Netflix’s new fantasy family film, Slumberland, is taking viewers on an adventure through mystical lands and wondrous dreamscapes. The film is a reimagining of the early-20th Century comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland. The strip, which debuted in the New York Herald in 1905, was created by cartoonist and animation pioneer Winsor McCay as a spin-off of his earlier comic, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend.
The weekly full-page comic strip featured the titular Nemo falling asleep and having dreams that took him on adventures in the fantastical world of Slumberland, with each strip ending when he awoke. Little Nemo in Slumberland is considered a masterpiece of cartooning and was hailed for its experimental forms of the comics page, its use of color and perspective, the size and shape of its panels, its timing and pacing, and its architectural design. It was a ground-breaking comic strip that influenced those that followed, with its style still impacting modern-day comic strips. Needless to say, that made it ripe for a modern-day retelling.
Netflix’s Slumberland follows Nemo (Marlow Barkley, Single Parents, Spirited), a young girl who lives with her loving and down-to-Earth father, played by (Kyle Chandler, Mayor of Kingstown, Friday Night Lights ) in a lighthouse in the Pacific Northwest. After her father is lost at sea, she moves in with her estranged stuffy uncle, Philip (Chris O’Dowd, Bridesmaids, Thor: Dark World) in the city. To escape her new mundane life, Nemo transports to the magical world of Slumberland in her sleep with a half-beast, half-man “outlaw” named Flip (Jason Momoa, Aquaman, Game of Thrones) and her sidekick Pig, to try to track down her father. While doing so, the duo must traverse dreams and nightmares, all a while trying to avoid being caught by Agent Green (Weruche Opia, I May Destroy You, Sliced), who will lock them away in Slumberland for all eternity.
Character Development in Slumberland
For O’Dowd, the joy of portraying Philip was in the idea of being confronted with a situation that challenges his very nature of being. “There’s an old saying that says the safest place for a ship is a harbor,” said O’Dowd. “But that’s not where ships are built to go. I feel like there’s a lot of that in Phillip. He has decided he’s going to preserve himself from the vagaries of socializing with people. He’s not necessarily up to it, so he has put himself into his work and his hobbies, and not into his people. And then one of his people turns up, and he has to deal with it. I felt quite fun about the idea of getting to do that.”
Opia was able to find self-reflection in the character of Agent Green. “I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a really teachable and delicate moment where she gives [Nemo] a life lesson that I took on myself,” said Opia. “I had to remind myself of something so general but so important, which is that you to be brave in life and keep going. For me, that was a big moment.”
Chandler appreciated the sentiments being presented in the film, particularly for those watching who have experienced similar grief. “It’s a moment where a father, in saying goodbye to his daughter, is able to impart some last advice,” said Chandler. “He’s sending his daughter out into the world, and she’s got to start over again. It’s her resilience through this film, and her trying to figure out what this grief of hers is, and how to deal with it through this dream world. That’s just so wonderful for all of us who understand having to go through this, especially young people who’ve gone through it and don’t understand it. We’ve been talking to people, and we’ve been hearing parents cry and kids ask them questions, and it creates a conversation. It’s all wrapped into a little piece of film here, and I have a feeling that it’s going to last for a long time. It’s exciting to hear people talk about it.”
Dream a Little Dream
Slumberland is not the first adaptation of the original strip. Little Nemo has appeared in the form of plays, operas, comic books, short films, and video games. An animated feature film titled Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland was released in1989, and despite positive reviews and contributions from Ray Bradbury, Chris Columbus and notable French artist, Mœbius, the film was a commercial failure.
While every incarnation of the story has been slightly different (tweaks have included the removal of overtly racially stereotyped characters found in the original comic strip and Flip’s transformation from a clown to Momoa’s man-beast in Slumberland), one thing they all have in common is the notion of existing within the world of your dreams.
The dreams that O’Dowd had growing up weren’t quite as fantastical as the ones found In Slumberland. “A lot of my dreams were sports base,” he said. “I was kind of a sporty kid growing up, so I would have reimagining of sporting events, replaying them in my dreams. I used to use it as something of an emotional comfort blanket when I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. I would think of this memory of me hitting a point and Gaelic football, which was my sport. And then years later, I played Gaelic football after playing not for maybe 15 years, and I played so badly, that the fucking dream went away. It was my version of counting sheep, and then eventually somebody just came in and shot the sheep.”
Slumberland streams on Netflix on November 18.