tmsnemo.jpg tmsnemo.jpg
EssentialsFeature Film

Little Nemo test film


The tortured history of the TMS feature film Little Nemo: Adventures In Slumberland (1992) could rival that of Richard Williams The Thief And The Cobbler. It was an American/Japanese joint project, with no less than Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata involved in the pre-production stage (1982-83).

George Lucas, Chuck Jones, Gary Kurtz, Ray Bradbury, Chris Columbus, Moebius, John Canemaker, Leo Salkin, Paul Julian, Ken Anderson, Frank Thomas and Brad Bird (who talks about his involvement in the comments below) were attached to this film at one time or another. Bill Hurtz (George of the Jungle, Unicorn In The Garden) and Masami Hata (Sea Prince and the Fire Child) ultimately directed the final release, admittedly a mixed bag.

The idea of making a fully animated adaptation of Winsor McCay’s comic strip masterpiece somehow seems like a good idea (McCay himself authorized a musical stage play based on the strip in 1908), and the names assembled (above) to tackle such a project were certainly capable doing so.

If you’re wondering what a Miyazaki version might’ve been like, check this out. Below I’ve posted a short test film dating from December 1984. Key Miyazaki animator/director Yoshifumi Kondo (Whisper Of The Heart) directed this test sequence, supposedly filmed in 70mm. The mind boggles as to what could have been.

Oh, and who authorized this?

  • Hey now, the Little Nemo NES game was awesome.

    Ridiculously hard, but awesome. There was also an arcade game that was pretty cool. Oddly, they were both released before the film hit US theaters in ’92.

    Little Nemo isn’t a bad movie, just an incredibly tepid one. Certainly leagues better than the butchered version of Thief and the Cobbler that Miramax crapped out.

  • Also, I thought I read somewhere that Osamu Dezaki actually directed this pilot. I obviously can’t remember the source, though, so… nevermind.

  • Aaron

    Wow! That’s one of the most amazing pieces of animation I’ve seen in a long time. Thanks for posting it.

  • Jeff Goldner

    Don’t know if it helps in answering your question, but did you realise you can also see the back of the game box on that page? Mention there of a company called Capcom –

  • slowtiger

    I saw that Nemo film in Annecy and wasn’t overly impressed, but also not really disappointed. But I doubt that Miyazaki would have been a better choice. Sure, the drowned skyscrapers are impressive (anyone for a “Drowned World” (Ballard)?), but my first thought was “Oh no, he miyasakied nemo!” Long flight sequences in nearly all of his films – it gets boring eventually. They are executed masterfully, of course.

    Capturing McCay’s spirit isn’t easy. I think one main obstacle is that McCay didn’t think in a moving viewpoint like we do it today. So a subjective camera would be odd for him. A tracking camera (like panning along the drowned city) would be more his style, IMO.

  • That Nintendo game was supposedly based on the movie that came out. Despite the fact Nemo has purple hair in the game, it’s actually considered by many to be one of the best games on the system. There was also an arcade game.

  • Hayao Miyazaki didn’t work on this pilot.

    There were 3 pilots of Little Nemo produced in Japan.
    One by Sadao Tsukioka, one by Yoshifumi Kondo, and one by Osamu Dezaki.

    More informations in french :

  • Jerry, you’ve torn my soul asunder with the non-existence of this version of a Nemo in that clip. So, is the version that WAS made a hacked up version of what was planned by this crew? I’ve always enjoyed that film popping up every now and then, but I never knew about the butchering it’s been through. I will enjoy it less now knowing what it could have been. =(

  • Wow that looked promising.

  • Greg Ehrbar

    “The Thief and the Cobbler” butchered? Tell that to Princess Yum Yum.

  • Doug Drown

    McCay’s work is iconoclastic even by today’s standards, to say nothing of a century ago. I thought this clip was well made, but I wonder what could be done with a combination of CGI and conventional animation. It would take a team of wildly creative people to pull it off — people who are aware of how someone else’s imagination, if badly handled, can become leaden.

