Kate Winslet and Rosamund Pike are among the starry lineup in a new TV adaptation of the Moomins. Why do Tove Jansson’s hippo creatures have such enduring appeal?

It is -15C and snowy outside but unusually relaxed and welcoming inside a grand building on the corner of Senate Square in Helsinki where a preview is taking place of the much-anticipated TV animation Moominvalley. The most expensive of its kind in the history of Finnish television, the series is the creation of Oscar-winning director Steve Box (Wallace and Gromit) and executive producer Marika Makaroff, of the company behind The Bridge (spoiler: it is much sunnier in Moominvalley).

That evening no one is left in any doubt as to the central place of Tove Jansson’s Moomins in Finnish culture as the vice president, clutching two Moomin mugs, tells the audience they are Finland’s “crown jewels”. “Moomins is a religion,” agrees scriptwriter Mark Huckerby when we meet – along with his longterm writing partner Nick Ostler – the following evening in a bar with the un-Moominish name of Liberty or Death. The award-winning duo have previously taken on Peter Rabbit, Thunderbirds and Danger Mouse, but nothing quite prepared them for the daunting task of bringing Jansson’s much loved troll family to life. “Moomins is so head and shoulders above any of those others.” says Ostler. “It’s terrifying.” It was easy to get actors such as Kate Winslet on board, he says, because of their shared passion for the philosophical hippo creatures. Rosamund Pike was cast against her icy Bond/Gone Girl type as the cosily droll matriarch and, in inspired casting, Will Self is the voice for the curmudgeonly philosopher Muskrat.

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