I admit it. This must seem like a strange review with which to begin (belatedly) the New blogging Year, especially after such a long hiatus. But I’m keen to get things going again around here, and to me this seems like as good a place as any to begin, because Nijntje de Film (or The Miffy Movie, as its English language title would have it) will always have a special place in my heart. It’s not because this is an especially profound or beautiful film, but because it was the first time I ever took my daughter to the cinema. Evie is nearly 15 months old. Miffy (or Nijntje, as they call her in her native Netherlands) has been around for nearly six decades. I knew I wanted to test Evie out at the cinema to see how she would respond, and this seemed like a good place to start; Evie doesn’t watch TV, except for the occasional hand-picked cartoon (Peppa Pig, Rastamouse and Disney’s Silly Symphonies have so far proven to be her favourites), but she recognises Miffy from toys and merchandise and, more importantly, Dick Bruna’s beautiful books. We’ve also taken Evie to visit the Dick Bruna house in Utrecht, so she can identify the little bunny on sight by now.The earliest surprise on my first ever trip to a baby’s film screening is that Pathe cinemas in the Netherlands charge full ticket price for infants. I had thought we would just drop in to the film, and that we wouldn’t be out of pocket if Evie decided she just wasn’t comfortable or interested and we had to leave. I needn’t have worried. As soon as she saw the enormous screen, which was playing a trailer for some movie about birds whose name escapes me, she was excited, and by the time Miffy came onto the screen, she was fully engaged. For Evie, full engagement means pointing and shouting at the screen. For someone who usually demands complete silence from an audience at the cinema, this was counterintuitive, but great fun: toddlers don’t pussyfoot around at the movies – if they see something they like, they’ll point and shout at it. Miffy the Movie acknowledges this, and there is plenty of interaction built into the film. Miffy asks you questions. Simple ones like, “Do you want to come to the zoo with me?”, “Have you seen Snuffy the dog?” At the start of the film, the sound of children shouting their responses is recorded on the soundtrack and comes out of the surround speakers, but as the film goes on, this reduces as, it is assumed, the kids in the audience will warm up and play their part. Evie danced to the songs, clapped along to the music and was powerfully vocal in her appreciation of Miffy the Movie. That should be all the endorsement you need, but perhaps I should add a few thoughts of my own.
It’s probably not necessary to ‘review’ the film, since all that matters is whether or not your child enjoys it. Miffy the Movie is targeted at very young children, and there are no concessions, pop culture references, innuendoes, or other gestures for the benefit of adults in the crowd. The story is about Miffy’s trip to the zoo with her parents and her friends Melanie and Grunty. This means that there isn’t a plot so much as a series of set-pieces, as each new animal inspires a different song or game. They haven’t pumped the film full of celebrity cameos, wise-cracking sidekicks, or sent Miffy through a magic portal into the ‘real’ (live-action) world – I’m glaring at you, The Smurfs. And especially you, Thomas and the Magic Railroad.The Miffy aesthetic has always been defined by simplicity. Dick Bruna managed to create affecting characters and situations (I defy you not to be moved when Miffy copes with a death in the family in Dear Grandma Bunny) with the bare minimum of pictorial detail. This is what Mondrian would have done had he turned his hand to children’s picture books. Miffy the Movie follows the animation template set down in the TV series Miffy and Friends: the sets and puppets are solidly coloured, and their expressions don’t change beyond the occasional blink. Depending on your perspective, this either makes everything far too simple, or makes everything charmingly simple. I found it a real pleasure to see stop-motion animation on the big screen in its pure form: little puppets in little sets, with only the slightest digital augmentation on the backgrounds (the high-res images on this page will give you a good sense of the texture of Miffy’s world, too). I think Evie liked it, too, but most likely not for the same nostalgic, techno-conservative angle as I did.
I should probably say that we didn’t watch the film to the end. Even 75 minutes is too long for Evie to stay put, especially as the matinee cut into her precious nap-time. But I was very pleased that for a good 45 minutes, she was focused and had a lot of fun with Miffy and friends. After that, we wandered around the auditorium (Evie likes climbing up and down steps now, and there are a lot of steps at the cinema), or flipped through the pages of Miffy in the Snow, or ate a banana or something like that. Then it was time to sleep. So, I don’t know if the last ten minutes of Miffy the Movie descended into existential angst, a battle against orcs, or if Miffy turned out to be a ghost, time-traveller, or a particularly immersive performance from Daniel Day-Lewis. Oh, and my Dutch is quite limited, so I can’t say for certain that this Miffy wasn’t a jive-talking smart-arse. But it will always be Evie’s first movie, thus one of my favourite cinemagoing experiences, and I don’t care who knows it.