The retro-technology of Jules Verne meets the dread of J.R.R. Tolkien in a superbly crafted tale of good and evil in a land of dreams. This slick steamroller boasts an impressive concept and imaginative design, even if a few scenes get much scarier than usual for a G rating. “Little Nemo” should be a hit with the kids and promises to have a long video shelf life after wide national late-summer release.
Title character, a boy in a Victorian-looking New York ‘burb whose father ignores him, is carried off to Slumberland by a giant blimp to be the playmate of Princess Camille, daughter of kind King Morpheus. Tot is made heir to the throne and given a key to all
the doors in the realm. But the king makes Nemo swear never to open “that door,” which leads to Nightmare Land.
Enter Flip, a mischievous trickster with Mickey Rooney’s crackly voice, who dares the kid to open it. When Nemo and Flip rush back to make the coronation party, a dark demon slithers out from behind the open door and abducts the king.
Nemo must make up for his mistake by staging a rescue mission deep inside the evil kingdom, aided by his flying pet squirrel Icarus, the princess and the delicate Prof. Genius.
This universe was imagined from the ground up by French comic-book icon Jean (Moebius) Giraud, whose taste in design previously has ranged from the merely gigantic to the bellicose. Here, he has perfected the art of making even benevolent surroundings appear as if they might turn sinister at any moment, making “Nemo” more than standard fare in the genre.
Visually stunning scenes with massive structures and bizarre creatures floating through the air are welcome trademarks of this master of Verne sci-fi. His demons, black ooze and one scene involving a splattered goblin are reminiscent of his recent adult artwork, however, and may be a touch too much for the intended audience.
Overall production quality is as high as it gets. The Sherman brothers’ rich score offers at least one catchy, funny theme reminiscent of their work for “Mary Poppins.” Sound is rich and varied, with crisp little surprises to support the fun.
Animation itself is fluid and graceful, but occasionally it rushes ahead with a speed so dizzying even the MTV faithful will experience a sense of vertigo. A train chase in the opening sequence is one example of high-energy busyness that leaves the audience breathless and overwhelmed.
Eighteen camera credits on this film make for impressive multilevel sensations, especially during the many aerial shots that combine the innocence of the tiny hero’s design with the stark backdrop terror so typical ofJapanese high-end products of this kind.