    Man, I’d love to see Nemo brought to life in this way. It’s an intriguing prospect.

  • man I loved this movie as a kid. I mean, I haven’t seen it since i was maybe 6 but I think back fondly on it. But that clip was awesome, either way.

  • Daniel J. Drazen

    It looks great, but I couldn’t help but be reminded of Ursula LeGuin’s comment about the Ghibli adaptation of her third Earthsea book: “This isn’t my book, this is your movie.” As impressive as it is, it misses out on the surreality that was Little Nemo. Maybe the strip is simply unfilmable.

  • Erica

    Personally, I love the Little Nemo movie. But watching this amazing piece of animation, I do wish it was done more along those lines. I would’ve loved to have seen that sequence in the film.

  • [stunned speechless] …Trailer. B’duh. Muh. Wow. …I knew I shouldn’t have had that rarebit breakfast.

    There is still a great movie to be made from LITTLE NEMO; though for the purposes of a feature film, its maker may need to understand characterization in a way that McCay himself arguably didn’t. When I read his work, I’m struck by how Flip and Impy seem to be the only characters with any real personality; otherwise, it’s almost all about the visuals, masterful as they are.
    Miyazaki’s trailer, awesome as it is, unfortunately does nothing to change my POV. I wanted it to.

    On the other hand, how much more awesome is this Miyazaki test than the final product, with the clumsy grip of “creative executives” seemingly evident via the addition of a semi-humanized pet flying squirrel. Named Icarus (though a better name might have been Gary Stu), with his own tiny little aviator’s helmet…

  • That… was… AWESOME!!! If only! If only!!

  • I would have loved a Chuck Jones version!!!

  • Sean

    Yeah that Little Nemo video game was pretty well made for its time, so I mean it’s miles ahead of the ET video game.

    As for the film, the version that came out I think had gorgeous animation and better character designs than this test. I’m sorry but besides the the 24 fps and immaculately rendered airship on this test film, I’m glad it at least wasn’t made like this. Then it just would have been the same as every other Ghibli film with the same bland character designs. The story might have been helped but who will ever now.

    In my opinion, on the film that was released, Hata and his team did a great job. It’s like a nice blend of the good parts of US animation and the good parts of Japanese animation. I didn’t like the few parts that looked like they were obviously done by the typical Californian overacting animator, but they weren’t that distracting.

    The bad parts seriously look like they were all the cause of the United States producers, such as the atrocious script, the bad character voices, the simple story, and lack of a real plot. But at the same time I know that because it was a Japanese studio doing an American film, it’s obvious they really had to strive to make the animation look good, and the mood is impeccable. The colors are great too. It wasn’t overtly “anime” but it had all the special nuances to it. I do confess I haven’t seen anything else done by Hata and I plan to, but his films just don’t look like my bag somehow.

    I don’t think there is much of a way to capture McCay’s spirit. Even he couldn’t capture the movement and wonder of his comics in his own animated films. Besides really the best part of McCay’s Nemo strip was the visual part. 85% of his dialogue was obnoxious and stupid and could have been scraped, as the balloons were just taking up space and most of the drivel he wrote could not even fit. So the film took a visual route, and while not as Victorian and elegant as his comics, I think it was a fair trade.

    Miyazaki is overrated, and Lassater makes him more so over here. With our rose colored glasses we think somehow Miyazaki would have made an amazing film, but it would just not be so. There are much better animation directors in Japan that don’t get a tenth of the hype and praise he does. I seriously think what we have now is as good as it’s going to get. There is no way to expect some wonderful movie to come out of the way the production line was set up on this thing. I would love to see a book or documentary on it’s making. Where’s Canemaker?

  • jerome

    You can find a longer version of this pilot there :

  • Kris

    Capcom licensed games for the NES (like Little Nemo) are widely considered to be good, in general. Little Nemo for the NES is actually quite fun.

    I remember as a child REALLY liking the Little Nemo movie. Maybe nowadays I’d disagree, but as a kid I thought it was pretty brilliant. My mom hated it, though–she quietly got rid of our video of it when I was 10 or 11.

