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MOVIES: Robot Dreams - Review

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Robot Dreams is an emotionally charged; entirely wordless animated film about a dog who lives in Manhattan and is tired of being alone. The endless montage of him seeing other people’s happiness and being left out of it reaches a tipping point when he sees an advert for a robot best friend – which he promptly orders and builds. The robot comes alive; and the both bond instantly – becoming inseperable, set to the backdrop of 1980s New York. It’s a moment of wonder and amazement for the dog, a man’s best friend, who’s never had companionship in a world without men and only animals – think Zootopia, but better. However, when tragedy strikes, Dog is forced to abandon Robot at the beach. Will they ever meet again?

The film explores loneliness in a way that strikes a chord with anyone who’s ever experienced being alone, and then made friends through chance happenstance. It’s got friendship building; a romance of waiting – the film explores the loneliness of being in the city, one yet among millions – and the real impact it can have on people especially in the 1980s before the advent of social media and wider connections. When Dog loses Robot he wants to keep making friends despite a sense of longing for Robot – it strikes the feeling of being sad and alone and finding the perfect match in a way that few films ever replicate so well. Think a platonic Past Lives, and it’s so bittersweet in the way it goes about Robot Dreams it’s hard not to fall in love with both its characters. Dog and Robot are so instantly likeable, the innocence of Robot makes him endearing, and the fact that not a single word is spoken between these characters yet the bond is felt almost immediately speaks wonders to their friendship: and the sheer passion and care put into the film by Pablo Berger really makes it shine.

Yes the 102 minute pacing is slow; wrapped up in somewhat repetitive dream sequences that never fail to be heartbreaking, but the sorrow is interspaced with moments of joy as we watch Dog’s attempt to make new friends to replace Robot. He strikes up a loveable if brief friendship with Duck; and I love the attention to detail that makes his tail wag when he’s happy. The 1980s portrayal of the Big Apple makes it really fascinating – such a unique creation from Pablo Berger; lowkey style replaced by substance that draws from Sara Varon’s graphic novel. We’re back instantly in a world of Boomboxes and Earth, Wind and Fire – rarely has ever a film’s soundtrack been used so well to define the essence of friendships, but I left Robot Dreams with September stuck in my head for days and you will too.

There can be a queer reading of Robot Dreams although Robot and Dog are not explicitly gendered, the wholesomely innocent relationship between them is never broken and a line is never crossed. We instead get to experience them witnessing the wonderful summer of New York City – sightseeing, exploring the subway, roller-skating through Central Park – all these things are beautifully illustrated yet cannot last. The power of visual storytelling reigns supreme – and the feat earning Robot Dreams an Oscar nomination against all odds in a world of Disney films instantly makes it something worth celebrating. It might even; behind The Boy and the Heron, be the second best animated film of this year’s slate and has enough broad appeal to be seen - and enjoyed by - by all.

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