1989’s Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland has been a favorite of mine for years, so to say I was ambivalent about a live action remake would be an understatement. Still, I am always willing to give these types of films a proper chance, viewed on their own, separate from their animated superiors. Aladdin and Cinderella are among my favorite of these types of remakes. Directed by Francis Lawrence (I Am Legend, The Hunger Games) and written by David Guion and Michael Handelman (Night at the Museum), I am sad to report that Slumberland is missing the whimsical magic and surprising darkness of the original. Creating a dreamscape that is more glaring green screen than immersive beauty, Slumberland cannot escape the shadow of far better fantastical delights.
Swapping the gender of little boy Nemo, newcomer Marlow Barkley takes over the lead role the best way she can. The young girl lives with her father at a lighthouse out in the ocean, as he regales her with stories about massive monsters and seas of nightmares. Tragedy strikes when Nemo’s father, Peter (Kyle Chandler), is killed after venturing out into a storm. Per Peter’s last wishes, Nemo moves away from her “hermit” living to stay in the city with her awkward businessman uncle, Phillip (Chris O’Dowd). Phillip and Peter were estranged, and Phillip seems quite dull in comparison to Nemo’s adventurous daddy. Phillip googles “how to raise a child” shortly after Nemo moves in.
While one would expect Slumberland to dive into what it means being a fish out of water at a new school and a new town, this element is barely brushed upon. Before you know it, Nemo’s bed grows legs and takes to the streets. Each night, Nemo returns to Slumberland, wherein she meets legendary outlaw Flip (Jason Momoa) trying to nab a secret map from her father’s room. Flip looks very different from his animated counterpart, here sporting horns and fangs, eating flies, and towering in stature over little Nemo. Flip claims that he and Peter risked their lives stealing it in the first place. It is said to lead to magical treasure pearls that let the beholder wish for whatever they want in Slumberland, and it must come true! This could be the key to Nemo seeing her father again, a prospect that almost seems too good to be true.
Gone is original Nemo’s cute pet squirrel Icarus, instead replaced by Nemo’s constant stuffed animal companion: a pig named Pig. Said Pig is admittedly pretty cute! There are tons of tweaks to character designs that are so drastically different, they may as well belong to a different project entirely. The actual plot is also nothing like the original either, completely tweaking the mythology to the point that it is utterly unrecognizable. Still, this does not necessarily make Slumberland a bad movie. No, this honor goes to the mismanaged direction that favors generic action over intimate characterization.
When one has a property as singular and original as that of 1900s comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland, and an excellent precursor in an instant-classic 80s animated movie to go from, there is simply no excuse for sanding down the edges. Lawrence makes Slumberland into the type of fantasy adventure movie we have seen countless times before, lacking in originality and breadth. Maybe younger kids will find a lot to love here, but for a big fan of 1989 film, Slumberland was majorly lacking the eye-popping spectacle of one’s wildest dreams.
Slumberland drifts to Netflix globally on Friday, November 18th.