  • Sean

    I just noticed someone posted that the test films are on the Japanese DVD. Anyone have links to buying the Japanese film that are less than 8000 yen? That’s expensive.

  • Chuck R.

    If you want to see how Miyazaki would interpret Nemo, read several of the better strips, then watch Spirited Away and use a bit of imagination. It most certainly could be done, if Miyazaki felt it was worth the trouble.

    I agree that this clip is a bit unimaginative for both Miyazaki and McCay (I’d much rather see the classic walking bed) but it’s from 1984, and Hayao has come a long way since then. His work is more like McCay’s in style and spirit than anyone else in the history of the medium (they both allow the scenery to chew up the characters). Miyazaki may not hit the nail on the head every time (Howl’s Moving Castle has story problems), but after watching his best work (Totoro, Spirited Away) I don’t think you really can overrate him.

  • Becky

    I’d agree that most Japanese cartoons are over-rated. The batting average is as piss poor as in the rest of the world–they just create more of it (which means more BAD of it).

    This clip shows off well what the overwhelming majority of Japanese cartoons do best: style over substance.

  • Beautiful work of art. I hope we can see this film redone with the talent and technology we have today.

  • Pop-eyed

    Actually, in light of recent celluloid adaptations, I find the thought of an animated Nemo kind of horrifying. With the original artist long out of the picture it seems that tinkering or ‘making better’ or ‘bringing up to date’ seems to always come up. If Nemo, as McCay drew him, is lacking in ‘personality’ (I don’t think he is) than that is Little Nemo. Since cartoon characters are the extensions (and sometimes aspirations) of the artists’ personalities who create them only the original artist could comment accurately on the motivations of those characters. It’s better that new characters get created by living artists. Miyazaki makes a better Miyazaki than he does McCay.

  • Zep

    Beautiful looking, certainly-but couldn’t little Nemo have stopped his annoying chuckling/giggling for a second?

  • Gobo

    Watching the credits on the final version of LITTLE NEMO is a surreal experience. Where else can you see an animated film with folks like this credited:

    Ray Bradbury (concept)
    Jean “Mobius” Giraud (story)
    Chris Columbus (screenplay)
    Corny Cole (design)
    John Canemaker (design concepts)
    Ken Anderson (story)
    Lee Mishkin (story)
    Brian Froud (creature design)
    Frank Thomas & Ollie Johnston (story consultation)
    The Sherman Brothers (music)

  • Sean

    I agree Pop-eyed, why can’t anyone just put together with maybe the visual glamor and wonder of a McCay comic but make it a fully original story not based upon existed characters. Correct me if I’m wrong but Little Nemo was relatively lost and unknown in 1992. I remember searching the internet about 1997 and finding out about the original Little Nemo comic it was based on but not much more information on top of that. The Fantagraphics reprints were few and far inbetween. It only seems in the last 5 years Nemo’s had a resurgence with all the numerous reprintings, animation DVDs, and history books on McCay.

    I’m sure there are still tons of regular people that think Disney himself created animation.

  • Great footage, but they left out the surprise ending where Nemo wakes up:

    Nemo:”Mom! it was fantastic! Me and my bed flew through this underwater city and–”

    Mom: “So I suppose that’s how the sheets got wet?”

  • I love that Nemo video game! You throw candy at a frog, and then crawl inside it and wear it like pajamas!

  • I saw LITTLE NEMO at Lunacon (in the Anime Room) in 1992, a year before it got released by Miramax (I can imagine what cuts they made to it). They had it in English with Japanese subtitles. I liked what I saw! The animation was way above that of the average anime! Not a perfect movie, but very beautiful stuff, nonetheless.

    But THIS, I had no idea! So it was Japan’s version of THE THIEF AND THE COBBLER, eh? Even the finished version (from Japan) is light years ahead of that of THIEF.

  • It’s a rotten shame how much beautiful work was lost on little nemo. I always loved this sequence…….well…except for the horrible awful terrible anime-sounding voicework….that just makes the hair on my back stand on end.

