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Slumberland Interview: Director Francis Lawrence on Modernizing Little Nemo

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Slumberland director Francis Lawrence about Netflix’s upcoming film. Lawrence discussed adapting Little Nemo and Jason Momoa’s range. Slumberland premieres on Netflix on November 18.

Slumberland takes audiences to a magical new place, a dreamworld where precocious Nemo (Marlow Barkley) and her eccentric companion Flip (Jason Momoa) embark on the adventure of a lifetime,” reads the film’s synopsis. “After her father Peter (Kyle Chandler) is unexpectedly lost at sea, young Nemo’s idyllic Pacific Northwest existence is completely upended when she is sent to live in the city with her well-meaning but deeply awkward uncle Phillip (Chris O’Dowd). Her new school and new routine are challenging by day but at night, a secret map to the fantastical world of Slumberland connects Nemo to Flip, a rough-around-the-edges but lovable outlaw who quickly becomes her partner and guide. She and Flip soon find themselves on an incredible journey traversing dreams and fleeing nightmares, where Nemo begins to hope that she will be reunited with her father once again.”

Tyler Treese: The Little Nemo comics have such a rich history, with so many film adaptations and theater plays in the past. I was curious about your familiarity with the source material and if you had seen any of the other adaptations?

Francis Lawrence: I was actually not aware of the source material until I was handed an early draft of the script for this. Then I went back and I got that big Taschen book; I don’t know if you’ve seen that, but there’s this big beautiful Taschen book with, I think, almost, if not all of the comic strips that Winsor McCay did. So obviously looked through all of that and saw the Chris Columbus animated film. I saw some of the stuff, but the idea was always to sort of take the original idea from the source material and then kind of like jump off with it and then create our own stories and our own look and bring it into a more contemporary world.

What really impressed me about the film was the sense of wonder you’re able to instill with the gorgeous visuals. There’s a childlike imagination to everything. How was sprucing up the adventure with some out-there visuals?

I mean, that’s really fun. I know it’s a little more wildly visual than the stuff I do, but most of the stuff that I do is world-building-based, and that is something that I really love. So the idea of coming in and having the opportunity to create many worlds, in the case of the dreams in this movie, is just loads and loads of fun. So really, really fun to come up with what those color palettes are and how different they’re going to be from one another so that each door you go through, you’re just somewhere completely new.

I thought you did such a great job with Uncle Phillip’s storyline throughout the film. Seeing him change over time was satisfying as a viewer. So what was it like, peeling back and adding new layers to him over time?

It was really fun. That was all stuff that we worked on for a while. We worked on the script for a couple of years, just bearing down on the characters and what they want and what they need and what their story arcs are. Honestly, one of the keys was just Chris O’Dowd did such an amazing job in being this guide that you kind of love but is also sort of awkward, but still has a warmth and can also be funny. I think he really brought a lot to the shape of the character.

Jason Momoa’s Flip is hilarious. What was it like putting this really fresh twist on a character that’s been around in some shape or another for over a century?

Yeah, I mean honestly, again, it was creating our own version of it, and I think part of what we were working on in the story … it suddenly dawned on me because I was working with Jason and got to know him and became friends with him, that there are a lot of elements of Jason’s real personality that were like Flip. It would just be really nice for the world to be able to see him not just be a barbarian again in a movie, but see this completely different side to him that’s so lovable and warm and funny and irreverent and mischievous and kind of silly sometimes.

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