Monday 6 July 2020

Close your eyes: "Dreambuilders"

The gradual reopening of our cinemas may just bring about a new phase in film criticism, more rigorous and demanding yet. Between the usual checks and balances - weighing the time-honoured matters of quality, effectiveness, relevance and fun - one of the queries that has to be floating through the reviewer's mind as he or she steps hesitantly into a post-Covid world surely has to be: is this film really worth risking anybody's life for? It's a question that prompts an even bigger one in its turn: how many films might one actually say that about? All very well to assume the persona of a macho frontline hack, striding forth to confront Corona armed only with a Biro, a notepad and lofty notions of being prepared to die for the seventh art, because - hey! - cinema! Christopher Nolan! But are any of us privileged souls really willing to send entire families to the ICU with a thumbs-up in the name of business as usual? For one thing, the readership for quality film journalism would appear to be on life support as it is; we simply can't afford to lose those readers we have. More seriously, though, we've all just been through a period that gave us pause for profound reflection, not least about the dangers of shovelling down anything in an indiscriminate manner. The more I've thought about it, the more it's struck me that the current crisis has subdivided us into three types of people: those in desperate need of the stimulation and reassurance that comes with a daily or weekly routine, and those who are getting by perfectly fine without the corporate structures that were set in place around us. The third group of people, lest we forget, are already in the morgue or the ground.

Which brings me, via an especially circuitous route, to Dreambuilders, one of a number of releases scattered over coming weeks with an eye on tempting families back into matinee screenings to buy snacks enough to offset the multiplex chains' estimated Q2 losses. (No need for facemasks, apparently.) The question of whether a digimated Scandinavian knock-off of Monsters, Inc. and Inside Out is worth risking your kids' lives for pretty conclusively answers itself, I'd say, although I also suspect most of its venues will be operating some way under 50% occupancy, so social distancing wouldn't be impossible. Its strongest suit is its hand-me-down worldbuilding. As we follow pre-teen Minna into the backstage area of her own dreams - there to see how her fantasies and worst nightmares are conjured up by a cast and crew of Smurf-blue tin men - it's clear the digimators have been handed an appreciably loose rein. They've returned clutching a network of "dreamstages", connected by a rattly, gravity-defying funfair infrastructure not unlike the Monsters, Inc. assembly line, but extended further out into abstract space. That world is certainly a cut above the character design, which proves rather more beholden to the standard Disney-Pixar template, only without the range of expressivity. Elsewhere, the adventurous cinemagoer will find themselves confronted with the usual shortfalls of imported animation: any sharpness of angle in the original concept - Minna realises she can infiltrate her snippy, Insta-obsessed stepsister's reveries and make her a better person - is soon dulled by blunt translation and bland redubbing. If you just wanted to plonk everyone down before some pretty shapes and colours for 80 minutes, then Dreambuilders would serve you on the same level as last year's middling Wonder Park - but then that movie had the advantage of releasing before the emergence of a lethal airborne virus doing its darnedest to reduce our respiratory systems to dust. The context that in days of yore was merely everything is now more than ever a matter of life and death.

Dreambuilders opens in selected cinemas from Friday 17th.

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