Momo is a young girl with no parents, like many fairy tale protagonists. She has an animal friend, a turtle named Cassiopea. And like every hero, Momo doesn’t yet know what her task is, but soon she will be pushed into action to save her friends. Her efforts will show her friends the importance of taking time to live.

Based on Michael Ende‘s 1973 novel of the same name, Momo is a tender adventure about childhood and adult life. It’s the second adaptation: the first one was a live-action movie released in 1986 and directed by Johannes Schaaf. In 2003 Germany produced an animated series composed of 24 episodes based on the movie, also entitled Momo.

Saving the time

Momo appears in a new, little town as a fairy. No one knows where she comes from, nor if she has a family or how she arrived there. She befriends an old man, Beppo, who is a grandfather figure to her. Shortly afterward, she meets other children playing in the ancient arena. They will be her play and adventure mates: among them, there’s Gigi, who falls in love with her. One day, out of the blue, someone new arrives in town: a Grey Man, who smokes one cigar after another. He starts persuading people to save their time, being more and more efficient and productive, and subtracting time from their pastimes.

From the moment he convinces the city barber he has no more time to live, life in the small town won’t be the same anymore. Grey Men are supernatural beings who aim to steal time from humans. Momo is the only one able to predict how dangerous they can be: so, she doesn’t hesitate a moment. With Cassiopea’s help, she’s ready to do anything to save her friends.

A metaphor for today’s world

Similar to Guillermo Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth or Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, Momo is a modern fable for adults. Nevertheless, it’s enjoyable at every age; children will love the story itself, while grown-ups will be able to understand the metaphorical content. Besides being the adventure just of a child, Momo is a narrative whose protagonist recalls epic characters such as Sophocles Antigone. It’s the story of a young girl fighting for a higher good. Just as Antigone fought for the right to give eternal rest to her brother, so Momo faces the Grey Men to take her friend’s lifetime back, risking her own life. On the other hand, Grey Men can be seen as the personification of a frenzied daily routine, where the obsession for work leaves no time to live.

Momo reveals itself to be a story about the importance of taking time. Themes of awakening back to life can be found in other animated movies like Soul (Pete Docter and Kemp Powers, 2020). The soundtrack, realized by the Italian singer Gianna Nannini, underlines this concept, comparing time to air. Because in the end, if children live just to study and adults just to work and be productive, one forgets to take and spend time for everything else: love, friendship, fun, dance. That is what makes people feel really alive, at the end of the day.