Little Nemo

One series I enjoy is Little Nemo. It originates as a comic which was made into an animated film. There’s a lot of potential for it, but unfortunately, it will probably never see new works based on it.

Nemo in Print

Little Nemo originated as a newspaper comic by Winsor McCay, which appeared in newspapers from 1905 to 1913. Most of the run of Little Nemo is available in Little Nemo 1905-1914, which lacks only the revival of the series from the 1920’s. The price can’t be beat.

Collage of Little Nemo comic scenes.

The premise of the comics is simple: Nemo has a dream, then he wakes up. The dreams follow Nemo’s attempts to reach Slumberland, by request of the land’s king, Morpheus. The purpose of the request is for Nemo to be the princess’s playmate. The journey to Slumberland is surreal and dangerous, with Nemo’s death or danger resulting in him waking from his dream each morning.

Upon reaching Slumberland, Nemo is met by Flip, a troublemaker whose pranks include continually waking Nemo. Eventually Nemo reaches the princess, and the story continues on from there.

Nemo in Motion

There’s a bit of history behind the original co-op production, which the linked blog post points out as having resulted in a lot of walk-outs from those uninterested in the direction the film would take. Written there, Hayao Miyazaki was unsatisfied with the idea of the story being all a dream. I don’t know whether this is true or not, but if it is, then I’m thankful Miyazaki didn’t get his wonderfully talented hands on Little Nemo, and turn it into something it shouldn’t be. Likewise, it’s also written there that Isao Takahata wanted to do a coming-of-age story. Again, this would be against the spirit of Little Nemo, the story of a boy who is a boy who dreams. Still, the 1984 pilot is nicely designed, with fluid animation, matching the kind of dream Nemo would have.

Collage of Little Nemo film pilot scenes.

Scenes from the original pilot for Little Nemo.

No matter how nice the style might be for character design, the character design used for the released Little Nemo movie is culturally US American (even though it was animated by the Japanese company, Tokyo Movie Shinsha). It fits more into what Americans expect from a cartoon design.

As a movie, Little Nemo takes on a story based nicely on the premise of the comic. Nemo goes to bed at night only to find himself invited by one “Professor Genius” to travel to Slumberland. There, Nemo is to be Princess Camille’s playmate, by royal decree of King Morpheus of Slumberland.

The journey to Slumberland is mostly uneventful, as the movie’s focus is on what becomes of Nemo, Camille, and Flip after Nemo’s arrival within Slumberland. Actually, King Morpheus has great expectations for Nemo, but Flip only causes trouble for the child. At times during the movie, Nemo has his “wake up” moments, as seen at the end of each comic, but the dream persists.

The movie also introduces new characters. For plot reasons, Professor Genius appears, as the man who delivers the invitation to Slumberland to Nemo, as well as to assist Nemo along the way. Because this is a kids film, also introduced was Icarus, a pet flying squirrel for Nemo. As well, the princess was given the name Camille, as she had no given name in the original comic.

Collage of Little Nemo film opening scenes.

Scenes from the opening of the Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland movie.

With the movie now out of print, both VHS and DVD, this simply underscores why movies (at DVD quality or higher) should be made available to buy through services such as iTunes, or put out there as free for anyone to make copies of. Otherwise, it’s illegal by copyright to try to obtain something that the copyright holder is no longer making available and trying to profit from, and may see no potential profit to warrant a re-release of. To me, an Internet distribution such as via iTunes seems like a license to print money…

The Japanese release, which has Japanese and English dialogue, and Japanese subtitles, is still available, such as through Amazon International. It’s expensive. It also sports a beautiful cover artwork, although I don’t think the scene illustrated is a good one to use to represent the movie.

What Could Be?

I think Nemo could do well with an anime series. Can anyone say “magical girl genre”, only with a boy as the main character, and rather than the main character using “magic”, he instead finds himself in a magical “dream land”?

As a series, it could use a character design similar to the Little Nemo movie (perhaps licensing the characters from the movie), and those designs would make such a series more accessible to a mainstream, non-Japanese audience. This could be at the cost of a portion of the non-Japanese, otaku audience, but that’s a small loss compared to the size of mainstream appeal. Perhaps it could have a joint release, in Japanese and English at the same time. That would be something to see. Mickey Rooney could even reprise his role as Flip.

As a 24 episode series, the first 12 episodes could be comprised of two half-episodes back-to-back, each a story of its own (similar to Strawberry Marshmallow). Each episode would end with a disaster for Nemo, and him waking at his bed. Perhaps the first four episodes (eight half-episodes) would take him on a journey to Slumberland, then the next two episodes (four half episodes) could introduce characters such as Flip once Nemo has reached Slumberland, and is trying to get to the king and princess.

After the first six episodes (12 half-episodes), another six episodes (again, 12 half-episodes) can follow along with Nemo adjusting to life in Slumberland (although always waking at the end). A little slice of life in the land of dreams, as Nemo becomes playmate to the princess. Then the series can go like Princess Tutu and convert to full episodes rather than half-episodes. By now all characters are well established, so consider this the start of the true plot of the series. This time, when Nemo wakes up at the end of each episode (rather than at the end of a half-episode), he finds himself still in his dream. Part of the danger is him being trapped unable to truly wake up, as well as whatever trouble Slumberland, King Morpheus, and the princess may be in.

If this kind of series were to be made, and the characters from the movie were licensed to be used, I imagine Professor Genius would retain the same role, as well as Icarus. After all, in the case of the latter, such a series simply calls for a furry little animal sidekick. No magical girl-style series should be without a furry little animal sidekick.

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