Robot Dreams Movie Review: This animal-robot friendship story packs an emotional wallop

The film is a visual treat that has a poignant take on friendship, loneliness, closure, and moving on that many live-action films have struggled to achieve
Robot Dreams review
Robot Dreams poster
Robot Dreams(3.5 / 5)

In the very first scene of Robot Dreams, we see the protagonist, Dog, playing video games to his heart’s content and eating his staple dinner macaroni and soda. From the outside, it seems like he is sorted and has it all until he hears laughter from a neighbour’s window and realises that the only thing he is missing is a true companion. This moment, just five minutes into the film, tugs at our heartstrings, a feeling that lingers with us long after the credits roll.

Director: Pablo Berger

A film with no dialogue, Robot Dreams is set in 1980s New York City, which is populated by anthropomorphic animals. A lonely Dog finds a companion in a Robot, only to separate from him due to unforeseen circumstances. The film delves into whether or not they meet again. The most attractive aspect of Robot Dreams is its anthropomorphic world. A hippopotamus bathes on the beach in a bikini, an elephant-like Punjabi figure drives a car, and an octopus uses his many tentacles to play the drums in a subway. But this is also a world where a few birds like pigeons and sparrow-like ones, and fishes, are considered real animals without human-like characteristics. Such distinct choices of director Pablo Berger, who has adapted this film from a 2007 eponymous comic by Sara Varon, are the biggest strengths of this film.

Having read the plot mentioned above, one may come to the conclusion that the rest of the film will be about Dog’s efforts to reunite with Robot. While that makes a part of the film, it is the storyteller’s choice to dive a little deeper into the two protagonists’ psyche that makes it particularly fascinating. Dog becomes friends with a snowman in one portion of the film, while Robot dreams of reuniting with Dog in a reimagination of the iconic Sunflower scene from The Wizard of Oz. We repeatedly see Dog find himself in embarrassing or negative situations as he tries to make new friends, which is a reflection of his own insecurities and low self-esteem. Since the film explores loneliness and companionship, viewers are sure to find moments that resonate with their own experiences.

A dog generally goes ‘Woof Woof’, while a robot is expected to say ‘Meep. Morp. Zeep’ (in the words of Jake Peralta). But Robot Dreams has no dialogues, not even the barks of robotic noises. Films on friendship often rely on lengthy dialogues to establish the true meaning of friendship, like when Harry Potter says, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends,” in Sorcerer's Stone or when Rajinikath’s Surya says, “Natpu na ena nu theriyuma?” (Do you know what friendship means?) in Thalapathi. But for a film with absolutely no dialogues whatsoever, Robot Dreams does more than just the bare minimum in delivering the idea of true companionship.

We see Robot observe two people holding hands, and him trying to do the same with Dog, only to hurt the latter by holding too strong. He eventually learns to hold his hand in a softer manner. He takes Dog on an underwater tour, and the two wear roller skates and dance to ‘September’ by Earth, Wind, and Fire (the song keeps repeating throughout the film, making for a brilliant payoff at the end.) We even see Dog switch off the TV and wrap Robot with a blanket when the latter falls asleep unaware. Within the first 20 minutes, you’re already wishing for a friendship like the one Dog and Robot share, making their separation a real tug at your heart.

There’s a generalisation that animated films are almost always made for children. Over the years, Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar have been constantly breaking this stereotype with films like Inside OutEncantoCoco and more, while anime films and many other filmmakers have also been doing their parts. Robot Dreams is yet another addition to this list that shows that a lot more can be done with animation than live-action films. In fact, it strikes a neat balance, catering to kids as well as adults. While both I, an adult, and a kid might have had completely different inferences from the film, it is most likely that we both walked out of the theatres dreaming of a friendship that Robot shares with Dog.

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