By: Reel Dialogue
Little Nemo is a fictional character created by American cartoonist Winsor McCay. He originated in an early comic strip by McCay, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, before receiving his own spin-off series, Little Nemo in Slumberland. The full-page weekly strip depicted Nemo having fantastic dreams interrupted by his awakening in the final panel. In January 2020, it was announced that Netflix would adapt the comic strip into a new film, with a gender-switched Nemo and a radically different version of her compatriot Flip.
Raised alone by a single father in a lighthouse, a young girl, Nemo (Marlow Barkley), turns eleven. Nemo’s father (Kyle Chandler) is fun, eccentric, and imaginative. One night her beloved father leaves to help a boat on the ocean and dies at sea. Having left instructions to give custody of Nemo to her single uncle as there is no one else, she leaves the island. The uncle (Chris O’Dowd) is an uninspired, stodgy, uptight doorknob entrepreneur who has no clue how to raise a child. To be even more disruptive for the little girl, he lives in a metropolitan city where Nemo does not fit in. However, thanks to a dream, Nemo discovers a secret map to the dreamworld of Slumberland. With the help of an eccentric outlaw named Flip (Jason Momoa), she traverses dreams and flees nightmares in an attempt to see her late father one last time.
Slumberland seems like a strange film for director Francis Lawrence to helm. Having previously worked on The Hunger Games sequels, Red Sparrow, and other more mature movies, this film is far more family oriented than those projects. With bright, vibrant colours, a youth protagonist, and a story centred around make-believe dreams and siblings play-acting, it skews younger in its audience. The film succeeds in this focus, with plenty of light-hearted and visually bright moments that may remind viewers of films like The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lava Girl or Bedtime Stories. The comparisons to those films don’t just end at visuals, as Slumberland is a film focused on dreams and the power of the subconscious to self-soothe and process complex emotions. Nemo’s dream journey is an opportunity for her to process the pain and loss of losing her father, and a chance for her to connect with her distant, emotionally stunted uncle.
Young Marlow Barkley is a solid lead and does well to hold her own with talented stars like Jason Momoa, Kyle Chandler, and Chris O’Dowd. Some viewers may wonder why O’Dowd continues to be made to use an American accent (which isn’t half bad) in place of his lovely natural Irish accent. There are some energetic action scenes and the dream world is especially unique with fun concepts and characters, leaving the ‘real world’ dull by comparison. Overall, the creative and colourful visuals and spectacle help buoy the simple and predictable story you’ve seen before in other family films.
After suffering the loss of her father, young Nemo is sent to live with her uncle. A man who is also grieving the loss of his brother. As two very distinct people who have little in common, the one thing they share is their grief. We watch as they cycle through all the stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. It’s a cathartic experience, and a reminder that grief takes time to process.
Grief cannot be ignored or suppressed. We have to learn to process it. Jesus also experienced grief, and like all other things, stands as our example to look to, as we seek to express our sorrow in a healthy manner. Jesus wept. He turned to the laments of Scripture in the Psalms. He prayed to His Father to give Him comfort. These are all things we can also do when we are grieving or helping others when they are dealing with their grief.
Matthew 5:4 ““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”
Article supplied with thanks to City Bible Forum.
About the author: Michael Walsh is a Missions Engagement Minister in Sydney, and an avid film fan. His love of film is surpassed only by his love of God, and his desire to make the Gospel known.