Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989)
Directed by Masami Hata & William T. Hurtz

Artistic Value: * * * ½
Entertainment Value: * * * *

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Nemo, a young boy living during the first years of the twentieth century, is summoned during his sleep to Slumberland so that he can be the playmate of Princess Camille, the daughter of King Morpheus. Having arrived there (with his pet flying squirrel Icarus), and having been made heir to the throne, Nemo meets and befriends both the princess and the wanted rascal Flip. Though Professor Genius subsequently tries to teach Nemo how to behave properly before he becomes king, Flip not only leads the boy on a series of mischievous adventures, but he also goads Nemo into opening a door deep below the palace for which he had been given a key but which he had been forbidden to open. As a result of Nemo's unlocking the door, which leads to Nightmare Land, Morpheus is captured by the Nightmare King and Slumberland laid waste, leaving only Nemo able to set matters right.

Masami Hata and William T. Hurtz's animated film Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is a flawed if still thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of Windsor McCay's comic Little Nemo.

Visually, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is a consistent delight. Both the character designs and the backgrounds are, for the most part, derived from McCay's original illustrations. The most notable exception to this is the appearance of Nemo himself, but this change is hardly for the worse since the original Nemo was invariably the least appealing element in every comic strip featuring him. Luckily, the best elements of the comic have been adapted to the screen. Slumberland itself is a magical fairy city of domed palaces and countless spires, and it is populated with an incredible menagerie of beings, including ornately uniformed soldiers, strange clowns, odd animals, and even McCay's own Gertie the Dinosaur. To this assortment, the directors add other enchanting touches (only some of which come from the author's work), such as a bed that grows fantastically long legs and walks over the buildings of a city, an impossible ornithopter, a multicolored, highly decorated dirigible, and a gang of goblins capable of forming themselves into a single monster and separating into distinct beings once again. The movie really is a pleasure simply to look at.

As much as I was bewitched by the images the directors present, I have to concede that the story they tell is not particularly inspired, though it is still reasonably entertaining. Hata and Hurtz relate a largely conventional tale of adventure. Fortunately, they fill this narrative with a variety of genuinely fun scenarios, amongst which are Nemo's fantastic journeys to the magical land of dreams and to the eerie, haunted world of nightmares, the boy's thrilling jaunt through the skies over Slumberland in the company of Flip, during which this pair causes a good deal of trouble, including setting off a vast number of fireworks, and a marvelous flying tour of that country with the princess. Most of these are alive with a sense of joy or excitement and with the fabulous images the directors have brought to the screen. They are, as a result, sure to keep the viewer captivated. There are even a few musical numbers in the movie. These are enjoyable, though, like the narrative itself, they are not brilliantly realized. Actually, that in which a variety of instructors (in academics, fencing, dancing, and the like) toss Nemo back and forth while trying to teach him is pretty funny.

As with so much else in the film, its characters are pleasant to watch but never truly fascinating. Some, of course, are better realized than are others. Flip, for instance, is such a rascal that he can be amusing. Others, however, can be forgettable, as is Nemo himself, clichéd, as is Morpheus, or even grating, as is the hero's pet squirrel, Icarus. Happily, though none of the characters are enthralling or created with any great imagination, most are appealing enough to keep the viewer engaged and so are entertained.

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland is beautifully animated, and alive with a number of exciting escapades, but it can, thanks to its lackluster narrative and characters, be a little disappointing. It is a shame that the movie is not as amazing as a whole as are some of its elements. Nonetheless, it is a good deal of fun to watch.

Review by Keith Allen

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