'Little Nemo' makes it dreams reality

MOVIES

August 21, 1992|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

'Little Nemo'

Animated feature.

Voices by Rene Auberjonois, Mickey Rooney and Gabriel Damon.

Directed by Masami Hata and William Hurtz.

Released by Tokyo Movie Shinsha/Hemdale Pictures.

Rated G.

** 1/2

It is frequently said of the Japanese that they can do hardware but they can't do software. That weakness is glaringly on view in the animated Japanese-American co-production "Little Nemo."

In many ways it's a fascinating document. The quality of the background designs, the overall look of the piece, the vistas it conjures, are all superb. That's the hardware. The characters -- the software -- aren't much.

The film is derived from the mind-blowingly hallucinatory color comic strips that appeared in the Sunday comics of the New York Herald in 1907, by Winsor McCay.

McCay set his stories in the utopia of Slumberland, and the strips -- ornately detailed, full of astonishing tricks of perspective -- had that dream-state logic that was utterly fascinating even if slightly unknowable. Nemo seemed to flow from weirdness to weirdness; in the last frame, he was always being awakened by his distraught Victorian mother.

The film, subtitled "Adventures in Slumberland," follows the conceit of the dream as story structure, but literalizes it: It's no longer metaphorical but concretely real, and the dizzy free-associative anti-logic has been replaced by the more typical stuff of cartoonlands the universe over. Nemo has also been sentimentalized.

Still, "Little Nemo" is a great deal of fun to look at passively. Just sit there and let it happen to you. It's a movie meant to be seen, not felt.

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