Roger Ebert Home

Robot Dreams

Pablo Berger’s “Robot Dreams” is a lovely fable about partnership and imagination, a movie that uses the form of animated cinema to tell a story in a way that couldn’t be possible in any other medium. Without a word of dialogue, the director of “Blancanieves” casts a spell, crafting a film that is often truly lyrical, a creative exploration of relatable emotion that transports viewers to a world where robots dream of much more than electric sheep. It’s a film that feels at times like it’s not quite substantial enough to support a feature-length runtime, but every time it threatens to lose viewers completely, the sheer creativity of the project brings it back together. Animation has long been a medium that conveys the power of dreams like no other, and Berger’s film continues that legacy of art that has been freed from the constraints of traditional storytelling.

There are two central characters in “Robot Dreams,” but the backdrop of 1984 New York is practically a third. Berger and his team have devised a version of the Big Apple that feels like a love letter to a city that’s always humming and moving. It’s not just the regular shots of things like the World Trade Center or the Empire State Building but the vibrant creatures that give this film a backdrop, from the finger-flipping punks to the vibrant breakdancers. The city is alive.

Against this backdrop unfolds the story of a character known only as Dog. With his kind eyes and sideways smile, Dog is a likable animated creation right from the beginning of the movie, as he seeks a way to shake his loneliness in a city where everyone feels like they have a partner. Dog decides to order one through the mail, bringing Robot into his life. The two are instant BFFs, walking around Manhattan and dancing to the classic Earth, Wind & Fire song “September”—its well-known phrase “Do you remember?” feels like a theme of a film that’s about lost friendship and even a lost time in a great American city.

At the end of the summer, Dog and Robot go to the beach, but the lovable metal man’s joints rust after playing in the water, forcing Dog to leave him there. When he returns, the gates are locked, meaning that Robot ends up stuck on that beach in that position for months. And he dreams. Dog goes about his life, doing some dreaming of his own, but “Robot Dreams” is a film about a strong connection that’s severed and how that shapes the imagination of the two halves of the broken partnership. It might sound ridiculous, but it’s kind of like “Past Lives” meets “Zootopia.” 

Believe it or not, it works, largely because of Berger’s boundless creativity within a story he adapts from a comic of the same name by Sara Varon. There are no rules in a film about dreaming robots, after all. Why not have a snowman bowl with his head? Why not have birds who have nested in Robot’s body whistle “Danny Boy”? Why not have a movie-stealing Busby Berkeley-esque dance number set along the Yellow Brick Road? Of course, Dog and Robot love “The Wizard of Oz.” After all, Toto had a metal friend too. 

To be fair, there’s a bit of wheel-spinning after that amazing number wherein one starts to feel the length of “Robot Dreams,” a movie that could have either been tighter or explored more ideas in its second half. Even if it falls short of greatness within its potential and artistry, it’s a good, generous, tender movie that’s almost impossible to truly dislike. It’s too sweet to hate while somehow also never feeling overly saccharine or manipulative. 

"Robot Dreams" asks us if we remember the relationships that formed us, the ones that may not have lasted our entire lives but shaped us nonetheless. The ones we think about every now and then, the ones that come back to us in our dreams, the ones that don't need words.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Managing Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and GQ, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

Now playing

Revoir Paris
I Used to Be Funny
Banel & Adama
Mother of the Bride
Flipside

Film Credits

Robot Dreams movie poster

Robot Dreams (2024)

102 minutes

Cast

Ivan Labanda as Dog / Robot / Various (voice)

Tito Trifol as Various (voice)

Rafa Calvo as Various (voice)

José García Tos as Various (voice)

José Luis Mediavilla as Various (voice)

Graciela Molina as Duck / Various (voice)

Esther Solans as Various (voice)

Director

Writer

Latest blog posts

Comments

comments powered by Disqus