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‘Robot Dreams’ follows the quest for relationship fulfillment

“Robot Dreams” (2022 production, 2024 release). Cast: Ivan Labanda, Graciela Molina, Tito Trifol, Rafa Calvo, José García Tos, José Luis Mediavilla, Esther Solans. Director: Pablo Berger. Screenplay: Pablo Berger. Graphic Novel: Sara Varon, Robot Dreams (2007). Web site. Trailer.

In an age where the lines of what makes for a successful relationship have become increasingly blurred (and simultaneously more liberating), we’re seeing all manner of partnership combinations emerge that are just as valid as conventional models, no matter how different they may appear. And thank goodness for that, as anyone in an alternative partnership can joyously attest. However, despite this newfound freedom, these relationships can experience their share of challenges just like any other pairings. But, if a connection is worth it, then so is the effort required to realize such a cherished aspiration, an undertaking explored in the new animated fantasy, “Robot Dreams.”

In 1980s New York – portrayed here as a multi-species zootropolis – Dog lives by himself in a modest East Village apartment. It’s a rather lonely existence, however, and he often feels depressed that there are so many others around him, like his next-door neighbors, who have successfully found lasting companionship. Consequently, he’s come to feel resigned to a life of channel surfing and warming up microwave meals for himself. It’s hardly enough for him, though.

However, one evening while scrolling through his multiple cable channels, he comes across an ad for the Amica 2000 companion robot. Dog is struck by the idea and decides to order one for himself. And, when his new automated friend arrives, Dog and Robot quickly become fast friends. They spend the summer tooling around New York, engaging in such activities as rollerblading in Central Park and performing rollerskating dance moves to Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Party On” a la Starlight Express for captivated crowds of onlookers. They form a connection that transcends friendship, even if it’s not necessarily something that most would look upon as a relationship (despite the fact that, for all intents and purposes, it probably is, at least symbolically speaking).

Late in summer, Dog and Robot pay a visit to the beach, where they spend the day frolicking in all manner of fun, including going swimming. But the water doesn’t agree with Robot, and, after stretching out on the beach for a nap that lasts until early evening, he’s unable to move, rusting in place. He can’t stand up or move about, and Dog is panicked when he finds that he and Robot are alone. Everyone has left the beach – and not just for the evening but apparently for the season, their visit having taken place on the beach’s closing day for the year.

Unable to help Robot, Dog leaves for the night, returning home to get tools that he hopes will help his incapacitated friend. But, when he comes back the next day, he finds that the beach has been cordoned off with chains and signs that state it’s closed until the following June 1. Dog’s attempts at breaking through the barricades to rescue Robot are subsequently met with police action, even when he tries to explain his reason for doing so. Authorities will have none of that kind of lawlessness. That outcome is further reaffirmed when Dog submits a petition at City Hall seeking temporary off-season access to the beach, but his request is summarily denied.

Fast friends Robot (left) and Dog (right) tool around 1980s New York, enjoying the summertime street life of this multi-species zootropolis, as seen in writer-director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, “Robot Dreams,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Arcadia Motion Pictures.

In light of these developments, as well as a subsequent arrest for trespassing, Dog is reconciled to having to wait to retrieve his friend, who is apparently destined to spend fall, winter and the following spring stretched out on the beach. Dog is saddened by Robot’s absence, especially with the knowledge that his companion is vulnerable to the elements and other potential hazards. In fact, Dog’s worst fears begin to materialize as the weather changes and the lack of available protection become apparent, especially when Robot is subjected to an unexpected visit by a trio of troublesome Rabbits.

As the days pass without Robot’s companionship, Dog grows increasingly worried about whether he will ever see his friend again. Because of this, he starts exploring options for finding new sources of camaraderie. However, he soon discovers that others can’t begin to compare to Robot. And, even when he finds a potentially suitable new acquaintance in Duck, a flirtatious feathered friend, he realizes that loyalty and sincerity can be difficult commodities to come by.

These sentiments weigh heavily both on Dog and on Robot, as each of them begin having dreams about both a reunion between them and scenarios in which they find themselves in the company of new companions. These somnambular experiences feel real and seem pleasant enough until they wake up and realize that they’re just dreams, not waking occurrences, prompting them to return to the ennui that has come to characterize most of their days.

With June 1 fast approaching, Dog anxiously awaits the opportunity to reunite with Robot. But, before he gets that chance, Robot is found by Monkey, a salvage contractor, who discovers his body with his trusty metal detector. He collects Robot’s parts and hauls them to a junkyard, where he’s sold for scrap to Alligator. And the working pieces are subsequently purchased by an inventor raccoon named Rascal, who seeks to rebuild and resurrect Robot in a new working form.

All of the foregoing occurs without Dog’s knowledge, so, when he finally goes to the beach to look for Robot, he’s devastated by his absence. What’s to happen now, given that Robot seems irretrievably missing and Dog’s other friendship prospects have abandoned him? Is Dog destined to live a life of relentless loneliness? Will there be some kind of miraculous reunion? Or will some unexpected development occur that takes both Dog and Robot in an entirely new direction? Perhaps that’s what dreams are made of – be they had by a robot or any of us.

Finding that special someone to make us feel complete can be quite an ordeal, one that’s often disheartening and frustrating. But, when we find the right partner, fewer things in life are sweeter and more fulfilling. This kind of companionship is not to be taken lightly, however; it requires work and commitment, not to mention a firm belief in being willing to follow through on both fronts. Yet, sadly, all too often, many prospective partners aren’t disposed to making that kind of effort.

