy. Moomin Characters, the company owning the copyright to the entire world of the Moomins, has been closely involved in the process.
The director, Oscar-winning Steve Box, has been on board since the early days. Together with him, Makaroff built a team and went through what she refers to as “colourful stages” and learning curves.
“My background is in entertainment and drama production, and this is my first animation ever. It has been a lot of fun but also filled with challenges.”
In addition to Box, there are various world-famous names on the cast list, including the likes of Kate Winslet and Rosamund Pike. Such is the confidence in the series that a second season is already in the making.
Despite many international makers, a significant share of the production has taken place in Finland. This is partially due to the 25 per cent tax rebate available to film and TV productions. Makaroff emphasises that with the help of the incentive, the series was able to tap Finnish artists, animators and musicians that would’ve been impossible otherwise. The production is the most expensive per-minute that has ever been made in Finland.
Ideals in the background
Given the weight of expectation on the series, the pressure isn’t, as one can imagine, on the mildest end of the spectrum.
“Many Moomin fans are very active and enthusiastic,” Makaroff says. “Our intention has been to stay as faithful as possible to Tove Jansson’s original spirit, but of course we’re nervous to see how it’s received by the audience.”
For Makaroff personally, it has been important to be able to make an animation in which the main character, Moomintroll, is non-aggressive, gentle and thoughtful. As a mother to a five-year-old boy, she has been disappointed to see how one-dimensional many animations are and how little gender parity there is.
“We have various strong female characters, an idealistic main character and values and views in the stories that hopefully will spark conversations between children and parents.”
On top of Gutsy Animations, Makaroff also runs Gutsy Media, which is a peace project for schools currently operating in Finland but aiming abroad later. Makaroff consider herself both as an idealist and activist – but can a production company be that?
“At least we can try to do things we find meaningful and have an impact that way. Obviously, it’s not just running around in flower fields, we’re just as bound by budgets and time constraints as anyone else, but that doesn’t stop us from doing our best.”
Gutsy Animations and Gutsy Media both have a couple of dozen employees, and Gutsy UK hosts a team of 15 to 30 people. Naturally, there are also the lovable characters to work with; but one must be Makaroff’s favourite over others, right?
“To me, Moomintroll is really important. He is an idealist looking for his place in the world. It’s like my mentor says, Moomintroll resembles me so much that maybe the Moomins chose me, not the other way around.”