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'Robot Dreams' Review

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March 18, 2024
By:
Tyler Banark
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In a scene midway through Robot Dreams, our two protagonists, aptly named Dog and Robot, explore Manhattan and rollerskate to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.” Both the music and the pair’s unspoken bond continue from there, with many other activities filling the day. It’s a wonderful sequence of events, with that infinitely catchy song bringing joy to us and the characters as we watch them experience life through each other. It’s moments like these that show how much Robot Dreams speaks volumes, while never containing a single line of dialogue.


It’s New York City in the 1980s! Punk rock is at its peak, boomboxes are a hot commodity, MTV actually plays music, and the Twin Towers overlook Manhattan. Amidst all the hustle and bustle, there’s Dog, a lonely canine longing for companionship. As he’s flipping through TV channels late one night, he comes across a commercial for a robot friend. It’s a moment of the right message reaching the right person at the right time, with Dog scurrying to his phone to place the order. He builds Robot with just as much enthusiasm once he arrives, and the two instantly become inseparable.



That is, until a beach day goes wrong, as Robot becomes stuck after swimming and lying in the sun all day. Dog tries to get him to move, but the beach closes for the season, and Robot is stranded on the sand. During their time away from each other, Dog and Robot learn some hard lessons about friendship and how it can be found in the unlikeliest of places. The two are innocent, and neither of them could’ve prepared for their separation. Still, the audience holds out hope for them, and the movie accomplishes this thanks to writer-director Pablo Berger’s ability to convey an investing plot without the need for speaking.


The animation industry is currently at a crossroads, with studios split between several different art styles, none of which are mutually exclusive. Robot Dreams provides an escape from the business of what you normally see, opting for a traditional hand-drawn style that allows the animators to add little idiosyncrasies for eagle-eyed viewers. Dog always has a hankering for a microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner. The sizzling sounds fill the air and the splattering of cheese on the microwave door. In another instance, Robot has a dream where he’s in a Wizard of Oz-esque landscape surrounded by giant, tap-dancing flowers that eventually take the shape of Dog’s face and change its angles as the scene progresses. It may not add much to the overall story, but it’s a neat creative choice that is worth the effort to see.


Because of the absence of dialogue, the overall sound design picks up all of the slack. Berger and his team bring the city that never sleeps to life like never before. Car honks, sirens, subway noises, and even heavy foot traffic fill up the airwaves, yet never overcrowd during the musical sequences. The tap-dancing sounds precise, and Alfonso de Vilallonga’s flawless music adds another strong layer.



The sound and animation may be strong suits for what makes Robot Dreams so amazing, but the story and plot are what bring it all home. From Dog and Robot joyfully rollerskating to Robot eventually being found on the beach and thrown into a junkyard, Berger does an impeccable job of caring for our central characters and understanding exactly what they’re going through. Better yet, Dog and Robot’s companionship could be up for interpretation as to how close they were. Were they lovers? Just friends? Perhaps a little bit of both? The ending is when the question of their relationship comes into play. Without going into much detail, “September” is heard again, and we see our two characters dancing the same routine they did in Central Park. Although I let out an audible “You’ve got to be kidding me” (again, no spoilers for why I said that), it’s for the best that this was the method the ribbon was tied.


It’s a bit unfortunate that Robot Dreams found itself smack dab in the middle of an ultra-competitive year in the Best Animated Feature category. Although it lost to The Boy and the Heron (and equally likely would have lost to Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse), it was a worthy opponent. And while the film slowly rolls out across the country, all those who have already seen it will never stop reminiscing about the lasting impression it leaves.


You can follow Tyler and hear more of his thoughts on Twitter, Instagram, and Letterboxd.

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