Back in 1992, Barry Levinson and Robin Williams reunited following the success of Good Morning, Vietnam for a family movie called Toys. The commercials made it look like a great movie. There were amazing set designs and costumes. Unfortunately, there was nothing beyond that. Williams had used all his A-game material in Aladdin previously released that year and Levinson had reportedly wrote the script back during the days he was working with Mel Brooks on his movies.
Toys bombed despite its cast that included Sir Michael Gambon, Robin Wright, Joan Cusack, LL Cool J and Donald O’Connor. It seems history has repeated itself with Slumberland. Francis Lawrence, who directed the Hunger Games movies, I Am Legend and Constantine, helms this movie. Jason Momoa gets top billing but he’s the comic-relief sidekick. Kyle Chandler and Chris O’Dowd appear as two brothers who aren’t given much to do.
Based on the comic strip, Little Nemo by Winsor McCay, the title was obviously changed to avoid confusion with Disney’s Nemo especially considering a lot of movie is set around the sea. And in this case, Nemo who used to go on wide adventures when he sleeps is changed to a tween girl played by Marlow Barkley. She lives in a lighthouse with her father, Peter (Chandler) who teaches her how to manage the lighthouse and at night tells her wild stories about a character named Flip. I don’t have any problems with the filmmakers changing Nemo to a girl. But the character deserved better than this.
One night, Peter tries to help a distressed boat and gets lost at sea. Nemo is sent to live with her uncle Philip (O’Dowd), a doorknob salesman. It’s here where I started to lose interest in the movie. It never fails that in family movies like this, the one adult who is the stiff opposite of the fun adult, always has some silly or boring occupation or hobby. Even though the movie is set in modern times when anyone can go into a Lowe’s, Home Depot o neighborhood hardware store and buy a doorknob, this movie harkens back to an era in which being a doorknob salesman was grossly overexagerrated. O’Dowd seems to handle the role as if he’s not at all interested and is doing it for a paycheck.
Awakened one night by her stuffed pig that has come to life, Nemo is whisked away into Slumberland. Imagine if Christopher Nolan made Inception for PBS or Nickelodeon and it’s just as dull and doesn’t make as much sense. She finally meets Flip (Mamoa), a human hybrid with the ears and horns of a goat. And they have a magical map and go on adventures while she’s asleep while being chased by Agent Green (Weruche Opia), an operative with the Bureau of Subconscious Activities.
And there’s nothing more for the movie to do for the two hours except Nemo and Flip going through a lot of creative sets and eye-candy CGI but there’s really no wonder what they’re doing. Of course, Flip gets a little more irritating each time Nemo falls asleep. And Phillip gets a little more irritating at Nemo while she’s awake. That is until he finally remembers what it was like to be a child. Yes, this is another one of those “What ever happened to your imagination?” plots that worked better in Hook, another movie starring Williams.
Momoa a very talented actor despite his hulking superhero image who usually works when given the right material. I just wish he was given more to do here. Barkley is very young and she is capable of doing good things once she’s given a better script. Chandler is in the movie so little it makes you wonder why he was cast at all when they could’ve just gotten a regular character actor. It’s probably because they wanted adults tuning in thinking he was in the movie longer.
I’m not a little child anymore but I still find myself thinking of a fantasy world. It’s a shame this movie talks down to kids but giving them a lot of set designs and special effects they can be dazzled by, but I’m sure they will be just as bored as their parents watching this. It’s about 15-20 minutes too long and never really seems to pull off what it hopes. Netflix reportedly spent $150 million on the production but I don’t think it’s going to attract any more subscribers especially after all the problems the streaming service has had this year.
What do you think? Please comment.