  • Dave

    That trailer is really beautifully animated.

    Check this out, 100% Authentic Little Nemo Animation:

    By the way, the finished “Little Nemo” feature is viewable on YouTube in its entirety :

    Doesn’t live up to that amazing trailer sequence that Jerry posted. Incredible line-up of talent worked on that movie at various times , but just goes to prove you can’t necessarily make something work by throwing talent (and/or money) at it if the fundamental concept isn’t solid. It’s a muddle.

  • Killroy McFate

    Jerry Rees, Randy Cartwright, and Roger Allers all worked on it too, back in the 80’s, if I’m not mistaken. A classic case of too many chefs, albeit talented ones.

  • David Killington

    That bed is not very aerodynamic.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Going even further, this wasn’t as bad as another Japanese-American co-production had been made about a decade before by Sanrio called “Metamorphoses”, later to be retitled “Winds of Change” for a US release and “Orpheus of the Stars” in Japan (Masami Hata was an animator on this too).

  • Another classic example of a lot of great talent misdirected and wasted. Basically, it’s dull, and lacking of character realization, with elaborate animation for its own sake without realization of purpose in motivating an audience or advancing the story. Too bad, the concept was not far-reaching enough.

  • Brianne

    Corny Cole still has some development artwork of Dreamland that he created, he used to bring it to his classes. He also had a maquette of Icarus, but one of my friends has it now for safe keeping. Corny has some stories of that production if anyone asks him about it.

  • Doesn’t James Baxter want to take another stab at a Nemo movie? That could be really cool!

    Also, I think the NES game was my introduction to this franchise, sad huh?

  • Shelly

    Too many executives and so much blown money! It’s amazing TMS didn’t go bankrupt on this cash pit. McCay was horrible at writing dialogue and at story in general. It’s true his genius was visual, with a heavy emphasis on the wonders of perspective. His characters remain cyphers, however, and the TMS brain trust failed to solve the problem in a way that worked. No one could top McCay for the shocking one-liner, however. As two guys in “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend” drive their automobile through an “Old Folks Home”, one says to the other “Hear the bones cracking! Can you beat it?” The man’s words were as off-color a century ago as they are today.

  • I liked the animation in that test clip but it’s a little heavy on the “oh! ahhh! eeee! ahhh! ohhhhhh! uhhh! ohhhhh! oooooohhh! oooohhhhhhh!”

    All translated from the original japanese I presume.

  • Hmm…I still think Thief and the Cobbler had a more rough production than Little Nemo. They took a man’s vision and butchered it, and with Nemo, they just worked with what they got.

    That Miyazaki clip looks really cool, though.

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Initially, “Little Nemo” was TMS producer Yutaka Fujioka’s idea of wanting to make a film that would be a big hit in the US as well as Japan, and in the process, could’ve established TMS’s role in domestic production as we’ve seen a tad of in the 80’s with projects like Mighty Orbots or Galaxy High (though their US subsidiary). While both Miyazaki and Takahata had been optioned to direct the film, both left over creative differences based on their conflicts over the story itself. Miyazaki in particular didn’t care for the idea that this was all happening in a child’s dream as he would rather it was the reality/world the character was in. Takahata was more into personal growth or development of said characters in a way that you could see a form of maturity as the story progressed, which of course we don’t see much of here either.

    A while back I scored one of the pre-release posters for the film that was handed out at an ’84 sci-fi convention by Gary Kurtz himself via eBay, featuring a giant rusted pocket watch in the sand. If you went by the visuals there as with the Kondo pilot, you might think this would’ve had a lot of potential if it stayed on that path, but sadly didn’t.

    Apart from the ’84 pilot already mentioned, another one often noted was Osamu Dezaki’s pilot in ’87 that had Akio Sugino as animation director (since he and Dezaki have both paired on many animated productions over the past 30 years).

    Both the ’84 and ’87 pilots had been released on an LD box set for the Nemo film in Japan only, I tried to find this years back, though it was a limited edition release with only 5,000 sets made (once spotted one on eBay years back that went for a couple hundred bucks but that was it).

