Column: "Natestalgia!" -- Dream-Diving with "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland"

Unfortunately, Nate is not going to recite the entire "shazama pajama" spell

With the passing of Jean "Moebius" Giraud, I think it's a good time to take a look at one of his lesser-known works--or rather, something that many people know of, but don't know of Moebius' involvement with it. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland, based off Windsor McCay's surreal comic strip, is sometimes referred to as "that almost-Ghibli movie" due to Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata's involvement early in the film's production, while others refer to it as "that terrifying movie that they say is for children, but will really just give them nightmares."

  

The film took the better part of a decade to produce, and the end result is mostly worth it, even after it went through constant script revisions and changes with animation staff, including The Incredibles' Brad Bird. When he left the project in the early '80s, Hayao Miyazaki himself called his time working on Little Nemo "the worst experience of his professional career." Sheesh, mine was when I accidentally decked a customer while working at Borders, so if his is "that time I worked on an animated adaptation of a classic comic," it must have been pretty bad.

 

While the movie was released in Japan in 1989, American audiences didn't get to see it until 1992, or its VHS release in '93. The real surprise wasn't getting the movie itself--it was how prepared American kids were for Little Nemo.

 

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Y'see, a couple years before the movie's US release (1990, to be exact), Little Nemo: The Dream Master was released in the US for the Nintendo Entertainment System, letting players run through Nemo's trippy dreams, feeding candy to frogs and gorillas and fighting the forces of the Nightmare King to rescue Morpheus, the kidnapped King of Slumberland.

 

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Funny, that--minus the weird "feed candy to animals, then wear their skin as a suit" serial killer mentality of the game, the Little Nemo movie was pretty much that plot.

 

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Nemo is a little kid who, like many his age, wants to go on an adventure. One night, worried that his busy father won't be able to take him to the circus, Nemo gets invited to the Kingdom of Slumberland to the personal playmate of Princess Camille. Being at the age where girls are icky, Nemo's not interested, but a bribe of sweets quickly changes his mind. With his pet flying squirrel (?!) Icarus, Nemo sets off for Slumberland.

 

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The usual kid-movie cliches all happen--Nemo and the Princess don't get along, Nemo meets a mischievous clown-looking guy named Flip, and then comes the real shocker that he hears from the King of Slumberland himself, Morpheus.

 

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It turns out that Nemo is The One has been chosen to be heir to the throne of Slumberland, and given responsibility over the Royal Scepter (a magical superweapon) and a key that can open any door in Slumberland. It's funny to mention that the Scepter is only wielded by himself and his heir Nemo, when he's old enough--but not the Princess, because apparently you don't give women superweapons.

 

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While it's nice to see that King Morpheus absolutely does not give a crap about anybody's privacy ever, he does mention to Nemo that there is one door in the kingdom that he must never open.

 

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And of course, because Flip is "mischievous," (because what you really call people like this isn't quite doable in a G-rated movie) he convinces Nemo to open the door.

 

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And of course, all hell literally breaks loose, as the Nightmare King and his minions run amok in Slumberland, kidnapping the King and the Princess, and wreaking general havoc.

 

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Nemo, armed with the Royal Scepter and riding his handy-dandy flying bed, sets off to rescue them, learning the very grown-up lesson that adventures kinda suck while you're having them, but make for great stories.

 

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Nemo recites the hilariously goofy spell to activate the Royal Scepter's power, one-shotting the Nightmare King and saving the day. Then he wakes up, kinda realizes it was all a dream, and his dad takes him to the circus.

 

Okay, I'm kind of oversimplfying the ending a bit, but not by much--the movie's not all that coherent to begin with. It's definitely not on the Versus level of craziness, but it does kind of jump from one plot point to another. They even tease at one point like you're going to get a Disney-style musical number, and then they just leave you hanging. Hell, the opening sequence, where Nemo has a nightmare where he's chased by a train, reminds me a lot of the train chase in Wrongfully Accused--y'know, the one where the train's hiding behind a tree waiting for Leslie Nielsen?

 

Still, though... what a beautiful movie. The animation holds up very well, showing off its anime pedigree in a number of scenes, mainly any scene involving the monstrous Nightmares and their freaky King. The movie scared the hell out of me as a little kid, as it's surprisingly intense for a children's movie, and wouldn't feel much different with Enter Sandman blaring in the background of select scenes.

 

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Then again, Japan also thought that Fist of the North Star was safe for children.

 

Did you ever watch Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland when you were younger? Have you had a chance to see it recently? What'd you think about it? Heck, if you haven't seen it, check it out here on Crunchyroll!

 

Extra info via Wikipedia

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