Slumberland is definitely aimed at younger kids. It’s hard to review a film that is not meant for you. I can understand why Slumberland might appeal to its intended audience, but I struggle to believe they would actually find it, in its bloated 2-hour runtime, entertaining enough to sit through.
The story is a simple one. Young Nemo (Marlow Barkley) is the daughter of a lighthouse keeper (Kyle Chandler). When her dad is lost at sea, Nemo is sent to live with her emotionally stunted uncle Philip (Chris O’Dowd).
Nemo suddenly finds herself able to travel the sleepworld, Slumberland, and meets Flip (Jason Momoa), a magical thief of whom her father had told many stories about. Nemo and Flip set on a dangerous journey to the Sea of Nightmares to retrieve a pearl that would grant Nemo her wish: to get her father back.
Momoa is almost exclusively known as a tough guy, having played Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones as well as Aquaman for DC. With Aquaman, Momoa has been allowed to stretch his comic skills but Slumberland takes that to a whole new level.
Momoa’s performance as Flip owes a lot to characters such as Johnny Depp’s Jack Sparrow and Michael Keaton’s incomparable Beetlejuice. Flip is flamboyant and defined by his physical mannerisms, which Momoa excels in. It’s just that they’re not very original, making Flip feel like a cheap carbon copy of better, more individual characters.
Marlow Barkley, best known for TV’s Single Parents and who will also appear with Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell in Spirited, is impressive. While Nemo doesn’t actually go on a particularly unique journey and her character arc feels frustratingly limited, Barkley sells it well. There’s a certain emotional truth to her stripped-back performance.
Chris O’Dowd is the unsung hero of the film. His performance as the awkward Philip is a quiet marvel. He crafts an interesting character who operates mostly on the sidelines of the films but a scene where Nemo learns the origins of Flip through some home videos of Philip and her dad together is a heartbreaking one.
It’s a shame director Francis Lawrence doesn’t manage to flesh out the film’s emotional core more. He excels much better in bringing the dreamy visuals of Slumberland alive than he does at getting the audience to care about his characters.
Lawrence somehow struggles to make the most of the inventive and compelling performances of his cast. It’s almost like the editing of the film is one step behind the action or that Lawrence points the camera in the wrong direction.
Rather than focus on Momoa during his introduction, Lawrence favours a wide shot showing the entire room. It makes us feel like we’re missing important details, which really craft the flavour of the characters and the film. As it is, Slumberland is a little on the bland side.
Despite its flaws, Slumberland holds some magic. Despite heavy CGI, this is a visually interesting film. At the end of the day, most of the action involves a thief with horns and fangs. That’s plenty to enjoy, at least for the younger viewers. Slumberland might not be perfect but it’s certainly a nice way to spend an afternoon.
Slumberland is in cinemas now.