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Movie review: 'Robot Dreams' (2023)

Edited by GreenReaper as of 07:51
Your rating: None Average: 3.5 (4 votes)

Movie poster, Dog and Robot walk hand in hand down a New York City street. Robot Dreams (trailer) is a 102-minute animated film released in December 2023, made by Arcadia, Lokiz and other studios. Based on a 2007 graphic novel (Amazon US - UK - Spanish edition) by Sara Varon, this Spanish-French production was written and directed by Pablo Berger, who had never worked in animation before, so he collaborated closely with art director José Luis Ágreda and storyboard artist Maca Gil for a year and a half to plan the project. It worked out really well!

Two neat things: it's a 2D film in an overbearingly 3D market, and there's no dialog. It takes place in a slightly alternative version of New York City in 1984, a funny-animal one. The main character, "Dog", lives in a Manhattan apartment. He's extremely lonely. One day he sees a TV ad for robot friends, so he orders one; after putting it together - he's not lonely anymore! Aside from this modern leap in artificial intelligence and robotics, the film is as early-80s as it gets: boomboxes, cassettes, VCRs, and Walkmen.

The conflict in the story arises when Dog and Robot go to a beach in a private amusement park. At the end of the day, Robot can't get up, and the beach is closing for the season. That's as much as the trailer offers. All I can say is that both Dog and Robot have to cope with loneliness again, while yearning to reunite with one another. And yes, the Robot dreams, though not of electric sheep.

This isn't a story for young kids, as parts of it explore the world of adults and the relationships that we form (or lack). Several online reviews describe it as a tragicomedy, and it certainly is. I watched it with two other friends, and what kept a lot of the momentum for us was the film's ability to walk a fine, delicate line, precisely between sweet and sad, switching from one to the other seamlessly… and we had no idea where it was going.

A view of a street in New York City.

Dog and Robot on a beach. Was something good about to happen? Something bad?? The middle of the film is a slow, gradual bumper-car ride, moving in unexpected directions. Funny, nostalgic, heart-warming, dark… this one plucks at your heart-strings, with surprising tenderness. The end result, thankfully, is a net positive.

In terms of visuals, the animation uses clear lines and shapes for everything, filling them with well-chosen flat colors. I'm always interested to see what artists outside of furry fandom do with animal characters. In this case, the animators used a lot of different species. Most of them acted like people, but here and there you see the animal at play. An octopus playing the drums. A dog-person catching a frisbee in their mouth.

Or it has fun with the concept, like Dog taking off their collar in a brief moment of "nudity", or a wiener dog selling… well, wieners. As for the soundtrack, dammit they paid for the rights to use Earth, Wind & Fire's "September", and got as much mileage out of it as possible.

My friends and I did manage to find a couple of large plot holes, but we weren't too bothered by them. For example, Robot's power source and level of sentience is not explored, nor what Dog does for a living. There also seemed to be some product placement? Either that, or the animators wanted to include aspects of American groceries from back in the day. Wasn't clear.

Overall this is a film I would definitely recommend! I'm hoping it turns a profit, though early signs are looking a bit dicey. It would be great for this animation team to stick together, and to see what else they come up with. It's already won over a dozen film festival awards. As to where to watch it… good question. My copy was pirated, but if I can get a legit copy later on, I would gladly pay for that, to support the artists. It can be rented on Prime Video in the UK. In the U.S., distributor Neon has picked up the rights to begin screening on May 31, but it's unknown at how many venues.

A crowd scene showing many different kinds of animals.

For more information, check out the Cartoon Brew website, but beware spoilers! Director Pablo Berger talks about how he set up the animation studio, and Maca Gil discusses the storyboarding.

Dog and Robot share a quiet moment at dusk near a bridge.

Comments

Your rating: None Average: 2.5 (2 votes)

Currently not listed as playing at the AMC theater around the corner for me, but they might not be listing it a week and a half out. We've been getting lucky, recently, and I'd bet it would easily make the OKC or Tulsa megaplex theaters, but it's probably a miss here.

Your rating: None

AMC Theatres seems to be the likely way to watch it in the U.S., distributed by Neon, but yeah, they're not listing the locations yet. In Canada, it looks like distribution has been picked up by Elevation Pictures, who may have arranged a deal with the Cineplex chain. The tribute.ca website is vaguely saying "June 7, 2024 - Toronto; June 14, 2024 - Vancouver, Montreal".

Your rating: None Average: 4 (1 vote)

A wonderful film.

In the 20th century, the term "tragicomedy" became blurred a bit. "Robot Dreams" is a tragicomedy in the most classical sense of the word: hard, dramatic events leading to a more or less happy ending, although tainted with sadness. It's what Shakespeare had in mind when he wrote his late tragicomedies - which, too, are based around separation and reunion, deal with passage of time. And the exact way "Robot Dreams" mixes the sad with the comical - like when Dog finally manages to scare the kids at Halloween - stroke me as rather Shakespearean.

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Perhaps you could review "Werewolf Island" (狼人岛)? It's a little-known recent Chinese web animated series without spoken dialog. We've got a short article about it at the Russian WikiFur -
https://ru.wikifur.com/wiki/Остров_оборотня
- but I think it deserves wider recognition.
Here's one of the episodes at e926.net:
https://e926.net/posts/4274614

Your rating: None

Robot Dreams will be in AMC theatres starting this Friday!

Your rating: None Average: 2 (2 votes)

oof, still not mine, so may not apply to smaller AMCs.

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