Slumberland review: …it has very little Nemo

So I watched Slumberland on Netflix. It was…okay?

First letdown: it doesn’t have much to do with the Little Nemo in Slumberland comic strip. (Which I’m a big fan of, as you might’ve guessed by this takeoff in Leif & Thorn, or this one in And Shine Heaven Now…)

The movie uses two character names (Nemo and Flip), the general concept of “a fantastical world you visit when you dream,” and the iconic image of Nemo’s bed growing stilt-high legs and walking off with him. That’s it.

When I heard the “Nemo” was a girl in this movie, I went and got my hopes up that she’d have some fun scenes with [a modern-day take on] the art-nouveau, Gibson-girl Princess of Slumberland. No such luck! There’s no princess at all.

The plot we get instead — well, it’s a solid kid’s-adventure story. Imaginative and esoteric kid Nemo is orphaned, has to go live with her boring CEO city-slicker uncle, starts having dreams about this rascal named Flip that her dad used to tell stories about, who asks her to help find a MacGuffin he previously searched for with her dad. Cue a series of misadventures through fanciful half-CGI settings, fun jokes about how weird dreams can be, and heartwarming lessons about post-grief bonding.

Little Nemo screencap

One big element that bugged me, though:

Uncle Philip does his best to bond with Nemo. He’s not great at it, for obvious reasons — they’re both grieving the loss of her dad, he’s a single professional who wasn’t planning or prepared to raise a child, etc — and also, there’s a personality mismatch. She’s an oddball who likes secret treasures and dangerous adventure stories! He…runs a doorknob company. Our Phil here is sincerely enthusiastic about doorknobs. When Nemo asks for a bedtime story, he regales her with a doorknob supply chain issue.

This seems like the setup for a nice uplifting lesson about how you can still bond with family members (and people in general) when you’re seriously different. Maybe Philip starts looking up weird stories to read to Nemo. Maybe there’s a key point in her Slumberland adventures where Nemo has to pick a lock, and suddenly she realizes, hey, sometimes doorknob knowledge matters!

…Nope. Turns out, rascal Flip is Phillip’s long-lost dream-self. When Nemo reunites them, it turns out he was actually an adventure-loving oddball this whole time.

Nobody’s actually that interested in doorknobs, haha! It’s not like there are IRL humans with equally “boring” special interests, who are nevertheless full people with rich and valid inner lives, some of whom might end up watching this very movie! Sounds fake.

There’s one exchange near the end that sort of suggests “maybe Flip and Phillip are still separate individuals, they’re just sharing a body now.” At least, enough that if a writer ever pitches “a sequel about Flip and Phillip both being valid people, now with their own mismatched odd-couple dynamic, learning to co-exist as headmates,” the canon groundwork is there for it.

But I do think we’re supposed to infer that the end is “fake half-person Phillip was fixed by him and Flip fusing into one.” Which (a) has all those IRL implications I don’t like, and (b) is just so much less interesting or satisfying as a place to leave a story.


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