Cult Cinema: Little Nemo - Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

Michelle reviews the 1989 animated film, Little Nemo.

"I am SO high right now."
Whenever I recall memories from my early childhood they always have a dreamlike and ephemeral quality to them. The recollections have a slideshow effect in which flashes of images and feelings flit by and materialize just beyond my grasp. What is unique about being a child is how daydreams and fantasies can solidify and appear real, especially in the nether realm that is the moment between being asleep and being awake. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is an animated film that captures this sentiment perfectly, and it’s a shame that it has been lost in the shuffle of time. It’s an underrated and magical movie that deserves more acclaim than it has received.

Little Nemo was a joint venture between American and Japanese studios and it aesthetically leans more towards the anime side as far as character designs are concerned. It’s based on an American serialized comic from the early 1900s, but the story is changed from the original. The plot concerns the adventures of a little mop-haired boy named Nemo who gets transported to a surreal dream world known as Slumberland. He has many adventures and meets a motley cast of characters along the way. Just as in dreams, events in this film happen with no rhyme or reason, which can be slightly confusing at times. Dream logic doesn’t have to make sense, however, and it gives Little Nemo a whimsical quality that is endearing.  There is also a shadowy streak that undulates under the surface of the story (where there are dreams, there are nightmares) and some of the imagery can be frightening. In fact, almost eleven minutes of footage was cut out of the American release so that it would be able to have a G rating.

This film is gorgeously rendered with fluid cell animation and incredibly detailed backgrounds. Slumberland is hectic, colorful, fantastic, and not unlike a carnival ride, complete with jump scares and bizarre situations. The sheer imagination and creativity on display boggles the mind and assaults the senses. Even if you don’t enjoy the premise of the film, it’s still a testament to the way they used to make animated features—with lots of care and love. The beginning sequence with Nemo traversing over the water in his magical flying bed is exhilarating and a joy to watch. Each splash of the water, every single wave is meticulously hand-animated with no looping or cheating. They just don’t make them like this anymore. It’s a moment captured in time and well worth revisiting over and over again.

"Do you think we can smoke
this tree?"
There are Japanese and English versions of this film but I have only personally seen the English dub. The dub is well done for the most part, if not slightly over acted. There are a few famous actors doing roles, most notably Mickey Rooney as a cigar-smoking reprobate named Flip. Side note: you can tell the era that this was made in-- I know for a fact they would not let a character smoke a cigar in any cartoon nowadays. Little Nemo’s musical score is lush and orchestral at times and mysterious and pensive at others.  For the most part, it’s great though the musical numbers aren’t as catchy as they could be.

Overall, Little Nemo is a forgotten gem that should be unearthed by animation enthusiasts who want to complete their film watching journey. It bombed at the box office, but has gained a bit of a cult following in subsequent years and for good reason: it’s wonderful.


-Michelle Kisner

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