Maybe you’ve heard of Little Nemo from the 1910s comics, maybe you’ve heard of the Nintendo game, but more than likely you heard about the animated motion pictures from 1992. And what a bizarre piece of film it is.
And for your enjoyment, here is a very very well made parody of the trailer to “Inception” using Little Nemo footage: INCEPTION of Slumberland
To begin, I first saw this film back on VHS when I rented it from a Library in Standish, MI (it’s up in the corner of the thumb there). And when I saw it there were a few scenes that scared the living crap out of me. In fact there were about 4 or so that didn’t sit with me well, but even many Disney films had that affect on me in a few scenes as well. I did however still notice that there was a unique charm to this film. I had come across many strange independent, long forgotten and under the radar animated films while browsing my local library, and this was the only one out of all of those that didn’t reek so much of “stupid.” Oh sure, there are a few things that one could call odd and strange and uncommon about this film, definitely some bizarre choices in the production (which I’ll get to), but certainly not “stupid.”
The film, as it stands today, is another pleasant romp of a movie. It has a fun, cute, yet gritty adventurous atmosphere. And it manages to work both of those ends of the spectrum together as best as it can. There is some odd juxtaposition with it all, but I guess I’ve just gotten used to is. lol
So just so we don’t talk technical for too long up front this time, What’s the story?
Well it starts out with Little Nemo here in a dream, and his bed begins to fly right out his window. He takes a magic ride all throughout his hometown and down to the water, through some buildings. Then suddenly…the flying stops, and the bed goes barreling down through some gigantic skyscrapers. We are now in a desolate wasteland of broken buildings and shattered windows. Then the bed goes onto some train tracks, and a train appears. It gets faster and faster and louder and louder; Nemo’s bed is bumped from behind by the train and his bed posts start to tear into pieces as they are crushed against the tracks. The bed then falls completely apart. And Nemo goes flying through the air, through an open door and back in to his bedroom.
Now doesn’t that just scare the living crap outta ya. The real kicker is that the opening credits of this movie happen over a very nondescript blue background, with a very magical theme-song sung by a cheerful female vocalist. But then they continue the movie with this shocking scene and you’re like; “Damn movie, why’d ya have to go ruin my good mood there. This is a magical thrill ride of fun at all.” Even the Nostalgia Critic made reference to this fact in his review of the movie by playing the opening song over the scene of the train destroying Nemo’s bed. Only 5 minutes in and that concept about bad juxtaposition already rears it awkward head.
But don’t fret folks, just listen to what else I have to say and maybe you won’t write this one of as something to just skip by.
So the story continues with Nemo asking his dad to take him to the Circus, but his father is too busy and says maybe he can do it the following day. Nemo goes out to see the Parade of all the circus folk moving into town; and we see characters in the parade that will show up later as Slumberland folk.
Later that night, Nemo is blinded by a white light shining through his window, and a mad-hatter like well-dressed gentleman steps through with his quirky jester-like assistant. This fellow, who refers to himself simply as Professor Genius (because he wasn’t smart enough to give himself a name. He also doesn’t seem to have any particular accumulation of knowledge in any subject so I don’t know what the whole Professor thing is about.) brings Nemo a request by the King of Slumberland to come and meet his daughter the Princess, Camile.
So Nemo joins the Professor, with his pet flying squirrel (I have no idea who thought up the need to give him a flying squirrel side-kick), and they head out for Slumberland in a giant ornate Dirigible.
I’ll go a little faster now. So Nemo meets the King of Slumberland, named King Morpheus. Clearly the Wachowski siblings saw this movie, because this deals with dreams and head-trips, just like The Matrix. The King then tells Nemo that he wants him to be his sole heir to the throne of Slumberland. Never explained why. What qualities does Nemo show over all other little boys that dream? He never showed any great propensity to dream or dream well. He almost got killed by an imaginary train just 10 minutes ago. But the King believes Nemo has something to offer, so he gives him the key to the Kingdom and tells him that it will open any door, but must not open the door with the symbol on it that is also on the key. Can you guess what happens later? =)
Anyway, then Nemo meets the Princess. she doesn’t like his Squirrel friend at first, but gets used to him. Nemo and Princess Camile have a whole day of fun. But then Nemo has to get ready for his official announcement/half-coronation as the Prince of Slumberland. So we go through a whole musical sequence about how to be Princely. He gets his hair cut, he gets posture and dance lessons. He gets fitted for an ornate Prince uniform and a sword. And all in just a few short hours.
After that, he runs into Flip; a whiley cocky fella who has a knack for doing stupid stuff just for the heck of it. A “trouble-maker” if you will. He convinces Nemo, like any other good con-man, to have a little fun with the palace guards. After a short chase scene, Flip and Nemo end up in an underground cave where they come across…HUH! “The Big Scary Door of DO-NOT-OPENness.” And what do you think these two numbskulls do? They open it of course. Nemo even tries to push it closed once some demon sludge starts seeping out of it, but he leaves the key in the lock like an idiot and runs off after Flip.
