Friday, March 20, 2009

Little Nemo

How's this for obscure? Little Nemo is a 1989 animated collaboration between two directors and many different animators and screenwriters across the world. The film was in development for over ten years before it was eventually completed and released in the United States in 1992.

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland
Directors: Masami Hata, William T. Hurtz
Starring: Mickey Rooney, Gabriel Damon

The film is based on Windsor McKay's highly influential comic strip that was known for its "ahead-of-its-time" use of perspective, along with dark subject matter in a comic generally aimed at children. It's definitely a kid's movie, and you can tell by the story: Nemo and his pet flying squirrel Icarus are summoned to Slumberland to be the offical playmates of the Princess. King Morpheus (aka Santa Claus) makes Nemo the singular heir to his throne (even though he has a daughter) and gives him a key to the city with one catch - he must never open the door with the same symbol as the key. Flip, a conniving trouble-maker, convinces Nemo to do exactly that, and unintentionally releases the Nightmare King's black sludge upon Slumberland. Nemo has to step up to the plate and rescue the captured Morpheus before he is brutally slaughtered by the Nightmare King himself, who is basically evil incarnate.

I'm not going to go too far into this one because I'm sure most of you haven't seen it. But suffice it to say that I watched this as a kid and very nearly enjoyed it as much this time around as I did on those first viewings.* The climax of the story, where Nemo basically says variations of the word "pajama" as a spell to defeat the Nightmare King (come on - you didn't really think he'd die, did you?), is ridiculously juvenile to the point where I nearly retched. But as far as kid's movies go, this is one of the better ones that doesn't have the name "Disney" attached to it, and this film's long road to production makes it all the more impressive that it was ever released at all.

Thematically, there are some clear Biblical parallels running throughout (Tree of Knowledge = Door With Key Symbol, Slumberland = Garden of Eden, etc), but it does a good enough job masking these in a way where it isn't preachy to children. There are some songs mixed in for the musically-obsessed among you; while the lyrics are fairly infantile as well, they can still be counted as enjoyable. Not nearly as annoying as, say, the brother and his monkey from Speed Racer.

There are also some disturbing undertones hiding beneath the surface in this flick. Why are a bunch of old dudes (one named Professor Genius) with mustaches hanging out with a little boy? There are no other boys to be found in the entire kingdom of Slumberland, so they effectively kidnap one from the "real world" and bring him there under the guise of playing with Morpheus' daughter. But Nemo actually spends very little time with the Princess before she joins him on his quest to rescue the king - instead, he's thrown back and forth between Professor Genius, Morpheus himself, and the wanted criminal Flip. Sure, none of these subversive ideas were put in there on purpose, and kids wouldn't pick up on these aspects, but as an older viewer you can't ignore them.

This movie went out of print for a long time and just recently came back onto DVD in January of this year. I'm guessing most of you will probably never take the time to watch this, but file it away for when you have kids as something to put on your futuristic version of Netflix. It's actually a pretty decent movie. Until next time...

*Note - my childhood experience may bias me in favor of this film. Objectively, it still has some good qualities to it and is worth watching for an interesting change of pace.


ken masters said...

this movie was fuckin bomb!!

Head Hero said... that movie years ago and haven't thought about in a LONG time.
I remember the 'pajama' spell. was a weird movie...

KT said...

this was my favorite movie as a kid ...i like your review of it, and thanks for the heads up that it's finally on DVD. i'd been looking all over for it :)