It is easy to be confused about the subject of Ray Bradbury's latest offering. It is not a re-telling of Jules Verne's nautical masterpiece nor is it a dark and gritty tale of a lost clownfish. "Nemo!" is a fresh adaptation of Winsor McCay's surreal masterpiece, "Little Nemo in Slumberland."
Many readers may be unfamiliar with the early 20th century comic strip, but a little research reaps large rewards. Most of the original Little Nemo comics are in the public domain. The story focuses on the adventures of the titular character as he aims to reach a fantastical dream world populated with characters like Flip, Lord Morpheus, and Dr. Pill.
Bradbury's screenplay is a lovely homage to the spirit of the comic strip. The story opens with a thrilling dream sequence that gives way to mundane reality: it is the last day of the St. Louis World's Fair, and Nemo has only nine hours to see all the wonders of the place. Despite his father's explanations, Nemo can't comprehend why all the beautiful things will be torn down the next day. Inspired by all the futuristic sights, Nemo is determined to build them all for real. This sets off a chain of events that culminate in the appearance of his nemesis, the cleverly named Omen, and the gradual introduction of most of McCay's characters, including the lovely Princess.
Images leap across the page as the reader is swept along with the flash flood of Little Nemo's frantic dreams. The action is vivid and fast, the dialogue is witty, and the architecture of Slumberland is deliciously absurd.
"Nemo!" is a joyous romp that deserves to be filmed properly by the likes of Sir Peter Jackson, whose respect for source material is well documented. In case that never happens, "Nemo!" is still the perfect book to read out loud to kids and jaded adults, in order to get their imaginations all fired up before bedtime.
(This review previously appeared in the San Francisco/Sacramento Book Reviews.)