Can beings as diverse as Dog (left) and Robot (right) become close companions for one another? That’s the question metaphorically addressed in writer-director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, “Robot Dreams,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Neon.

As the picture opens, Dog is all too familiar with these circumstances, yet he nevertheless longs to find such a connection for himself. His belief in the notion is strong, and that’s vital if he ever hopes to see it come to fruition, because that kind of faith is essential to driving the conscious creation process, the philosophy that maintains these notions are responsible for manifesting the reality we experience. Dog may not have heard of this line of thinking, but he makes use of its principles to attract what he seeks, and that becomes apparent when he at last sees the TV commercial that changes his life. And, at the risk of sounding trite, it’s a dream come true.

So how does this come about when all of Dog’s previous efforts haven’t produced results? Well, as noted above, he has faith in the belief that it can happen, despite what seems like ample evidence to the contrary. But those disappointments are indications that what he wants and needs hasn’t properly manifested yet, that those prior “prospects” simply weren’t suitable for him. However, those “failures” aren’t proof that his ambition is an utter impossibility. It just means that “the cake is still baking.”

Dog’s faith is backed up by a belief in ridding himself of limitations. To be sure, the conventional approaches haven’t worked, but, then, maybe the conventional is not for him. Because he’s willing to keep his options open, then perhaps he needs an option more suited to his unconventional sensibilities, a bill that Robot fills where others don’t. Granted, pairing up with a technology-based partner may seem a bit unusual for an organic being, but, if the chemistry between them works, so what? Affinity often knows no bounds, and a connection that comes from such a quality likely requires one to abandon traditional limitations and to allow the unconventional to come shining through. That’s something Dog and Robot quickly discover for themselves, and, given everything it took to make this partnership happen, the result is quite satisfying. More power to them.

The satisfaction to come out of such involvements is often some of the greatest we will experience in life, something we wouldn’t trade for anything. That’s especially true when such feelings arise for those who are part of alternative partnerships, the kinds of relationships that others in more traditional pairings may often look upon askance. These connections thus offer credence to the idea that there is someone for everybody out there, no matter how seemingly unlikely that may have appeared at one time and regardless of how unconventional the bonding may be. Such arrangements give hope to the lovelorn, keeping them going at times when they might otherwise give up. And who would have thought that we could learn such a valuable lesson from an animated dog and robot?

In light of the foregoing, though, one might legitimately wonder why Dog and Robot have befallen the challenges they face. That’s a good question, and their reasons are obviously their own, something that we as onlookers aren’t in a position to question. However, scenarios like the one they face often go a long way toward testing the veracity of a relationship, as becomes apparent by the lengths that Dog is willing to go through to help out his impaired friend. Their situation could also be another test of faith, one designed to gauge the strength of this belief. Or it could be a lesson in learning to let go and see what happens, a stepping stone toward finding love again when what we cherish is believed lost for good. Admittedly, these aren’t particularly easy lessons, but they often come with the territory in loving partnerships, with our companions serving as valuable collaborators in these undertakings.

In the end, perhaps the most important takeaway we can get from the story of Dog and Robot is the need to treasure the experience of a relationship like theirs no matter how long or short it might ultimately last. The value rests with having had the experience at all, whether it’s fleeting or endures for a lifetime. Nothing can top what comes out of an involvement like this, and that’s what we should be most grateful for. This unlikely duo shows us that, and we should be thankful for them sharing their experience with us.

It appears that friendship can transcend boundaries as seemingly immutable as species and technology, as discovered by Dog (left) and Robot (right) in writer-director Pablo Berger’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, “Robot Dreams,” now playing theatrically. Photo courtesy of Arcadia Motion Pictures.

The simple but profound sentiments depicted in this delightful animated feature from writer-director Pablo Berger skillfully hit all the right notes for those longingly seeking connection. It deftly addresses the kinds of relationship questions that many of us face in life, providing viewers with circumstances that ring familiar, even if the parties involved (at least superficially) are vastly different from us. The result is a warm, touching, heartfelt story that’s decidedly sweet and cute (though never cutesy), with more than a few bittersweet moments to keep it real. The picture’s charming, imaginative animation presents a whimsical, nuanced view of the Big Apple in the 1980s with virtually no dialogue (despite voice actor-provided sound effects) but backed with a killer soundtrack. The narrative, based on a graphic novel by Sara Varon, is a bit sluggish at times (especially in the film’s opening half), with some sequences that could have been trimmed or eliminated. In fact, some critics and viewers have contended that “Robot Dreams” is a glorified short that’s been needlessly padded to stretch out its runtime (though that’s a view I don’t share, despite my belief that this release would have benefitted from some judicious editing).

As a general rule, I’m not an overly huge fan of animation, since much of it in my mind is excessively silly, manic and inane (especially among American productions), so I tend to pick what I screen in this genre very selectively. However, when animation works well, its offerings frequently turn my head, as this one often does. This Oscar-nominated title for best animated feature is a fun little picture that will surely put a smile on your face and tug at the heartstrings, and, from a romantic standpoint, that’s something worth dreaming about. The film is currently playing theatrically.

The joy that comes out of being with the right partner is often indescribable. It’s something we dream about, and, when we find it, we want it to go on forever. But, no matter how long the experience lasts, we should gratefully immerse ourselves in the ecstasy for it having dropped into our laps. If a dog and a robot can appreciate that, then we surely should be able to as well. And, as we do, we should follow the advice served up by Earth, Wind & Fire: Party on, people.

Copyright © 2024, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

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