Robot Dreams | Fresh Takes

Fresh takes and film reviews from new voices in film.

Alexandra, Jasmine, Gabriela, Darius & Esme

22 Mar 24

Fresh Takes is a space for the latest generation of film lovers to share their views and opinions on some of the great films we are showing at Picturehouse cinemas. 

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Here are some Fresh Takes on Robot Dreams. From acclaimed writer/director Pablo Berger, this uplifting, dialogue-free story adapted from Sara Varon's graphic novel plays out in 80's New York as a love letter to the city and explores important themes around friendship, loneliness, happiness and technology – with plenty of film easter eggs.

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Alexandra Severtseva, 18

First-year undergraduate student at QMUL, Audience Development Intern at Picturehouse Cinemas.

Alexandra says...

In the heart of a vividly painted NYC, we find Dog, a character whose solitary life is punctuated by the mundane repetition of eating ready-meal mac and cheese – until he builds himself a friend. Despite the absence of spoken words, a deep emotional connection is swiftly forged between the audience and the characters, leaving us to ponder the nature of Dog's relationship with Robot. Are they simply companions, or is there a deeper bond at play?

While being a practically silent film, Robot Dreams' plot managed to captivate the audience, giving us space to ask questions about Dog's and Robot's relationship and watch it unfold as they're faced with a tragedy. The beach gets closed down 'til June, and this plot twist does more than just add a layer of conflict: it serves as poignant commentary on the fragility of relationships.

'September' by Earth, Wind & Fire bookends the story, first playing during a cheerful hotdog stand scene that introduces us to a vibrant community, and then closing the narrative in a similar setting years later, where new faces gather around the familiar aroma of hotdogs, the timeless tune bridging generations and celebrating the cyclical nature of life and joy.

The filmmaker is making a bittersweet point about how even the closest bonds can be weathered away by circumstance or the passage of time. Robot Dreams is not just a cartoon about a Dog and a Robot: it's a meditation on the human condition, a beautifully rendered illustration of the complexities of friendship and the impermanence of life's moments. As the credits roll, we're left to ponder the depth of our own connections, and how we navigate the flow of relationships in our lives.

Jasmine King, 24

MA Film and Television Production postgraduate, a Freelance Camera Operator working in casting for film and television and is currently involved in the production of an upcoming documentary. Previously, she has written film reviews for TAKE ONE Magazine and her university journal.

Jasmine says...

Pablo Berger's Oscar-nominated, family-friendly film Robot Dreams had the cinema packed with a diverse range of young children and their families; it was great seeing such a large audience turnout.

Robot Dreams pulls at heartstrings by portraying themes of loneliness and finding oneself in a way any viewer can relate to. As an audience, we are introduced to the lonesome Dog, living alone in 1980s New York and longing for a companion. Everyone around Dog has a partner or friend, so Dog takes matters into their own paws and finds a solution to being alone – the Amica 2000, known simply as 'Robot'.

Robot is also on a journey of self-discovery, becoming familiar with the world while simultaneously bonding with Dog. Encountering tragic events on their journey, Berger does a superb job portraying the highs and lows of Dog and Robot's friendship with colourful imagery and heartfelt scenes.

The film encourages us to think about the power of companionship and the extreme lengths we go to for those closest to us. Robot Dreams does not include any dialogue, yet great animation techniques accurately depict the raw emotions exhibited by Dog and Robot throughout the film.

Berger's filmmaking is to be commended for bringing Sara Varon's novel of the same name to life on screen. Robot Dreams is a wonderful film that teaches us to love ourselves and is more than worthy of a watch.

Gabriela, 25

Gabriela is an ex-comms person building a fashion brand after crash landing into motherhood at 23.

Gabriela says...

Robot Dreams doesn't have dialogue, but it's far from silent. This animated film, following Dog's search for friendship in 1980s NYC, is a visual and auditory feast that will touch – or, in my case, punch – your heart without having to say a word.

I was surprised by how a story that was by definition fantasy could be so grounded and relatable. Its witty and honest portrayal of friendship, loneliness and connection, had me chuckling, foot-tapping and longing in anticipation along with Dog until the credits rolled.

It is a film that truly anyone will enjoy. My two-year-old son watched, entranced by the vibrant visuals and wiggling away to 'September' by Earth, Wind & Fire, whilst my eyes welled up with nostalgia remembering when I first moved to London – thinking about the happiness and grief my son would inevitably experience in the years to come, as he lives his own stories of friendship. Robot Dreams was a delight to watch, but beyond that, a moving reminder of how we must learn to cruise through the heartbreak and treasure the transitory moments of joy in our perpetual, instinctual search for human connection.

Darius Lacey, 25

Darius is a London-based researcher and cinephile. You can usually find him at a Picturehouse, or on Instagram and Letterboxd at @dariuslacey.

Darius says...

Robot Dreams opens with an image familiar to many of us; home alone, slouched on the sofa, channel surfing. The preparation of a ready meal is amusingly animated to bring some levity, but what follows is a complex story of love and longing.

The film felt refreshingly mature in its content, especially when compared to its animation. The single-line style, along with its wordless story, felt reminiscent of the cartoons I watched on a Saturday morning as a child, adding to the nostalgic factor already present from the 80's setting and iconic needle drops. The sound design beautifully punctuates the film, with the swirling hubbub of the city guiding us through Robot's discovery of the world: a gorgeous homage to New York.

Whilst the story may seem somewhat familiar, its simplicity will allow children to follow along and means the emotional core of the film cuts deep. Whilst the first act does breeze by, you do begin to feel the runtime somewhat in the second – but this lets the emotional weight of the film build as the third act comes to deliver a gut-punch of overwhelming feeling.

Robot Dreams is a beautifully told story of connection, and recognising that the connections that we lose are part of the natural flow of life. It paints a very intimate picture of the bonds we make and those we break, and the shocking complexity of this portrait is what anchors the universality of its message.

Esme, 20

Esme is an undergraduate archaeology student, passionate about the educational and emotional power of films, especially animated ones. She is particularly interested in the cultural reasoning behind 'comfort' films, and analysing why and how certain films appeal to all ages.

Esme says...

Robot Dreams is a love letter to New York, to past (and present) friendship, and the power of storytelling. It follows Dog (coincidentally, a dog), in a NYC populated by anthropomorphised animals. The film has no verbal script, allowing the animation and '80s soundtrack to shine. It begins with Dog alone in his apartment; playing his Atari 2600, and eating delectably-animated microwave dinners. He orders a 'friendship robot' and the two hit it off. The aptly named Robot and Dog explore New York together. Tragedy strikes at the beach - Robot's joints rust, and he is stuck, lying on the sand. In a surprisingly heart-wrenching scene, Dog tries desperately to move Robot. But he can't, and it's the last day of the beach season, so Robot lies there throughout the winter.

Dog returns to his life - his attempts to save Robot end in disaster - and he, eventually, maybe, moves on. Robot, meanwhile, dreams - his dreams are beautiful and heart-breaking, with repeated attempts to find Dog and an acid-trip-like dance with living sunflowers. Robot's continued wonder at and love for the modern world is truly endearing, and is part of the reason the lack of words works so well. I won't say anymore, but the film ends with a poignant and relatable question - when, and should, you leave someone behind?

The messages are surprisingly mature for a film accessible to children, but still quite accessible. Robot Dreams received a well-deserved Oscar nomination, and I highly recommend it for a family day out.

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