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Do Cyborgs Dream of Electric Sheep?: 'Robot Dreams' Has Answers

Peggy Hepburn’s 3-Word Review: Nostalgic! Quiet! Bittersweet! 

That may be the easiest 3-Word Review ol’ Peggy has yet written. Robot Dreams is a crisply executed animated film with the biggest heart I’ve seen on the silver screen in some time, with the added bonus of being completely sans dialogue, an old trope in animation that never fails to be a refreshing reminder that you can build a story purely through pantomime (ahem: a hint to the makers of the silent-but-somewhat-painfully-storyless Sasquatch Sunset). 

Our hero is a dog named Dog living in a romanticized 1980s East Village (I have it on good authority it was much more explicitly dangerous than depicted here, though realism is obviously not Robot’s goal), in a Bojack Horsemen-like world of upright animals where everyone seems to have a friend or lover but our hero, Dog, who finds himself painfully alone, a realistic enough urban quandary. After seeing an ad for a mail-order robot friend to remedy loneliness, his problems seem to be solved. The extreme simplicity of the robot’s smile, a single line in a classic inverted arc, when he first gains electronic consciousness, is enough to melt anyone’s heart, & Dog is no exception, though it would seem he melts Robot’s heart as well. The two become inseparable, Robot’s eyes full of newborn wonder at all the dazzling details of mid century New York, the pair’s blossoming friendship set to the roller disco hit, “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. When Dog takes Robot to the beach, however, the foreshadowing of their watching The Wizard of Oz (where Dorothy is a squirrel, by the way) comes to fruition: Robot rusts over & Dog is unable to move him from the beach, try as he might. Tragedy sets in as Dog realizes he must leave Robot on the beach until it opens again the next season, & Robot is left to dream — thus the title.

The story becomes a contemplation of love & loss & the peacefulness of letting go, sad though that may seem. The dramatic tension is as intense as any you’ll experience at the movie theatre this year, & might even bring a tear to your eye. The nature of their relationship is an open question: friendship or romance? Though in the end it doesn’t matter, the fact is they had a connection, albeit one that playfully hovers between master/slave, owner/object, lover/brother, product/consumer. The film is full of charming vignettes, my personal favorite being when a friendly little robin builds her nest in the nook of the stranded & motionless Robot’s arm, raises three little chicks, one of which becomes especially attached to Robot, nearly choosing to stay with him rather than join the family in their migration away from the beach. This is but one heartbreaking moment in a compendium of sweet, wrenching little twists & turns. The lack of human speech in fact lends to the overall power of the composition, the interactions boiled down to their purest forms. And I must say: how absolutely refreshing to see an animated film that is not 3-D, but good old-fashioned drawn animation. Brilliant!

—Peggy Hepburn

Images courtesy of 'Robot Dreams' production.


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