Of course moviegoers turned out en masse for Inside Out 2 this weekend. Who wouldn’t want to enjoy more of the experience the original film provided in 2015? My only quibble is that the new release is a sequel and therefore lacks the freshness of the first film, which was a marvel of ingenuity.

On the other hand, Pablo Berger’s Robot Dreams, loosely based on a graphic novel by Sarah Varon, is a true original—one of a kind. The storyline is deceptively simple: a dog (named Dog) orders a robot (named Robot) after watching a TV commercial and the two become the best of friends…but life doesn’t always go according to plan. That’s all I want to reveal about this sleeper, a Spanish-French co-production that takes place in New York City during the 1980s. I can also tell you that the characters have no dialogue, which adds to the charm—and universality—of the film. Berger says that he required his team to watch the silent comedies of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd as preparation for working on this project. When my two-year-old granddaughter is a bit older I can’t wait to show her this picture and watch her reaction.

Berger is not an animator. He directed this nuanced mood piece in the same way that Wes Anderson directed The Fabulous Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, supervising the production under the leadership of José Luis Ágreda. Character design was placed in the hands of Daniel Fernández Casas, who has done such inspired work for Illumination films like Sing 2 and The Secret Life of Pets 2.

Why is the story set in New York City? Berger explains, “Robot Dreams is my particular homage to New York, the city that took me in for a decade and in which I became a filmmaker.”

You may be surprised at the range of emotions the film engenders. That’s a tribute to the storytelling skills of Berger and his collaborators. A heart-tugging moment at the climax of Robot Dreams should be part of any master class in film editing. You’ll know it when you see it.

Robot Dreams had its first screenings last year and was nominated for an Academy Award, a well-deserved honor. You can stream it on Netflix, Prime, and Hulu but I would encourage you to see it on a big screen if you can. It is currently playing in 39 theaters from coast to coast and is well worth the effort.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024