Mio in the Land of Faraway is a movie adaption of Astrid Lindgren’s famous novel for children Mio min Mio, which was first published in 1954. This fantasy film was realized in 1987 by a Swedish, Norwegian and Soviet Union co-production and directed by Vladimir Grammatikov. The movie follows a boy’s journey from modern day Stockholm to the magical kingdom Faraway, where he has to fight an evil knight in order to free the land.
The protagonist is an orphaned boy named Bosse, who suffers neglect by his guardians and is abused by bullies. The movie’s onset shows an urban dystopian environment, which is then contrasted by lush green and idyllic landscapes when Bosse arrives in the Land of Faraway. The change in his personal situation is even bigger: his father, the king, treats him lovingly and he leads a peaceful lifestyle with the local children. There his real name ‘Mio’ is revealed to him, along with his prophesized destiny to fight the evil kidnapping knight Kato from the Land Outside, who turns children into servants by replacing their hearts with stone.
This fantasy film’s narrative strongly reminds of fairy tales and folklore. Common topics are orphanage, the resulting loneliness and neglect children have to face, distinct good and evil forces, prophecies that have to be fulfilled, a goodhearted hero on a dangerous journey, weapons with magic properties that are granted for an act of kindness, bravery and of course the triumph of good over evil and the resulting happy ending. This movie focuses on friendship and how they grant strength to endure hardships, as well as the importance of being strong and brave for a greater good, instead of cowardly and safe for one’s own sake.
Typical formal aspects of the fantasy for children genre is the harsh contrast between ordinary urban surroundings, where adults rule and children are suppressed and the magical land, where animals and objects can have strong enchanted properties and therefore nature is a power to reckon with.
Mio in the Land of Faraway was released shortly after Michael Ende’s The NeverEnding Story ’s film adaption, which created hype for magical child fantasy films in Europe. Although it became quite popular in the years to come, it was not praised originally, because it was viewed as an anglicized version of Astrid Lindgren’s work in contrast to the more medieval-styled and better-received movie adaptions, such as The Brothers Lionheart directed by Olle Hellbom in 1977.
Before I explore if there is a ‘typical’ Scandinavian film, and how Mio in the Land of Faraway relates to it, I have to mention the novel’s author: Astrid Lindgren. She has “achieved the status of a national monument and cultural treasure” (Holmlund, 186) and is has been stated by Margareta Rönnberg in her work En lek för ögat that Astrid Lindgren “plays a unifying function, for that which unites the Swedish people is not least a love for her and her characters”.
According to Holmlund’s essay Pippi and her Pals Scandinavian films concentrate on rural life as seen through children’s eyes, such as Emil in Lönneberga, The Children of Bullerby and Madicken of Junibacken. Even Pippi Longstocking’s endeavors are set in a small town and not in an urban modern-day environment. Children are shown in a safe and sound setting, where they never have to face real danger, “security and excitement go hand in hand” (Holmlund, 193). Another common feature in Scandinavian movies for children and especially adaptions of Astrid Lindgren’s work is nostalgia for nature and the bonderomantik that underlies the films.
“Astrid Lindgren’s original portrayals of Pippi and her pals stemmed from her convictions that children have a right to self-respect and autonomy yet should be able to feel that they belong to a community.” (Holmlund, 194).
This mindset and the generally well-liked work of the author led to the point that a great number of Swedes feel that the books and films are part of their cultural heritage. Holmlund foresees that “to a population now clustered in just three percent of the country, nostalgia for wide-open spaces and unspoiled nature” (195) and therefore the traditional setting of Scandinavian children movies will not cease in importance. This sentimentality towards the Scandinavian past and its nature-heavy portrays in contemporary culture can also be seen in entertainment directed towards adults. An example is the popular television series Vikings (2013), a Canadian-Irish co-production about the legendary Norse ruler Ragnar Lodbrok and his endeavors. .
This romanticized longing for nature is also evident in Mio in the Land of Faraway. Nowadays most children live in an urban environment which cannot be compared to Bullerby. Parents have to work long hours; children have to face insecurities in life, such as the parents’ divorce, and no longer grow up in an impenetrable village-like community that will protect them. Bullying in schools are commonly experienced, children feel threatened in their everyday environment. This is exactly what Bosse experiences while he lives with his aunt and uncle, he is neglected and longs for a nostalgic loving home, which is then granted in the Land of Faraway.
In conclusion Mio in the Land of Faraway is not a ‘typical’ Scandinavian/Astrid Lindgren film in the traditional sense, but a more modern day to a child’s life in an urban setting. This would explain why this movie got mostly negative reviews in Swedish newspapers by viewers and critics. It was not ‘Swedish’ enough.
Holmlund, Chris 2003: Pippi and her Pals. In: Swedish Film. An Introduction and Reader. 186-197. Nordic Academic Press, Lund.
Rönnberg, Margareta 1987: En lek för ögat: 28 filmberättelser av Astrid Lindgren. Filmförlag, Uppsala.