Page last updated at 22:30 GMT, Wednesday, 31 March 2010 23:30 UK

Moomin profits bolster fantasy world

By Helen Soteriou
Moomin Valley, Naantali, Finland

Little My
Little My reveals that many children tell their secrets to their favourite Moomin

You might think Finland's greatest export success is made by Nokia, or that it consists of pulp and planks made from its vast forests, but Sanna Jukantupa knows better.

Children play with Moomins
Moomins are a big part of some children's childhood and they never grow out of them
Sanna Jukantupa, Little My

As the temperatures drop to minus 19 degrees Celsius, she rushes, flask in hand, across the bridge that leads into Moomin World, home to the peculiar children characters.

In a hurry to prepare for her awaiting fans, she quickly transforms herself into Little My, one of the most loved of all the Moomin characters.

Bundled-up toddlers with tiny red faces light up at the sight of her and run up for a cuddle and to be photographed with one of Finland's most famous exports.

"Moomins are a big part of some children's childhood and they never grow out of them," Ms Jukantupa says.

"The main point for each child is meeting Moomin characters individually.

"Just getting a big warm hug from Moominmamma surely says it all and usually children tend to whisper their dreams and worries into the Moomins' ears, or they write them letters.

Low-key themepark

Magic Winter in Moomin World opens for just one week in February and again in the summer.

Moomin World
Moomin World is closed most of the winter but opens for much of summer

During the summer they have about 230,000 visitors and during the winter about 10,000.

In winter it is mainly local families who visit, but in the summer there are many tourists from neighbouring Scandinavian countries, or even from Japan, explains Ann-Karin Koskinen, marketing director of Moomin World.

Moomin World is not glitzy the way, say, Euro Disney is. There are no rides or sparkle here. But the valley itself is surrounded by mountains that make it a small adventure playground in its own right.

In the winter the children borrow sledges or skis here, whilst in summer they go swimming.

Own creatures

The Moomins were created by the Finnish artist and author Tove Jansson (1914-2001) who created and illustrated the nine Moomin novels between 1945 and 1970.

They are just good stories
Sophia Jansson-Zambra

They were published in the mid-1950s and have since been translated into more than 40 languages.

"The Moomins are very much Tove Jansson's own creatures," says Dr Sirke Happonen, a Moomins expert from Finland.

Indeed, when responding to letters from her readers, Ms Jansson always insisted she had not based the Moomins on any humans or animals - not even hippos, which they in many ways resemble.

"The Moomins [as a species] are kind, well-meaning, optimistic and sociable," says Dr Happonen.

"Their houses are open to all kind of personalities and characters such as thieves, ghosts, mice, Martians, hippies and policemen.

"They welcome all kinds of ideas and personalities that pass through their houses, but they themselves stay basically the same. They love their cosy life on the veranda and in the garden, but also long for adventures such as trips to desert islands and remote mountains."

Moomin merchandise

Ms Jansson's niece, Sophia Jansson-Zambra, controls the Moomins' copyrights.

As the custodian of the brand she protectively watches over her ward to ensure that the Moomins do not associate with the wrong crowd.

Moomins merchandising
Moomin merchandise is a lucrative source of revenue

According to Ms Jansson-Zambra, there are about 150 Moomin licensees in the Nordic countries with a further 100 in the rest of the world.

Some licensees have licences for a great number of products, so there are more than 250 bits of Moomin merchandise on the market.

"In Finland, there are Moomin products in most product groups, but in other countries it varies," she says.

"In Japan, for example, the greatest target group is 25 to 35 year old women, so the products reflect their desires and habits."

In the early 1970's, the Japanese turned the Moomins a pastel shade amidst growing popularity of Japanese animation Moomins.

Today, Japan is the biggest Moomin market outside Europe, with three Moomin-themed cafes that serve Nordic food, as well as a Moomin merchandise shop.

Making money

Children sledging
Children visit Moomin World are expected to play outdoors

Oy Moomin Characters declines to reveal details about the company's financial performance, but according to a Finish journalist who follows it, the firm saw turnover reach almost 3m euros last year, a third of it in Nordic countries with the rest across the world.

Profits came in at about 1.5m euros that year, sharply down from 2008 when it clocked up some 2.2m euros on profits of some 2.8m euros, the journalist claimed.

But Ms Jansson-Zambra insists the Moomins' remain both popular and profitable, and that there are many good reasons why this is so.

"The stories in the novels, picture books and comic strip cartoons are pregnant with lots of themes that are dear to most people, such as friendship, adventure, happiness, longing, fear, curiosity, family and friends," she says.

"In general, the stories and the accompanying illustrations work on very many levels with something for each reader, regardless of age.

"Also, the stories are not set in a geographical place or time so they work also for most people, regardless of their nationality. In short, they are just good stories and therefore have lasted for several generations."

Looking towards the future, she says she hopes "that the Moomins will go on being popular and hopefully more people will find the original books through our efforts".

"The new areas we are working on at the moment are the UK, France and the US will soon follow," she says.

And Ms Jansson-Zambra's parting advice for our readers.

"If you have never read a Moomin book, I suggest you do, just for fun."

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