© Plaion Pictures / Studiocanal GmbH

Robot Dreams
Spain/France 2023

Opening 9 May 2024

Directed by: Pablo Berger
Writing credits: Pablo Berger, Sara Varon
Principal actors: Ivan Labanda, Albert Trifol Segarra, Rafa Calvo, José García Tos, José Luis Mediavilla

It is a dog’s life Dog is living; he plays video games against himself, keeps a stack of TV dinners in the freezer, and is alone and lonely. Channel surfing one evening a television infomercial catches his fancy and transforms his life. Order now! He does. An audience of pigeons curiously watch Dog working from outside and, when Dog’s assemblage is complete, take off in fright. Robot is one slick customer. Whereas Dog is reticent, conventional, Robot is curiouser, adaptable and innocently parrots new things that look cool. As Dog introduces Robot to his neighborhood haunts and routines, and fun activities they discover they like one another. There are warm weather events, holidays to celebrate and their friendship deepens. For the end of summer holiday, Labor Day, Dog takes Robot to Ocean Beach and Coney Island for a real treat. Instead, it turns into their worst dream. Henceforward it depends on fate, and trust. The seasons pass; Dog stays busy trying new things, whereas Robot, immobilized, only has his dreams for company. Most of the time. And then it is summer again.

Spanish writer-director Pablo Berger’s eponymous animation is based on American author-illustrator Sara Varon’s enduring and bittersweet graphic novel about friendships set in New York in 1984. The film reflects her quirky, uncomplicated illustrative style; characters are nonhumans because, according to Varon, drawing the human anatomy is not her forte; that simplicity lends itself to life-lessons in the film. Ivan Labanda, a voice director and actor, voices Dog and Robot, albeit there is no dialogue just squeaks, sputters, and other noises. Robot Dreams’ visual storytelling is impeccable in displaying the characters’ feelings. What sets the tempo and tone for many scenes is well-chosen popular music tracks by music supervisors Eva Pedragosa and Judit A. Riera, and Alfonso de Vilallonga’s score. Fernando Franco’s editing, and José Luis Ágreda’s art direction plus the scores of CGI and visual artists round out the film’s solid production values, although its somewhat too long.

Robot Dreams poignancy is for every age—a family film guaranteed to keep even the guys awake. The depth of the characters’ amity, and the fragility of friendship is an unforgettable reminder of what is possible to experience in life. Its premiere was at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, 2023 and Robot Dreams was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Oscar© 2024. (Marinell Haegelin)

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