    Currently, there is an R2 DVD release in Japan that is a must-have for anyone capable of playing region two discs and/or don’t mind spending $70-80 for it like I did!

    Released by Bandai Visual (under the famous Emotion label), the disc features both pilots, along with a short clip on McCay’s life and work, along with a “making-of” video, though it mostly deals with the LA and London people responsible for the voicing, choreography, songs and music in the film, rather than the staff at Telecom Animation (the satellite studio responsible for many of TMS’s productions) responsible for much of the backbreaking work on this.

    Aside from the cast of who’s who in the animation biz already mentioned in pre-production and mentioned in the credits of the film itself, I did also spot Yasuo Otsuka credited as well, who had been a mentor for both Miyazaki and Takahata during their days at Toei Doga in the 1960’s…

  • Sean

    Hahaha, exactly! When are animators and directors going to learn that you don’t need you characters making constant noise in an animated film?

    I’d certainly be too scared in my flying bed to constantly utter sounds.

  • tom d.

    I love the Little Nemo movie, and recently got my hands on a dvd of it.

    Does anyone know anything about the girl who voiced the princess in the little nemo movie, and why she was chosen?

    For me, her voice work was the worst part of the movie. I wince every time she talks in that thick brooklyn accent.
    she sounded something like… “ow, Nemo, oy am shoo-wah we will be best friends fo’ ev-AH!”

    How royal.

  • Seni Oyewole

    Beautiful! The movie was great, too!

  • Ben

    The Little Nemo game was one of the best games on the NES. And I remember as a child loving the movie.

  • Doug Drown

    You’re all right that McCay was not great at dialogue — not many cartoonists (or writers, either, for that matter) were back at the turn of the century. This was the end of the Victorian Era, characterized by books in which characters typically took two pages to say what could be said in a single sentence. In part because of this, Nemo himself was a pretty one-dimensional character. I think it would be difficult to bring him to life on the big screen without making him either cloyingly cute or turning him into a smart-assed preadolescent who makes all the adults around him look stupid. Many recent movies (and cartoons) involving children have tended toward one extreme or the other. Transcending that would be a daunting challenge for some the writers.

  • This movie goes WAY back in my childhood, I watched it all the time at my grandparent’s house as a child. After reading this, I’m suddenly curious to go visit them and see if they still have that old VHS tape…

  • GhaleonQ

    I’ll also chime in hailing Capcom’s great licensed work with Disney. With early platformers (unlike, say, RPG’s…SQUARE ENIX), comprehension of the material wasn’t necessary. They dominated with the ’90’s Disney movies, Ducktales, Little Nemo, and Mickey Mouse licenses.

  • Interesting to hear people talk about Metamorphoses/Winds of Change/Orpheus of the Stars. I’m probably one of the few people who saw the original version – for me, in 1978 at a theater in the Westwood area of LA. The thing that struck me the most about the film were the many, many moments when an image in the film perfectly recreated a similar scene in a Disney feature – almost as if the two films were intersecting for just that moment.

    Later on I saw ‘Winds of Change’ on a VHS tape. I suspect Peter Ustinov was locked in a room with a tape recorder and paid by the word for whatever he adlibbed while watching the film. (Kinda like what Jonathan Winters did with “The Thief and the Cobbler.”)

  • purin

    That was GORGEOUS! I think I was a little too distracted by the flight and imagery to think about the characters themselves. Even still, they’re not unpleasing. They’re simple, yes, but they’re adequate.

    What really gets me is how we have these objects moving through space so convincingly while also preserving the 2D nature of the traditional animated film. I wouldn’t want to see this with fancy computer effects and 3D sets.

    Say what you want about Miyazaki, but in my experience, even when I don’t particularly like a Miyazaki film, I’m still left feeling awed after watching it. I think that’s a quality worth going for.

  • Dock Miles

    Sean says —

    >There are much better animation directors in Japan that don’t get a tenth of the hype and praise he [Miyazaki] does.

