Saturday, February 1, 2014

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

Whenever I first started college, a lot of my friends and fellow film students and I began revisiting films that we had seen as little kids, but had since long forgotten. The list of hazy childhood nostalgia ranged from The Iron Giant, Disney’s The Black Cauldron, and even to such obscure depths as the 1970’s adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (AKA nightmare-fuel). The list goes on and on, but what all of these films had in common was the overall lasting impression of disturbing us enough to eventually push them out of the forefronts of our memories. Until now.

All of a sudden, I started to piece together snapshots of things I thought I remembered about a movie that I was fairly convinced was real. Flying beds. A princess. Dancing toys. A supernatural circus. I became fairly certain that all of these psuedo-memories belonged to one film - but which one?

Luckily I live in the age of the internet, where such vague google searches as “kids’ film with floating beds” are met with immediate answers. My quest did not take long, as I instantly encountered forums where hundreds of other young adults were asking the same sorts of questions. Apparently a great multitude of us were being regularly haunted by memories of the same movie. The culprit? Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland

Suddenly it all came back: the king of Slumberland who doubled as a circus ringleader, the forbidden door in the cave, the flooding bedroom, the shapeshifting goblins, and - of course - the floating beds. Adventures in Slumberland
came out in 1989, which meant that by 1997 or so, it was a regular staple in the video rental store just down the street from my house. I don’t exactly remember the first time I watched it, but I do remember that it was the only movie I rented for about two years. Probably because I thought it was the only movie I could rent.

So let's get to the plot, yeah?

Nemo's an adorable little kid living in turn-of-the-century New York/Tokyo/Animated-Hybrid-City. Nemo has nightmares, all of which involve being chased by a phantom locomotive. After waking from his bad dream, however, Nemo's lucky enough to find out that there's a parade in town welcoming a traveling circus. Which, you know, is just awesome. Except for Nemo. Nemo goes to the parade and gets super jazzed about the circus, but in true childhood fantasy fashion, his parents are "too busy" to take him. Bummer.

Little Nemo goes off to sleep that night, and is approached by the strange characters he saw earlier in the parade. The circus organist, who's really "Professor Genius", informs Nemo that he has been chosen by the king of Slumberland to be a playmate for his daughter. Nemo has his apprehensions at first, but pretty quickly turns around and goes off with Professor Genius and his magical blimp to Slumberland.

Upon arriving in Slumberland, Nemo gets acquainted with King Morpheus and his daughter, Princess Camille, right before Morpheus drops some big news on Nemo. Turns out that Nemo wasn't brought to Slumberland to hang out with Camille - but instead was brought to be the heir to Slumberland.

*Disclaimer: This is the only element of the plot I have a real problem with, as Slumberland already has an heir in Princess Camille. Why King Morpheus had the professor kidnap some random kid from the human realm to take over the thrown is beyond me - but hey, the rest of the movie kind of revolves around this, so I'll let it go.

Nemo gets the throne, Camille gets a friend, and so far Slumberland is awesome. King Morpheus' one rule, though, is that Nemo never ever ever ever opens the door with the dragon insignia. He then promptly gives Nemo the key to open said door. This could not possibly end badly in any way. Nemo and Camille go off on an adventure through Slumberland with a slightly-scary clown named Flip, and have a pretty great time getting to know each other until Flip goes ahead and screws everything up by upsetting a group of Slumberland police, forcing the trio to hide out in a dark and scary cave. Oh, and the dark and scary cave happens to house the door with the dragon insignia that Morpheus totally said to never ever ever ever open.

Flip convinces Nemo to open the door, releasing the Nightmare King who kidnaps Morpheus and whisks him away to the aptly named Nightmare Land. Going to show that you should never trust a clown, Flip is quick to blame the king's abduction on Nemo. There's nothing else to do but venture into Nightmare Land himself (along with Camille, Professor Genius, and *grumble* Flip) and save King Morpheus!

Adventures in Slumberland is a great underrated kids' flick that's all about conquering your fears, listening to your elders, and never trusting clowns. (Okay, that last part is open to interpretation.) The animation isn't of Miyazaki quality, but it's decent. The characters and scenery are imaginative and lovely, and Nightmare Land is genuinely terrifying. The balance of the beautiful, bizzare, and the scary ultimately further lend to the film's dreamlike quality.

Slumberland was a box office flop, largely due to the fact that it premiered alongside Kiki's Delivery Service, and critical reception was mixed. Condemned to video rental store shelves for about a decade, it did manage to work its way into the homes and imaginations of 90's kids everywhere. Though I forgot about the movie for the longest time, I never really forgot. And upon re-watching it, it was like I had always remembered. Slumberland might not have found its true audience upon its initial release, but it still holds a mysterious place in the minds of the children who grew up with it. Though the title itself has been forgotten by many, the memory of the film seems to reside with people well into adulthood. Almost like a dream.

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