What dreams may come, Netflix has been asking as of late. Not long after announcing that The Sandman has been renewed for a second season, along comes Slumberland.
Starring Jason Momoa, Marlow Barkley, and Chris O’Dowd, dreams and nightmares collide in chaotic combinations in this kaleidoscope of a movie.
Not for the first time, a movie such as Slumberland begs the question, “does CGI help or hinder the imagination?”
Based on the classic early 20th century comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland by Winsor McCay, director Francis Lawrence (Constantine, The Hunger Games, I Am Legend, Red Sparrow) ensures that Slumberland is rarely more than 10 minutes away from an explosion of graphics cards dreaming in code.
What Is Slumberland About?
Raised in a lighthouse, young Nemo (Barkley, Spirited) is sent to live with her estranged uncle and doorknob salesman (O’Dowd) after her father is lost at sea.
Yet in her dreams she discovers self-proclaimed ‘outlaw’ Flip (Momoa), a seven foot tall satyr who was often the subject of her father’s fantastical stories. Together they resolve to find the Sea of Nightmares and bring back wish-fulfilling pearls, so that Nemo can at least see her father again in her dreams.
Cue lots of screen-filling crashes through such settings as a dance hall filled with leaves, and a glass city barely surviving the path of a huge garbage truck, as Nemo and Flip use a stolen map to navigate connected doors through other people’s dreams (a dangerous manoeuvre).
The waking world gets short shrift; Nemo spends as much time as possible asleep so she can chase down the pearls.
Slumberland Official Trailer
Is Slumberland Worth Watching?
The sensory overload is great for HD colour-filling bombast, but the sheer constancy of it is clearly skewed towards hooking a pre-teen demographic throughout Slumberland’s high energy adventure.
There is some fun for the adults there too – the ‘stuck in the 70s’ dream police and Agent Green’s dogged pursuit (Weruch Opia) create some personality out of the technicolour miasma. But for a two-hour run time Slumberland is catering for the high energy streaming generation.
One has to feel for Momoa, whose movie output thus far has seen him predominantly acting in front of a sea of green screens. Perhaps to compensate, Momoa gives everything he’s got to the role of Flip.
He conjures Johnny Depp’s Burton movies physicality, classic ‘tough guy in a kids film’ OTT dialogue delivery, and the glee of a man given a childish role to have fun with. This can grate at times, but again, the target audience will love it.
Even if Slumberland is thumping like a sugar headache throughout, the emotional power is wonderfully crafted by young Barkley. Her sorrow and enthusiasm are infectious and keep the movie’s fireworks spectacle grounded when it needs to be.
Her tense relationship with O’Dowd is calmingly subtle, and O’Dowd is outstanding as a dull man trying (badly) to deal with his new situation. A raw scene between the two of them as they bond over their shared loss is the beating heart behind the movie.
The logic of using CGI throughout is obvious: it gives freedom to drop in anything desired. People of a more seasoned generation will fondly remember the physical sets and manual puppetry that gave fantasy movies of old a graspable reality.
Slumberland is hard drive heavy creativity that will fade like a sugar-filled daydream over time, but underneath the layer upon layer of flourish is a core of genuine feelings to warm you as you wake.
Words by Mike Record
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