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Slumberland Movie Review (Spoiler Free)

A re-invention of the adventures of Little Nemo, this flick combines heartfelt family drama with comedic adventure. But can it entertain or is it a snooze?

Genre: Adventure / Comedy / Fantasy

Director: Francis Lawrence

Cast: Marlow Barkley, Jason Momoa, Chris O’Dowd, Weruche Opia, India de Beaufort & Kyle Chandler.

Run Time: 117 min.

US Release: 18 November 2022 (Netflix)

UK Release: 18 November 2022 (Netflix)

German Release: 18 November 2022 (Netflix)

Lawrence’s fantasy adventure based on Winsor McCay’s comic strips is not a feature that was on my radar. Yes, I did see the occasional picture, or meme, of Jason Momoa in his satyr-like costume, though I never knew where it was from. It has not been until last week that I caught the full trailer, which honestly did not impress me at all! So it was with great scepticism that I sat down Sunday afternoon and started watching Slumberland. To my surprise, it was not as bad as I expected!

A young girl discovers a secret map to the dream world of Slumberland. With the help of an eccentric outlaw, who is half-man half-horned beast, she traverses dreams, escapes nightmares, all in hopes of seeing her late father again.

This is a loose adaptation of Winsor McCay’s comic strip from the early 1900s, named “Little Nemo in Slumberland”. Writers David Guion and Michael Handelman took extreme liberties in creating their vision, which sees the role of Nemo being gender-swapped, as well as making dramatic changes to the character of Flip and the realm of Slumberland in general. The end result is a heartwarming family adventure, with good ideas that aren’t specifically well executed. In some ways, it looked like a cheap Neverending Story knock-off.

Let us start with the positives; the family element is very well anchored! Right from the beginning, audiences feel a safe, warm and comfortable presence in the father-daughter dynamic that is presented on screen. While it stumbles a little during the beginning, the emotional rollercoaster ride does pay-off at the end! There is a nice lesson hidden in the narrative, how emotional shutting-off is rather damaging than pro-efficient.

Sadly those aspects are overshadowed by massive storytelling issues. For one, the script doesn’t allow for specific moments that transpire to breathe, immediately jumping from one scene to the next. This is a massive problem, as the number of events lined up are so overwhelming, making it seem as if the substance of the film is lower-ranked than its fancy, CGI-heavy packaging. This ultimately leads to the movie itself feeling rather hollow, even if it makes good approaches to important messages.

The dialogue is kept rather conventionally simple, making use of current youth vocabulary. A lot of the humorous facets are thanks to funny conversations, or one-liners mostly delivered by a very charismatic Jason Mamoa.

Marlow Barkley gives a good enough performance, as the lead character Nemo. Sadly, I don’t think she has the gravitas yet, to carry a film. That said, while not always sticking the landing, she did manage to show incredible promise at times. Be it when she emulates proper emotional grief, or when her eyes sparkle with wonder at what she is experiencing. Nemo herself comes off as a little bratty at first, but once she figures out a supposed plot twist her attitude changes, becoming more likeable!

Jason Momoa pretty much steals the show any time he is on screen. This is such a departure from what he usually portrays, however it is a welcome change as we see him in a completely different light. He plays Flip, Nemo’s sketchy companion and outlaw of slumberland, who uses the girl to obtain the map, as he needs to get to a specific place in Slumberland. Momoa is so over-the-top energetic, it is simply fun to see him enjoying himself in that role.

Then there is Chris O’Dowd as Nemo’s uncle Phillip, who takes her in after the death of his brother. Emotionally shut off, with no friends nor fun in life, it becomes clear that something is off with Phillip. The twist becomes quickly apparent, still, I really enjoyed O’Dowd’s rendition, even if his character progression by the ending happens a little too fast.

The camera work is a mixed bag in itself. What it does well is using visuals as symbols, hinting towards the personality dysfunctions of characters. The contrast between the warm, homey lighthouse and the dark, sterile city apartment is also well captured. The dream world contains a nice, rich palette of different colours. That said, the picture is most of the time overexposed, looking too bright, which is due to the lack of practical settings, but dependence on green screen effects.

The over-reliance on computer-generated imagery is this flick's biggest weakness, as the effects are subpar at best, though most of the time look cheap plus one-dimensional. This leads to the issue that audiences are torn out of the experience when confronted with objects that look fake. Practical sets would have helped for a better immersion into the fantasy world. Costume designs are nothing out of the ordinary, pretty standard, with Momoa’s make-up and wardrobe being the only one standing out.

The musical score adds nuances to the dream sequences, though overall too generic and nothing that will stick in the audience's mind for too long.

Verdict: Francis Lawrence’s take on the Little Nemo adventures, is honestly more mediocre than fantastic. While there are moments of great potential, with ideas and messages sprinkled throughout the two-hour short runtime, Lawrence makes it abundantly clear that he has issues finding the right pacing for the narrative. Especially during the first couple of minutes, where it would have been nice to observe the dynamic between Nemo and her father a little longer, to build up an emotional bond. The cast is overall good, especially Jason Momoa in his exaggerated performance. The cinematography is ok, making use of a good colour palette, while the giant CGI worlds and battles lack realism plus depth. All in all, this was a lost opportunity at telling a unique coming-of-age fantasy tale, reaching only a 5.5 out of 10.

Have you seen Slumberland yet? It is streaming on Netflix since November 18th. Let me know what you thought & as always, thank you for reading my review!


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