Robot Dreams – movie review

Almost wordless, Robot Dreams is an unexpected delight. This quite charming animated film that captures the spirit of those silent films of yesteryear. It becomes a touching ode to friendship, connection, the pain of loss, and the need to move on in life. It’s not surprising that the film was nominated for an Oscar.

The film is set in an alternative New York of the 80s, a city inhabited entirely by animal characters. Dog lives alone in his East Village apartment but he’s lonely. One night while flicking through television channels he happens upon a commercial for an Amica 2000, a build-your-own robot companion. He orders one, and when it arrives, he eagerly assembles it. Dog and Robot become close companions, sharing everything together and making the most of a superb summer in the city.

But during an outing to Ocean Beach, a popular beach adventure park (think Coney Island), tragedy strikes and Robot becomes incapacitated. His power cell short circuits and his joints become rusted. With Robot unable to move, Dog is reluctantly forced to leave him behind. He plans to return and restore him back to life the next day. But then fate intervenes as the winter season sets in, and the beachfront park is closed and won’t re-open for nine months. Dog’s plans to rescue his robot companion are thwarted.

Both Dog and Robot have extraordinary dreams in which they are reunited, which gives the material a bittersweet and whimsical tone. But as the winter draws on, the chances of becoming reunited seem less likely. Life moves on and Dog makes a new friend with a female duck, while Robot also finds a new friend after he is rescued from the scrap heap.

Robot Dreams is the work of multi-award Spanish filmmaker Pablo Berger (Snow White) whose imagination shines through every frame. This is his first animated feature, and it is based on the 2007 illustrated book written by Sara Varon. There are a number of clever sequences that pay homage to classic movies of yesteryear including The Wizard of Oz and Busby Berkley musicals. The film is also something of an affectionate love letter to the New York of the 80s. Berger also packs in many pop culture references from the era that will resonate with an older audience.

Although it has no dialogue, the film engages with its visuals and emotionally complex story telling. The animal characters are given anthropomorphic qualities, with very real emotions and feelings conveyed through their expressions. All their feelings and thoughts are clearly conveyed through their expressions, and this gives the film the kind of emotional heft that is usually found in the more manipulative animations from Disney and Pixar.

The cityscape itself is beautifully rendered and detailed by Berger. Alfonso de Vilallonga provides a moving piano-driven score. The soundtrack itself is mostly upbeat, with vibrant use of Earth Wind and Fire’s hit song September adding energy to the material.

Robot Dreams is a superb animation that will appeal to audiences of all ages.

Greg King

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