Great kids' movies that truly unite children and parents are rare. But, if you’ve got a kid over seven, there’s one dynamite new family movie lurking on Netflix brimming with star power and delivering the emotional goods, too. If you’re ready to channel your inner Jason Momoa, while crying and hugging your kids, don’t sleep on the new Netflix movie Slumberland. It’s a great film that features wonderful performances, a heartwarming story, and a resonant message for all dads: Every moment with your children is important
Fatherly talked to the cast and director of Slumberland to get a sense of how this beautiful film was created, and why it’s such a perfect contemporary family film, great for co-viewing during the holidays.
Loosely based on the comic-strip Little Nemo, the story of Slumberland follows a young girl named Nemo (Marlow Barkley) who lives in a lighthouse with her father Peter (Kyle Chandler). When her dad is lost at sea, Nemo has to live in the city with her uncle Philip (Chris O’Dowd). Philip is a boring doorknob salesman, or...is he? Desperately missing her father, Nemo finds herself in the world of dreams where she meets Flip (Jason Momoa) a rogue with goat horns who became partners with Nemo in search of treasure, and her father in the world of “Slumberland.”
As Chris O’Dowd explains, Slumberland is a movie in which there’s not just one father figure, there are three; Peter, Philip, and Flip. “You're watching three people be a father in a way because Jason [Momoa] is not only a father-type figure but also in her imagination. But, in reality, she has to deal with the mundanity of Philip. Which, is what real fathering is like.”
Late in the film, there’s a twist about the true identity of Flip, which is such a heartwarming spoiler, that fully revealing it here would ruin the literal end of the movie. Let’s just say that the existence of Jason Momoa’s over-the-top, hilarious and roguish Flip serves as a kind of cipher for the alter-ego that many dads wish they could embody at all times. Before we settled down and had a kid, we were like Momoa’s character. After, we became more like O’Dowd’s character. “I think the Jason Momoa inside me is how I got the part,” O’Dowd says with a laugh. “Don’t we all have that?”
For Momoa himself, the part of Flip afforded him the opportunity to do what is rapidly becoming something he’s good at; playing a cool, roughish mentor to a younger person, while on an epic adventure. He did it expertly in Dune in 2021, and those who loved his turn as Duncan Idaho in that film will see shades of that kind of character in Slumberland.
“For Timothée [Chalamet] I wanted to have that relationship where there’s an idol I looked up to,” Momoa says. “Those older brothers who were just slightly out of your age range, where you can't really identify with them, but you just look up to them and you get your music from them. You idolize them. But they're not your parents. And so that's what I wanted to be for him. But for this, [in Slumberland] I think we're just pals. Eventually, we're just going to become best buds. The truth of it is [my character] is the same age. I’m 12 and she's 12. I'm just stuck in a big body.”
So, not only do dads have an inner-Jason Momoa, but it turns out Nemo — the kid in the story — does too! Is it just Momoas all the way down? Marlow Barkley, who plays young Nemo, says she hopes that the movie not only connects with parents but with kids, dealing with the more difficult aspects of growing up.
“I hope [kids] can see this scary world or this journey that Nemo’s going on through someone their age, through her eyes,” Barkley. “I feel like that can kind of be a guide if they're having struggles in their life, that this movie can be an inspiration. There are definitely adults in this film who the parents can look at and take advice from. But having a kid in the movie I think is very inspiring for teenagers.”
Slumberland is visually stunning, and not without a few scary moments. When Nemo’s bed begins walking through the city, it’s a sequence that might frighten kids younger than seven but is positively thrilling to watch. Slumberland has the flavor of a Mary Poppins-style journey but perhaps reimagined by Edward Gorey paintings or Neil Gaiman-esque imagery. The dazzling look of the film is utterly unique and is as memorizing as it is exciting.
“I think kids like the scary stuff,” director Francis Lawerence says. “The goal here was to make a movie that was for kids, to get them excited. But I think what you’ll see is that it’s a movie that truly is for the adults as much as the kids.”
In a world of disappointing or, overly sarcastic family movies, what makes Slumberland so unique and wonderful is its genuineness. The movie is about love and loss, and what it means to be a father. It’s also a film about how our dreams literally influence our lives. When we grow up, we tend to think that our dreams don’t matter, they’re just something that happens while we’re asleep. But to children, dreams are another world and an important one at that. Slumberland reminds us to cherish and respect the dreams of children. What is real to us might not seem real to children. And if we’re going to be good parents to our kids, Slumberland reminds us to remember, and respect, the ways in which kids truly see the world.
Slumberland is streaming now on Netflix.