Review – Aquaman With Horns? (“Slumberland”)

This Netflix movie is a retelling of the little-seen 1989 animated feature film, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. (see review below). But this remake is more of a Time Bandits meets the TVA from Disney’s Loki series.

In this wildly imaginative kid-friendly, whimsical, and heart-warming story we have a young tween named Nemo (Marlow Barkley) who, like all Disney children, becomes an orphan in the first ten minutes of the movie! Oooo, sorry, kid! Anyway, she used to reside with her loving father (Kyle Chandler) at a remote lighthouse but now is forced to live in the big glass & chrome city with her rich, estranged uncle Philip (Chris O’Dowd) who is clueless as to how to raise a child. 

But Nemo has more pressing issues than Philip, as her dreams are getting incredibly out of control and more vivid. When she sleeps, her stuffed toy pig (named Pig) comes alive and she visits her old lighthouse, where she meets Flip (Jason Mamoa), a mischievous man-child thief with curly horns, a pot belly, and a Beetlejuice-like attitude. He tells her they need to find a magic pearl to make their wishes come true and the only way to find it is by using a secret dream map her father once owned. Can you say, “Adventure time”? And adventures they have as they go through ‘dream doorways’ into other lands.

Oh, but Flip and Nemo aren’t alone on their dream quest to find that elusive pearl! Hot on their heels is Agent Green (Weruche Opia), a cop from the B.O.S.A. (Bureau of Subconscious Activities) who’s trying to stop Flip and his shenanigans. Oh, and there’s a Nightmare smoke/squid monster that’s after them as well. When Nemo isn’t dreaming and getting into trouble she has to deal with her new city school, her uncle trying to understand her, and coming to grips with her father’s death. Pretty heavy-handed stuff for a kid’s movie, but screenwriters David Guion & Michael Handelman (Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Dinner for Schmucks) pull it off with a beautiful, smart, and occasionally very funny script that delivers a tear-jerking Hallmark message at the end.

The real centerpiece of this movie is Nemo’s dreamland. Filled with amazing SPFX and terrific direction by Francis Lawrence (the Hunger Games franchise) it makes her adventures a giddy ride into her dreamscape. Young Barkley is impressive as this movie rests squarely on her shoulders and she shows the strength and acting skills of someone twice her age. Mamoa is simply having a ball letting loose and being a whirling dervish of brattiness. O’Dowd is my favorite as the uncle trying so hard to understand Nemo but not giving up. Barkley and O’Dowd have some wonderful moments together. At a lengthy two hours, it does tend to overstay its welcome around the second act, but that ending is well worth it. 

**Now streaming exclusively on Netflix

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

It took eleven nightmarish years to bring this to the screen while many animators & writers quit the project, including George Lucas, Chuck Jones, Brad Bird, Ray Bradbury, and even the great Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki of Studio Ghibli. The result? A great-looking, but terrible storyboarded kid’s film.

Based on the 1920’s Little Nemo comic strip (which started in 1905), this bizarre animated feature opens with 10-year-old Nemo (voiced by Gabriel Damon) having one helluva dream: his bed flies out of his window (like in Bednobs and Broomsticks) and up into the sky, but ends with Nemo almost being killed by a runaway, murderous train! But Nemo hasn’t time to figure this out as the circus is in town and, jeepers! He’s just gotta see it! Running to see the parade with his sentient squirrel pal, Icarus, Nemo later finds out his parents can’t take him to see the circus. Bummer. However, he gets a visit that night from Professor Genius (Rene Auberjonois) to take him to Slumberland. Huh? Okay, sounds good to him!

Hopping aboard a magical blimp, Nemo arrives in Slumberland where jolly old Santa-like King Morpheus (Bernard Erhard) makes Nemo heir to his kingdom and introduces him to his cute daughter, Princess Camille (Laura Mooney). The King also gives Nemo a special golden key and tells him to never open a certain door with it. Ever! Gee, guess what Nemo is gonna do in act two? Anyway, after Nemo & Camille are through playing and getting in trouble, Nemo meets Flip (Mickey Rooney), a mischievous clown in Black. . .er, I mean, green face (but it’s obvious). Flip, without trying much, gets Nemo to open that secret door and BOOM! The evil, horned Nightmare King is released! Oh no!

Now it’s a race for Nemo, Camille, Flip, and some goblins to try and stop the Nightmare King, as he’s kidnapped King Morpheus. But, is all of this really happening, or is it all just a dream? The screenplay by Chris Columbus (Harry Potter/Sorceror’s Stone) and Richard Outten (Pet Sematary II) is dreadful. It seems all that Nemo ever says (exclaims) is “Wow! Weee! Gosh!” which gets old fast. In fact, the character animation is over-exaggerated to the point of hilarity. Everyone’s facial and body language twists, turns, and absurdly articulates. It looks creepy and wild like a Japanese anime run amok. If you see the original animation (on YouTube), it’s fluid, beautiful, and looks so much better than this Americanized version.

The story is just plain weird, non-sensical, and jumps around in tone with Nemo doing the most insane, stupid things a kid his age could ever do. He yells alot, is over-impulsive, makes promises he’ll never keep, can’t recognize good from bad, and never learns from his mistakes. This kid is the worst and he’s the hero of this story?! OMG! The only redeeming value of this truly bizarre film is the breathtaking animation that occasionally shows up. Some of it looks gorgeous, with dramatic direction that moves around in eye-popping ways. But mostly it’s Nemo, his face all wide-eyed and mouth extended like a big-mouthed fish, spouting inconsequential lines and exaggerated exclamations. Oy!   

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