While discussing the pros and cons of ‘children watching television’ in a class, someone articulately pointed out how some children’s movies/shows help kids understand complex emotions and issues. The 2022 Netflix fantasy-comedy ‘Slumberland’ is one such film, on the surface it seems like a wild fantasy story about the land of dreams, but it’s really an escapist adventure about coping with loss.
Directed by Francis Lawrence, ‘Slumberland’ is based on a comic series called ‘Little Nemo’ by Winsor McCay. The tale follows 11-year-old Nemo’s (Marlow Barkley) quest to see her late father again. She teams up with smelly, shaggy ‘outlaw’ Flip (Jason Momoa) in the dreamworld and the two set out on an adventure to find magic pearls that can make one’s wish come true. Meanwhile, in the real world, the home-schooled Nemo has to adjust to a scary new city life with her boring asocial uncle Philip (Chris O’Dowd), who does his best to connect with the child.
The movie is gorgeously shot, although some scenes are slightly overdone, like a dream-sequence where there are so many butterflies, it makes your head spin. Nemo’s introductory scene with her widowed father (Kyle Chandler) telling her bedtime stories was heartwarming. Their little world on an island where they take care of a lighthouse was quite magical in itself. After her father’s death, Nemo begins to sleep a lot more, so she can escape to Slumberland and find pearls with Flip. The symbolism is poignant, because dreams are a way to escape grief and the burden of ‘moving on’.
Jason Momoa and Marlow Barkley made for a hilarious ‘man-child + child’ duo. Their sheer difference in size gives their scenes a fantastical touch. Marlow’s Nemo is a sweet little lost girl, while Jason with horns looks every bit an outlaw who isn’t up to any good. Although, some of the Slumberland scenes would’ve benefited with some more vibrant characters, instead of a bare few that appear through the runtime. Chris O’Dowd is earnest as the ‘long-lost’ uncle, who is saddled with the responsibility of his estranged brother’s daughter. And even though Nemo clearly enjoys Flip’s company more, older viewers will probably root more for the realistic Philip.
The plot balances both a childlike and adult view of loss, succinctly conveying how recovering from losing of someone/something dear can be difficult or even traumatic at any age. ‘Slumberland’ subtly shows the challenges of being a lone parent/guardian and while doesn’t dwell too deeply upon it, it manages to be poignant due to some key scenes. The climax has the crescendo you would expect from a children’s fantasy film like this and I absolutely enjoyed it.
It’s a 8/10 from me. Stream it on Netflix.
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