Danish animated family film about dreams and family tension. Great to watch, but not a great deal to think about.
Dreambuilders (originally called Drømmebyggerne in Denmark) is about Minna, a young girl who discovers how dreams come about and their influence on waking life. It is also about how she attempts to use this knowledge to affect relations with newcomers into her family.
The introduction to Minna (Emilie Kroyer Koppel/Robyn Dempsey) and her father John (Rasmus Botoft/Tom Hale) is touching: they’ve clearly become extra close since Minna’s mother left them to become a singer. But it turns out this is the day that John’s fiancée Helene (Ditte Hansen/Karen Ardiff) and her daughter Jenny (Caroline Vedel/Emma Jenkins) are due to move in, and the tension is palpable: John has to remind Minna several times to wear her “happy hat”.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the character writing goes. None of them have any depth or background (apart from one brief scene towards the end which I’ll touch on later): the parents are barely two dimensional, and the girls are basically the “cool teen” (Jenny) and the “uncool teen” (Minna). Dreambuilders is frankly shallow when held against inspirations such as Monsters Inc or the great Inside Out.
The comparison with Inside Out is unavoidable, once Minna gets behind her “dream stage”: there’s even a train track between stages. None of the little characters (like steampunk Minions) represent anything in particular, though, but rather build dreams for assigned individuals, based on scripts that arrive, Brazil-style, from pipes. The sets they build and the seemingly realistic dreams that result are fabulous to watch, though; and it will definitely be best viewed on the big screen, so I do hope enough venues show it (I believe Dreambuilders was released in some European cinemas before the pandemic shut them). Gaff (Martin Buch/Luke Griffin) is the dreambuilder in charge of Minna’s own stage, and though – again – he is simply drawn, children will find him almost as endearing as Minna’s hamster (named – not played by – Viggo Mortensen).
Kim Hagen Jensen came up with the story idea and directed Dreambuilders (with Tonni Zinck); a first in both cases, though with solid art and animation experience in films such as FernGully: The Last Rainforest. And the essential story idea, of tweaking a person’s dreams to alter their waking life, is a sound one, but it’s a shame writer Søren Grinderslev Hansen could not have explored the surrounding issues some more, or given the characters more depth. We know Minna likes chess and John likes mariachi music; we know Jenny is into fashion and her bitchy social media followers: that’s it, we know nothing about Helene. The difficulty of blending two families is seen but never talked about. Social media pressure and bullying are touched on (in a way which is a little too harsh for a U certificate) and then ignored for the rest of the film.
What is most surprising about the writing is that considering the obvious difficulty Minna and Jenny have in accepting each other as “family”, neither parent seemed to talk to their daughter about how to get along, or how to understand the other: they were just expected to do it, somehow. It was when an opportunity for that understanding arose (which wouldn’t have happened at all if it wasn’t for Minna discovering how to mess with people’s dreams) that the scene I mentioned earlier took place. In making their way back (a classic cartoon rescue) from the depths of the dream dump, Jenny encounters a memory she had been trying to forget for years, and I don’t think I’ll forget its poignant image in a hurry.
Dreambuilders is all about its images, after all. There are no catchy tunes, no memorable characters (unless you count a mute hamster), but plenty of colors and witty visuals. Take the kids, but ideally ones who haven’t yet seen Inside Out.
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