So then Nemo makes it to his Coronation ball and receives the Kings blessing as the heir to the throne. And then King Morpheus explains what the job of being King of Slumberland is: Protecting Slumberland from the tyranny of the Nightmare King. The only weapon against such a threat is the Dream Scepter. The King then hands the Scepter to Nemo while he and the Professor get jiggy with it on the dance floor.
The Nightmare Ooze then disrupts the party and snatches up the King in it’s searing red and black tentacled mass. Morpheus tells Nemo to get him the Scepter, but the crowds are too thick for Nemo to make it in time. The Nightmare Ooze swallows the King and spirits him off to the Nightmare Kingdom.
The scene ends with the crowd of bystanders encircling Nemo in their taunting words of betrayal and distrust. And then Nemo screams in horror and wakes up…. Yup, just wakes up….
I won’t tell ya what happens after that, you’ll just have to see for yourselves. But it’s pretty interesting. And everything of course turns out okay in the end. No one dies. But you knew that already, right?
So what are the interesting facts about this film:
Well for one thing, it was carted around to multiple directors including Hayao Miyazaki, who turned it down because he found the concept and the script too convoluted. But there is an earlier test film of Little Nemo that was meant to be a pitch to Studio Ghibli, or maybe it was a pitch by Studio Ghibli. I can’t tell really, it doesn’t look like Ghibli/ Miyazaki animation, it’s too fluid for that.
Former super star Hollywood actor, Mickey Rooney plays Flip. And a fitting casting too, not a bad choice. Also Sci-fi fan favorite Rene Auberjonois plays Professor Genius. And I have always enjoyed his voice and his performance in this film. I love to emulate and impersonate it often.
Sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury had a part to play in the story construction, I think he was even one of the main writers on the film. Weird huh?
What’s even weirder is that this was one of the last films, if not the very last film that the two Sherman Brothers worked on for the musical numbers. THAT’S RIGHT! You heard me, The Sherman Brothers, the team that brought you “A Teaspoon of Sugar (Makes the Medicine Go Down),” “Chim-Chimney,” and the theme to Disney’s “Wonderful World of Color;” did the few, random, sparse songs in this animated feature. They aren’t even all that good. Not at all. Kind of a shame cause some of the stuff that the still-living Sherman brother does is pretty decent.
The final note to make is that this film was animated, in it’s entirety, by TMS (Tokyo Movie Shinsha), the people that brought you the signature animation for the Opening Title Sequences, as well as certain episodes, of Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and they animated the entire 13 episode run of the lesser known 1986 series “Galaxy High.” They also fully animated both the Tiny Toons: How I Spent My Vacation movie and Wacko’s Wish the Animaniacs movie. For me their biggest contribution to the world is their nearly sole animation work and ownership of the Lupin the 3rd franchise. They did the animation for all 4 original Theatrical movies: The Secret of Mamo, The Castle of Cagliostro (My Number 1 Favorite Movie EVER!), “The Legend of the Gold of Babylon,” and “The Plot of the Fuma Clan” (a.k.a. The Fuma Conspiracy). So these guys are big time players.
TMS has a very talented staff of animators who can both tackle the standard Japanese animation style of limited animation without losing movement fluidity or lively qualities, and American styled, 24 Frames per-second animation: which is much more fluid and Disney-ish in execution. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is one such fluid film. Apparently this was a joint American and Japanese production, so it was fully animated in Japan by TMS, but animated to follow the American voice actors and animated with full mouth shapes to match the English dialogue. That’s another talent of TMS, they can animate first and dub the voice actors second for Japanese productions, but they can also dub first and animate to the voice actors for American Productions. Switching that around for different projects can be a jarring process.
So, final thoughts.
I found it to be a very entertaining and bizarre flick back in 1998, and I still find it that way today. But I like it even more so now because I know who was behind it. These are the same people who made my favorite movie ever (as I mentioned), so I can’t help but admire their handiwork even if the script and story are a bit awkward. I’d say give it a chance. It’s yet again something I would say should be required viewing for Animation students. And I promise I won’t say that for everything I talk about, I’m just putting all of the ones I think you should watch up front because they’re important. and unique. I mean you’ve got to broaden your horizons if you’re going to learn animation or filmmaking in general. You can’t just watch Disney movies and Warner Brothers cartoons all your life, right?
My rating on Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is a comfortable 7/10. It’s high on visuals, marginal on story, and engaging enough to not be a waste of your time. Please give it a watch.
And in my opinion, anything like this that get’s put on Blu-ray should be an indication that you need to see it. Discotek Media is going to be releasing the Blu-ray transfer of this in late November, so I’m pretty excited about that.
Next time, we’re gonna talk about another film that recently got on Blu-ray and is well worth a watch for an 80s “retro-high,” Nelvana’s biggest flop and greatest triumph, ROCK & RULE from 1983.