Robot Dreams

In a 1980’s NYC East Village populated entirely by anthropomorphic animals, Dog sits in his apartment eating TV dinners, playing Pong and looking bored.  After wistfully observing the cow and moose cuddling across the way, Dog sees a television ad demanding ‘Are You Alone?,’ and promptly places an order.  When his Amica 2000 arrives, Dog assembles what turns out to be an instant, albeit mechanical, friend, but a day at the beach turns fateful in “Robot Dreams.”

Laura's Review: A-

Writer/director Pablo Berger ("Blancanieves") adapts Sara Varon's graphic novel with charming simplicity yet notable character and period detail.  This lovely, ultimately heartbreaking story about the power of connection and painful absurdities of fate is all the more amazing for being told with no dialogue or title cards.

Illustrated like the graphic novel with simple lines and soft colors, its two protagonists connect instantly when the freshly booted up Robot smiles.   Dog a taupe colored mutt with floppy ears, and Robot, resembling a more genial version of ‘Futurama’s’ Bender, immediately set off for a walk, Berger dressing the neighborhood with Mohawked punks and pay phones.  After observing an octopus drumming on buckets in the subway, the two newly fast friends draw a crowd roller skating in the park to Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘September,’ the song becoming their theme.  They sit on the bench beneath the Brooklyn Bridge immortalized in Woody Allen’s “Manhattan,” eat hot dogs from a food cart and rent “The Wizard of Oz” (from Kim’s Video(!), one of Berger’s many realistic details).

But although a visit to Ocean Beach begins as wonderfully as all their other days together, Dog and Robot snorkeling and lying in the sun, when it’s time to go Robot cannot move, rust having set in, and he’s too heavy for Dog to move, although he tries mightily.  Dog finally admits defeat, but when he returns the next day with a tool box, he finds all entry to the beach closed off with barbed wire topped fencing, the beach now closed for the season.  His attempt to cut through a metal lock lands him in jail.  Alone on the beach, Robot begins to dream…

Berger will traverse the seasons, but while Dog and Robot continually think about reuniting, the outside world delivers obstacles and distractions.  Dog celebrates Halloween, creates a snowman and befriends a duck while Robot houses a birds’ nest and is vandalized for parts.  Berger weaves in movie references and musical themes.  And while, in the end both characters are able to find happiness, it perhaps isn’t what we’d hoped for, instead something we accept.  “Robot Dreams” is a wistful work of animated art.

Robin's Review: B+

Neon releases "Robot Dreams" in select theaters on 11/22/23.