“Robot Dreams’ Review: A Moving Ballad About What Life Is

“Robot Dreams’ Review: A Moving Ballad About What Life Is

@Courtesy of NEON

After receiving a prestigious (and unexpected) nomination as Best Animated Feature Film at the 2023 Academy Awards, Robot Dreams by the Spanish director Pablo Berger arrives in American theaters demonstrating once again a basic lesson: less is more. Achieving such complexity, depth, and emotional precision through a story developed with extreme simplicity is a sort of cinematic miracle, especially nowadays when even mainstream animation movies bend to the rules of contemporary rollercoaster/entertainment. 

Set in the 80s New York, Robot Dreams has as its main character a dog who lives the most ordinary of lives, the one which can bring loneliness in everyone’s heart. This is the reason that makes him decide to buy a robot specifically built to become someone’s best friend. The dog’s life is now filled with hope, warmth, and the awareness of being able to share his feelings with someone capable of understanding them. But life sometimes can be cruel even through the silliest mistakes…

Robot Dreams

©Courtesy of Neon

Robot Dreams has so many layers and aspects worth analyzing and endorsing that it’s tough to pick one to start with. It would be probably wise to begin with the screenplay, written by Berger together with Sara Varon: the attention to the characterization of the main characters is simply remarkable, developed using a very specific rhythm of storytelling which is appropriate to his personality.

At the same time, there is no surprise in Robot Dreams, because the existence of ordinary people very rarely has one: there is instead the poetry of the routines, the joy of the little escapes from it, like a dancing duo in Central Park or a day at the Coney Island Beach. The friendship built between the two main characters is portrayed through common “reality bites” capable of going under the audience’s skin.

This way, when the gentle touch of the first part turns into a melancholic drama, the passage is completely believable and slowly heartbreaking. Robot Dreams is a movie incredibly efficient in making the viewer feel the time going by. Day after day the pain becomes something people can live with, and even without forgetting they can in some way keep going, start something new, and let life go on.

Robot Dreams

©Courtesy of Neon

Without any fatal flow or dramatic turning point, Robot Dreams shows exactly this, the way the best melodramas do. The two screenplays must have seen a lot of classic Hollywood movies, especially Douglas Sirk, because the intensity of the emotions their movie possesses has some echoes of that cinema. 

Another side of Robot Dreams that needs to be applauded is the way they used New York in the Eighties as the main setting. Berger shows without any doubt his love for the city but at the same time is capable of creating an environment that can be alienating, leaving the single individual behind. The main characters of the movies are loners especially because they live in a place where there isn’t a sense of community but an incredible number of individuals focus on their own gain and prosperity. New York can be a very cynical metropolis to live in, and Robot Dreams shows it perfectly. 

The only minor flaw of this moving animation movie is that it isn’t something deeply original, both in the subject and in the animation style. But that is something the viewer forgets pretty soon, drawn in a story so well-developed that it’s basically impossible not to share with the characters their feelings, which are the same as common people living ordinary lives. The poetry of Robot Dreams is in the gentleness, in the kindness of the little gestures, of the smiles shared on a sunny day. When those smiles then fade away because such is life, it is deeply heartbreaking. And the last, fabulous ten minutes of the movie explain it with an intensity that we hadn’t seen in a long time inside a theater…

Check out more of Adriano’s articles. 

Rate: A-

Here’s Robot Dreams trailer:

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