By Katlynn Rossignol
Nemo loved living with her father in their picturesque island lighthouse, but when Nemo’s father is lost at sea, Nemo is sent to live with her estranged and socially awkward uncle. Nemo sleeps to escape her grief and meets Flip, the self-proclaimed famous outlaw of Slumberland, in her dream. The two go on a treasure hunt for the wish-granting pearls hidden in the Sea of Nightmares to fulfill Nemo’s wish to see her father again.
The tone of the movie is quippy and light-hearted, with most of the comedy carried by Flip. The movie doesn’t set out to be a comedy movie but has a few great jokes throughout its runtime.
While the film is mostly light and fun, it also carries darker undertones through many scenes. Little kids may be troubled by some of the nightmare sequences for their dark and shadowy nature, but there is also nothing overtly disturbing shown on screen.
“Slumberland” considers themes of family connection, grief and the process of moving on in healthy ways. Nemo is an 11-year-old girl played by Marlow Barkley, who is devastated that she has to move to the city with her uncle. She is out of her element and grieving, finding comfort and escape in Slumberland. The movie follows her journey as she learns that living in a fantasy land won’t make her truly happy and that there are healthier ways to mourn her father.
Jason Momoa plays Flip, a snarky, unkempt goat man who takes pride in his outlaw lifestyle. While a selfish and cocky character, he is shown to have his soft side, and to be grieving in his own way. He is presented as the foil to Nemo’s grief and presents what could occur if Nemo doesn’t find healthy ways to cope and find acceptance after her father’s passing. This foil worked surprisingly well and was a delightful change from the typical villain foil that many movies use.
While Nemo and Flip are demonstrations of grief, Nemo’s uncle is a presentation of family and a way to move past her grief. As a doorknob salesman, Nemo’s uncle, played by Chris O’Dowd, is shown to be a socially awkward, but caring person who offers Nemo a new home.
The visual effects in “Slumberland” look great and make for a magical experience. They are often very realistic and interact well with the real actors. The plot makes sense and offers a fun adventure story for families to enjoy.
For a world of dreams, the movie rarely leaves its comfort zone and has fairly boring dream scenarios. Some of the dreams they visit include a butterfly ballroom, a glass city and garbage truck-themed land, a fancy bathroom and some snowy mountains with giant geese. These lands have their creative moments but tend to feel very generic. For a land of dreams, I imagine the dreamscapes would have a more psychedelic and unrealistic logic to them. It’s a shame that many of the dream sequences are so bland.
While the tone does fine as a family-friendly film, the movie may have benefited from having some scarier scenes that would allow for more creative visuals, rather than the generic shadow monsters in the film. If not a darker tone, then the movie could have tried a fantasy approach, or have just added more people in each dreamscape. Each dream only has one dreamer for the characters to interact with, which left many dreams feeling empty.
It is interesting to find that “Slumberland” isn’t an original property created for this movie. The first appearance of “Slumberland” was as a newspaper comic strip published in 1905 titled, “Little Nemo in Slumberland”. The summary by Wikipedia describes Nemo as a young boy who went on adventures into Slumberland in his dreams. Flip was also present in this original comic, depicted as a green clown antagonist-turned-friend from the dream world. The comic ran, off and on, until it was retired in 1927.
After the comic’s initial run, an anime movie was released in Japan on July 15, 1989. The movie was titled “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” and featured the same characters as the comic, going on an adventure to rescue the King of Slumberland and defeat the Nightmare Kingdom (Wikipedia). The movie is now available to watch for free on Youtube. Following the movie, a 1990 NES game, Nintendo Entertainment System, was made by Capcom and titled “Little Nemo: The Dream Master.” According to TVTropes, the game had the player follow the story of the movie and rescue the King of Slumberland.
What is interesting about this history is how much the Netflix version of “Slumberland” changed. Nemo is now a young girl, and Flip is no longer a clown, but a dream outlaw. The world of “Slumberland” is much less populated than the original concept, with the monarchy replaced with BOSA, the Bureau of Subconscious Activities. BOSA is an unnecessary and unoriginal idea for “Slumberland” and is similar to the TVA, Time Variant Authority, shown in the recent Marvel show “Loki.” BOSA is a shabby office set in the American 1970s, where the workers enforce the rules of the world and keep characters in line. The concept of BOSA seems copied and repetitive when compared to the TSA of “Loki” and lacks the charm it may have had previous to “Loki’s” release.
“Slumberland” is a decent family film with great visual effects that suffers from a lack of creativity. The dreams are visually stunning, but too simplistic in concept and leave the viewer wanting more. The characters are well-rounded and easy to engage with and the film has a compelling message about grief and finding happiness with family despite the tragedies of life.
I would recommend “Slumberland” to fans of adventure movies and family-friendly films.
“Slumberland” is now available to watch on Netflix.
Katlynn Rossignol is a freshman Communications Major and A&E writer for Cedars. She loves 2D animation, superhero movies and the color pink.
Images courtesy of Netflix and Hemdale Film Corporation