Friday, April 29, 2011

A Surprisingly Trippy Animated Film I'd Love To Remake: Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland!

The Good: Decent concept, Good story, Generally decent animation.
The Bad: Light on character development, No real DVD bonus features, Somewhat simple
The Basics: Short, but surprisingly smart, Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland is a children's animated film which will not bore adults!

One of the advantages of being married is that we have a chance to encounter all sorts of things we otherwise would not by sharing in the things our wife is interested in. In my case, I have been subjecting my wife to all sorts of works that she probably would rather forget. In her case, when we were out the other day, she gasped excitedly and picked up a DVD I had never heard of called Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland. It is a rare thing these days for me to encounter a film I have not heard of and when that happens, it has been hit or miss that I actually end up liking them. Whenever my wife tells me she has found something from her childhood that she wants to share with me, I cringe, but in the case of Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland, I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, this is rocketing up my list of films I would love to remake if I ever became a film director.

Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland is like a children's version of A Nightmare On Elm Street. While there is no single villain in the film, the movie is similar: a boy falls asleep and enters a dream world, which begins to be perverted into something twisted and dangerous. That might be the extent of the similarities, save that this children's animated adventure is actually scary in points and viewers are likely to be more excited than freaked out by the film. The concept is tight and were it not for the fact that the film is simplified to appeal primarily to children, this would be even better.

Nemo is a troublesome child who gets in trouble with his parents for eating pies his mother bakes, sometimes possibly in his sleep. The boy is sent to his room where he falls asleep and is visited by messengers from Slumberland. Professor Genius extends an invitation from the Princess Camille to Nemo to come to Slumberland and be her playmate. Despite the fact that he has never played with a girl before, Nemo is tempted by the sweets sent as gifts and takes the dirigible to Slumberland with his new companions. In the fantastical realm of Slumberland, Nemo meets King Morpheus and is made heir to Slumberland, being given the key which opens every door in the realm. Warned not to use that key to open a very specific door, Nemo and Camille play and Nemo feels treasured.

But Nemo soon falls in with Flip, a scoundrel who plays pranks and spreads chaos throughout Slumberland. It is through him that Nemo finds himself before the forbidden door. He unlocks the door to Nightmareland and the Nightmare King enters Slumberland. In the presence of the citizens of Slumberland, the Nightmare King captures King Morpheus and takes him to Nightmareland! Nemo, Flip and Camille must use the powerful scepter to recover Morpheus from Nightmareland, as Nemo learns to take responsibility for his actions.

Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland is a trippy animated film and one which viewers today would find easy comparison to Coraline. Less distinctly animated, Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland is actually surprisingly well-animated and the sense of movement and color is actually quite rich. The plot is a bit predictable: only one thing is forbidden to Nemo, so of course he ends up doing it. The morals are similarly simple: one is only as good as their word and Nemo learns he must keep his word and his actions must mirror his words.

There are conceits which annoyingly frame this as a children's movie, most notably the sidekick Icarus, a little flying squirrel who is Nemo's most steady companion. This is something which I would omit if I were to remake the film, but the presence of the sidekick is not as problematic as the annoying Flip, who is very much the hapless antagonist before the Nightmare King rears his head and becomes the obvious villain.

But what the film does remarkably well is develop and contain elements of dream and nightmare imagery. Early in the film, Nemo's dream turns into a nightmare and he finds himself being chased by a train and that chase sequence is absolutely brilliant. The pacing, look and feel of the train's pursuit is absolutely convincing as a nightmare and for the first time in my memory, my chest actually tightened with anxiety while watching an animated film! What is equally sensible is the way Nemo takes his time to learn how to travel through his dreams. So, for example, when he falls asleep and his bed becomes a flying vessel, he takes time to experiment and move the bed forward, up, down, left and right through the air!

While the character development in Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland is predictable, it is not unpleasant to watch. Nemo learns lessons from playing with others to being honest and this makes for a good film for children. Flip's presence is more monolithic, as are those of the other supporting characters. Still, the voice actors do an excellent job of emoting, especially Rene Auberjoinis as Professor Genius.

On DVD, Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland comes with only games for children that may be played through the DVD player. There is a game which allows the viewer to create their own Royal Scepter and a singalong which allows the viewer to sing to three of the film's songs. This is not much of a musical, though there is music present and characters sing, dance and go to the circus.

Ultimately, Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland is actually smarter than most children's movies and adults will actually find a lot to like out of this simple story of wish fulfillment in dreams that gets twisted into a reasonable and compelling nightmare. Not inappropriate for any children, viewers will enjoy the creativity and visual imagination of writers Chris Columbus (yes, the Harry Potter director!) and Richard Outten and directors William T. Hurtz and Masami Hata!

For other animated films or visually triply, conceptually interesting movies, please check out my reviews of:
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus
The Incredibles
Despicable Me


For other film reviews, please check out my extensive index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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