Review – Robot Dreams

Robot Dreams is the fourth feature by Spanish director Pablo Berger. The 2D hand-drawn animation style imagines a world in the 1990’s in New York City populated with anthropomorphic animals that feels like a cross between Zootopia and Bojack Horseman. There is a complete lack of dialogue in this film that allows for the characters to express themselves through their faces and interactions with the world and each other. Fortunately, it is expertly told as Robot Dreams delivers an unforgettable exploration of friendship, love and the importance of emotional growth.

The film is based on a graphic novel of the same name and follows the story of Dog, a lonely “middle-aged” recluse whose cycle of work, home, TV, video games, and microwave dinners makes him realise how lonely he is when he sees through his neighbour’s window, a couple laughing happily as they watch TV together in each other’s arms. So he orders a robot from an advert on late-night TV and assembles his new best friend. Once assembled, the pair drift through a montage of walks in the park, rollerskating, and hot dog eating, all to the tune of their theme song, September, by Earth, Wind and Fire. 

After a day of relaxing on the beach, Robot becomes rusty thanks to the side effects of splashing around in the water and some slight rusting kicks in and the poor Robot cannot be moved. Dog is unable to lift his friend and carry him away, and with the beach closed for the winter months, Dog attempts to beak into the locked-up beach to help Robot, but is stopped by security at every attempt. After his eventual arrest, he gives up and leaves Robot till the beach opens again in the warmer months. 

While the Robot is rusting away, his various robot parts are ripped apart by pirates (creature pirates!). By the time Spring has sprung, Dog has been forced to buy a new robot friend to get him through the winter months, and their highly anticipated reunion is put on hold. The emotional realisation as the story ultimately pivots from what a traditional animated story in the style of Disney or Dreamworks would give us is part of what makes this film such an endearing experience. 

The recurring theme song “Do You Remember” forces us to remember the first time we really had a friendship that mattered. The first time you connected with someone and how that made you feel. The comradery, the experiences and how you felt when you inevitably grew apart and found other friends in life. This film has no problem extracting these core memories from you, which adds to the emotional reaction to the story. 

Animation-wise, the hand-drawn characters and depictions of New York City are simply breathtaking. With so much computer-generated animation at the forefront of the industry, it is refreshing to see so much attention and care put into traditional animation styles that complement an incredible story. The eclectic city’s bright and rich colour palettes are well-matched with the uniquely drawn animals that inhabit it. By contrast, the robot designs’ grey and copper reflect their relationship to the world. 

This film stands out in its ability to entertain both young and old. The humour and animal characters will entertain the young, while the story of friendship and the heavily hinted homo-erotic pairing of the Dog and Robot is genuinely heart-warming. There is nothing short of admiration for that first experience of friendship and the struggle and process of moving on when that friendship inevitably evaporates and the two individuals move on as people. Robot Dreams is an achievement in animation and storytelling that should hopefully encourage more films like this to be made.

Robot Dreams is one of my favourite films from the Melbourne International Film Festival and finally arrived in Australian cinemas from April 11. 

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Robot Dreams is the fourth feature by Spanish director Pablo Berger. The 2D hand-drawn animation style imagines a world in the 1990’s in New York City populated with anthropomorphic animals that feels like a cross between Zootopia and Bojack Horseman. There is a complete...Review - Robot Dreams