Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1992)
Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1992)

Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 25 min.

Release Date: August 21st, 1992 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Masami Hata, William Hurtz Actors: Gabriel Damon, Mickey Rooney, Rene Auberjonois, Laura Mooney, Alan Oppenheimer, Sherry Lynn

 


 

“L

ittle Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” is based largely on concepts by Ray Bradbury, with a screenplay in part by Chris Columbus (“Gremlins,” “The Goonies”) and Jean “Moebius” Giraud (a concept artist for “Alien,” “The Fifth Element,” and “Time Masters”) – and also adapted from a Winsor McCay comic strip. George Lucas and Chuck Jones were both approached to produce, Brad Bird did a bit of the animation, Hayao Miyazaki worked on pre-production before dropping out, and the famous Sherman Brothers wrote the songs. And yet, despite an impressive assemblage of accomplished filmmakers, the story isn’t poignant, none of the songs are catchy or clever (save for the main theme), the villain (the Nightmare King) is a ghastly fluid-like monstrosity that predates “FernGully’s” gaseous antagonist, and the plot is a forgettable mix of overly familiar fantasy ideas. But with shape-shifting goblins, flying manta rays, cartoon smoking, gigantic bats, and intense visuals, the final result – a box office flop – is still a decidedly unique traditionally animated experience.

Nemo (Gabriel Damon) wakes to discover he’s being transported over the rooftops of his town in his bed, like something seen in 2009’s “A Christmas Carol.” Through the clouds he discovers a postapocalyptic, decayed city, where he falls frightfully into a skyscraper abyss, only to be chased by a black locomotive that crashes through his home. The visuals are reminiscent of Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland” (1951), but notably darker. He awakens yet again, however, to realize it was all a bad dream. He sleepwalks to snatch pies in the middle of the night (seen only in the uncut international version), which could account for his nightmarish episodes.

The following evening, elderly Professor Genius (Rene Auberjonois) and jester-like Bon Bon (Sherry Lynn) arrive at Nemo’s bedroom on a mission from King Morpheus of Slumberland (Bernard Erhard), divine protector of everyone’s good dreams. Nemo’s been invited to be the official playmate to Princess Camille (Laura Mooney), and the king has even sent his own personal dirigible (are children familiar with such aircraft?) to pick him up. Nemo’s best friend Icarus, an intelligent little squirrel that wears flight goggles, accompanies them. But not everyone in Slumberland is so righteous – Flip (Mickey Rooney), a froggy, clownlike, cigar-chomping, mischievous conman has particularly suspicious motives, such as picking fights with policemen and vandalizing celebrations. Nemo also encounters some particularly colorful denizens, including a jolly, oversized train engineer, a stuck-up princess who scoffs at Nemo’s pajamas, and a strikingly inappropriate dance instructor with invasive bosoms.

Following in the footsteps of the works of Lewis Carroll, visuals and ideas continually morph to create a world without rules, full of delightfully bizarre creatures and engaging environments. Princess Camille’s goals are to show off Slumberland to the new guest and to have fun, but Nemo is a candidate for princedom and must undergo schooling – he’s destined to inherit the throne. Flip is temptation incarnate, hiding behind the ruse of a man knowledgeable in the entertainment industry. The only order given to Nemo by the king is not to open a specific door with his golden key, but sure enough, Flip convinces the visitor to do just that. A royal scepter, Flip’s map to Nightmareland, and the bravery of an imaginative young boy are all that can save King Morpheus and Slumberland from tragic doom.

The dream world transcends reality, allowing Nemo’s fantasy to merge into his waking state, not unlike Freddy Krueger’s more sinister modus operandi. As the young boy is frequently taken in and out of his dream, it’s difficult to say whether he’s ever actually asleep. He can be transported back to the safety of his bed by seemingly waking up, but to return to Slumberland requires a journey through the sky (like a flight to Neverland). The adventure is surprisingly innovative, although the supporting characters aren’t terribly interesting. For a children’s movie, many of the events are actually quite scary and certainly a shade darker than anything seen in a Disney animation, which is a factor that prevented “Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” from finding a theatrical audience.

– Mike Massie

  • 6/10