Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)

JP/USA, 85 min

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well, here’s one i adored as a child. in my mind it’s still a gem, but sadly, i found a lot of it near-excruciating to watch now, only because i found the high-pitched, gosh-mister, squeaky-clean kiddiness abrasive. but to be fair, it was almost completely an aural issue. this would never stop me from recommending it endlessly. it actually made me wish i was watching the japanese version, which was released first, and which i’ve never seen. i’ll probably try to track it down now; i’d love to see it again with different voiceovers.

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rather than spend any time paraphrasing some garble about winsor mccay, here:

“Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland” is a joy and a wonder, just like the original Winsor McCay cartoons. For those ignorant of the history of American cartoons, McCay’s “Little Nemo” series was a classic of naive pop surrealism exploring the adventures of a boy in the dream-world. McCay was sometimes deficient in spelling, but he was never deficient in drawing or imagination. [..]  I took particular delight in how some scenes here meticulously mirrored the original cartoon. The animation is at various points dreamy, beautiful, dark, menacing and, of course, surreal. I think it is a mistake to view this film purely as a product of the anime industry – the film is instead a meeting of the Japanese culture with American culture.  — imdb user

i have to agree with all of the above. in spite of a few squirmful moments, i’m still pretty wild about the fantasy elements and the animation, particularly when things get “dark”, and those are the moments that have stuck in my mind since childhood. but the script is no masterpiece, and i did feel a crushing sense of loss when i learned, this time around, that hayao miyazaki (my neighbor totoro, kik’s delivery service, princess mononoke, spirited away, etc etc) had originally been attached to the project, and left, i think over artistic differences or somesuch. agh! there is a beautiful little tester animation that he made for the project, though, which can be seen here.

what might have been, indeed. as much warmth as i feel for this movie, it pains me now to see what it could have been. in the end, the final screenplay was co-written by that guuuy, the one whose directorial contributions include adventures in babysitting, home alone i/ii, mrs. doubtfire, and the first couple harry potters. it’s little wonder there are some cringe-worthy, sap-stick moments, not to mention all the infernal giggling.

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a few other notes:

Originally conceived in 1982, this Japanese-American co-production had a long and tumultuous history which included a 1984 pilot by Ghibli director Yoshifumi Kondō. Though regarded as a commercial failure in the States, it nevertheless went on to be nominated for and won several industry awards for its brilliant animation quality.

there’s more interesting production history/etc in the film’s wiki, below. to read more about the original cartoon,  here. or check out some archived strips at the comic strip library.

imdb :: wiki

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