"So, Sandman has gone down rather well with the punters."

"Are there any other well-regarded comic strips set in the world of dreams which we could look at adapting?"

"There's this old newspaper strip. Very highly regarded, and out of copyright. The Where the Wild Things Are guy really rated it. Gaiman quotes it in Sandman. It even has a character called Morpheus."

"What's it called."

"Little Nemo In Slumberland."

"It's very pretty. But it's a bit...I don't know...twee?"

"Don't worry. Just because it's an adaptation, we don't have to use anything from the strip."

Another movie; another quest; another bunch of Daddy issues.

Nemo (Marlow Barkley) is a lighthouse-keeper's daughter. She is not particularly little, being a teenager. (Winsor McCay undoubtedly used the name Nemo to suggest "no-one"; but I can see where the nautical theme came from.) Dad (Kyle Chandler) tells her tall stories about the days when he and an imaginary friend called Flip were outlaws and pirates. One day he goes off in a light-boat to rescue a stricken ship and doesn't come back. (Shades of the Snow Goose, among other things.) Nemo is sent off to live with her Uncle (Chris O'Dowd ). He is perfectly nice and kind, but incredibly boring (he sells doorknobs for a living) and has no idea how to interact with kids. Nemo dreams she is back at her father's lighthouse where she meets Flip (Jason Momoa), who's a sort of cross between a pirate and a walrus. Nemo wishes that she could meet Dad again, if only in the dreamworld, and remembers that one of his stories involved a Phoenix Stone Magic Pearl which grants wishes. Flip also needs to make a wish, because he's on the run from the Slumberland authorities for trespassing into other people's dreams. So off they go. Refusal of the call, meeting with mentor, path of perils, atonement, boon -- you know the drill by now.

Gaiman's Dreaming is a vast alien universe which people visit n their sleep. McCay's Slumberland is a perpetual Alice in Wonderlandscape of flying horses and inverted logic where the moon talks, giant turkeys eat towns and people turn randomly to glass. (He arguably understood what dreams were like better than his exact contemporary Sigmund Freud.) The movie visualises Slumberland as a bureaucracy: 1970s offices with filing cabinets and card index systems keep track of who is dreaming what. Uniformed operatives travel between dreams in old fashioned elevators, with floors marked "Naked in Public" and "Endless Staircase".  Agent Green of the Sub-Concious Enforcement Agency, charged with catching Flip, is represented as an American cop, with a ray gun that freezes people. It's all quite fun and just a little bit too much like the Good Place. There are chases and action sequences and perils; but they are the same kinds of chases and action sequences and perils you'd get in any other action movie. Nothing feels particularly dream like.

In a lot of ways, the material set in what is called the Waking World is more compelling than the Slumberland sections. The "new girl at intimidating American high school" stuff has been done a thousand times before, but that's no reason not to do it one more time. Barkley is very convincing as the bereaved teenager, and I enjoyed Chris D'Silva as her nice but terminally geeky school-friend. Nemo's relationship with her hopeless uncle is quite engaging. His idea of a bedtime story is a business anecdote about the guy who ordered a huge consignment of three centimetre door knobs when he really needed three inch ones. (This sends Nemo to sleep.) His relationship with the agonisingly well-meaning school counsellor is pretty funny. Is it very wicked of me to admit that there were moments when I found myself wishing I was watching a young adult coming of age tale and that we could ditch the dreamworld bollocks altogether?

That said, the two-pronged climax is both clever and exciting: Nemo tries to sail back to the real lighthouse through a dangerous storm, and Uncle Phillip tries to rescue her. (In a lifeboat. Like Dad.) Simultaneously, in the dreamworld, she is trying to get back to the dream lighthouse, with the precious wishing pearl, where dream-dad is waiting for her. Naturally, if she decides to stay with dream-dad, her real-self will die.

It turns out (to no-one's great surprise) that Flip and Uncle Phillip are the same person. Him and his brother used to have adventures in Slumberland when they were kids, but Phillip grew up, became boring, is interested in nothing but lipstick, nylons and and invitations doorknobs, and never remembers his dreams. Through knowing Nemo, Flip and Phillip can become integrated again. Nemo says goodbye to Dad and moves on. Lighthouses are metaphors about knowing where you are going, or something. She stays with Uncle Phillip but they carry on having wonderful adventures together in their dreams.

I am genuinely puzzled as to how this film got made. No-one apart from aficionados have heard of Little Nemo In Slumberland -- there is no commercial incentive to revive a moribund property as there arguably was with, say, the Lone Ranger or Tarzan. The comic-book dreamer was a very young boy; and while there is a character in the comic called Flip, he is a clown, whose main function is to pull Nemo out of Slumberland (and back to his bed, where his parents talk endlessly about toasted cheese.) Did the label Slumberland get arbitrarily attached to a pre-existing dream-themed script? Or did someone just really want to do a live CGI version of the famous "walking beds" sequence?

The film is what it is, and you would have to have a heart of stone not to think that the ending is -- not at all bad. Definitely give it a look if you don't have anything better to do; more so if you have kids who can cope with stories about grief and bereavement.

I like the stuffed pig very much indeed. The final frame is straight out of Winnie the Pooh.


I'm Andrew.

I am trying very hard to be a semi-professional writer and have taken the leap of faith of down-sizing my day job.

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