By Katlynn Rossignol
Nemo loved living with her father in their quaint island lighthouse, but when Nemo’s father goes missing at sea, Nemo is sent to live with her estranged and socially awkward uncle. Nemo sleeps to escape her grief and in her dream meets Flip, Slumberland’s self-proclaimed famous outlaw. The two embark on a treasure hunt for the wish-granting beads hidden in the Sea of Nightmares in order to grant Nemo’s wish to see her father again.
The film’s tone is witty and light-hearted, with most of the comedy being carried by Flip. The movie isn’t meant to be a comedy, but it does have some great jokes throughout its run.
While the film is light and fun for the most part, it also carries darker undertones in many scenes. Young children may be unsettled by some of the nightmare sequences due to their dark and shadowy nature, but nothing overtly unsettling is shown on screen either.
Slumberland explores themes of family bonding, grief, and the process of moving on in a healthy way. Nemo is an 11-year-old girl, played by Marlow Barkley, who is devastated that she has to move to town with her uncle. Out of her element and grieving, she finds solace and escape in Slumberland. The film follows her journey as she learns that living in a fantasy land doesn’t really bring her happiness and that there are healthier ways to grieve for her father.
Jason Momoa plays Flip, a snappy, unkempt goat-man who prides himself on his lawless lifestyle. Despite being a selfish and cocky character, he is shown to have his soft side and grieves in his own way. Presented as a foil to Nemo’s grief, he shows what could happen if Nemo doesn’t find healthy ways to deal with it and find acceptance after her father’s death. This foil worked surprisingly well and was a delightful change from the typical villain foil that many films use.
While Nemo and Flip are a demonstration of grief, Nemo’s uncle is a presentation of family and a way to overcome their grief. As a doorknob salesman, Nemo’s uncle, played by Chris O’Dowd, proves to be a socially awkward but caring individual who provides Nemo with 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 provides an entertaining adventure story for families.
For a world of dreams, the film rarely ventures out of its comfort zone and has fairly boring dream scenarios. Some of the dreams they visit are a butterfly ballroom, a glass city and garbage truck themed land, a fancy bathroom, and some snowy mountains with giant geese. These countries have their creative moments but feel more generic. For a land of dreams, I imagine the dreamscapes would have a more psychedelic and unrealistic logic. It’s a shame that many of the dream sequences are so boring.
While the audio works well as a family-friendly film, the film might 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 film could have tried a fantasy approach or just added more people in each dreamscape. Each dream only has one dreamer for the characters to interact with, causing many dreams to feel empty.
It is interesting to note that “Slumberland” is not an original object created for this film. The first appearance of “Slumberland” was a newspaper comic published in 1905 entitled “Little Nemo in Slumberland”. Wikipedia’s summary describes Nemo as a young boy who went on adventures in Slumberland in his dreams. Flip was also present in this original comic, portrayed as a green clown antagonist turned dream world friend. The comic ran off and on until it was retired in 1927.
After the first run of the comic, an anime film was released in Japan on July 15, 1989. The film was titled Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland and featured the same characters as the comic, who embark on an adventure to rescue the King of Slumberland and defeat the Nightmare Kingdom (Wikipedia). The film is now available to watch for free on YouTube. Based on the film, an NES game, Nintendo Entertainment System, was made by Capcom in 1990 entitled Little Nemo: The Dream Master. According to TVTropes, the game required the player to follow the movie’s story and save the King of Slumberland.
What’s interesting about this story is how much the Netflix version of “Slumberland” has changed. Nemo is now a young girl and Flip is no longer a clown but a dreamlike outlaw. The world of “Slumberland” is much less populated than the original concept, with the monarchy replaced by 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 seedy office set in 1970s America, where the workers enforce the rules of the world and keep the characters in line. BOSA’s concept seems copied and repetitive when compared to Loki’s TSA, and lacks the charm it might have had prior 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, leaving the viewer wanting more. The characters are diverse and easy to engage with, and the film has a compelling message about grieving and finding happiness with family despite life’s tragedies.
I would recommend “Slumberland” to fans of adventure films and family-friendly films.
Slumberland is available now 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 andhemdale Film Corporation