    Okay, you gotta trot out three or four names for us to see if you know what you’re commenting about.

    • Mr-Famicom

      Sorry to bump up a old topic but I can full in that one.

      Toshihiko Masuda (the Istanbul (Not Constantinople) music video of Tiny Toons), Nobuo Tomizawa (Acme Cable TV), Kenji Hachizaki (The Warners 65th Anniversary Special) and Kazuhide Tomonaga (Feat of Clay Part 2), thats 4 directors that are better then Hayao Miyazaki (he is still a top notch director, but said 4 guys have done better work).

  • Great job on bringing up Nemo. I actually wrote about the 1984 Nemo pilot on the Ghibli blog, and showed the entire four-minute short. You can read my post by clcking on the website link above.

    The 1984 Nemo pilot was created by Yoshifumi Kondo (director), Kazuhide Tomonaga (animation director/e-konte/key animator), Nobuo Tomizawa (key animation), Kyoto Tanaka (key animation), and Nizo Yamamoto (art director).

    Tomonaga is one of the great action men of the period. You’ve seen his work before and likely didn’t realize it. For instance, he animated the car chase from Castle of Cagliostro; the destruction of the floating city in Castle in the Sky; numerous action scenes from Sherlock Hound; and any number of Studio Ghibli movies. Tomonaga also worked on several WB cartoons in the early ’90s, including Animaniacs and Batman – he animated the original opening to Batman, actually.

    I think the Nemo pilot is one of the great highlights of Japanese animation. It’s a thrilling example of what makes anime great. There’s that kinetic action, the wide cinematic sweep, the brilliant sense of imagination, and a terrific sense of polish. Anime at its best always defined “cool” animation. Of course, you have to dig deeper than naked chicks and giant robots to discover this.

    If you’re a Ghibli freak and a very careful observer, you’ll spot some cuts that were later quoted in My Neighbor Totoro and Porco Rosso. Parts also point back to Sherlock Hound, which in turn pointed back to Toei’s 1971 movie Animal Treasure Island (another essential cartoon classic, especially for Miyazaki fans).

    As this was a “pilot” film, there was no attempt to dig any deeper than the thrilling, freewheeling action setpiece. But it’s a perfect example of where Kondo and his team would have gone, if everything didn’t fall apart. To me, this sequence is far closer to Windsor McKay’s original vision than the watered-down Disneyesque version that was finally made. That movie was much more of an embarrassment, if only because it was so blandly lifeless, forced into the Disney paradigm as so much American animation was. Why Westerners could never grasp any other paradigms for the medium puzzles me.

    Kondo was more of a veteran than most Westerners realize, however; his career dates back to the original Lupin III tv series (1971-72), where he met Takahata and Miyazaki, who were directors. He was later involved in the two Panda Kopanda films shortly after. He worked on Miyazaki’s Future Boy Conan in 1978, and was Animation Director for Sherlock Hound. His most important collaboration was with Isao Takahata for Anne of Green Gables in 1979, where he served as the Character Designer. His more naturalist style of drawing was exactly what Takahata wanted, in pursuit of his own documentary/neorealist/Ozu fueled work. At Ghibli, Kondo became Takahata’s right-hand man, as seen with Grave of the Fireflies, Omohide Poro Poro and Pom Poko. Kondo, of course, was a big player at Ghibli and certainly set to sit alongside Takahata and Miyazaki as the studio directors, if not for his 1997 death.

    It’s always a bit of a problem that Americans know so little of Japanese animation. But there’s little interest or desire to notice anything before Ghibli, or to be aware of any name other than Miyazaki. Anything from Japan that’s good is dimly dubbed as a “Miyazaki” anime, which often is not the case. This just reinforces the notion of Americans as not very bright, as people who can’t retain more than one foreign name at a time.

    Ahem. Not to become cranky on the subject. We’re all doing the best we can. There’s still only a small handful of resources to turn to for a history of Japanese anime. Ben Ettinger’s Anipages is the gold standard. I’ve tried to follow suit with Conversations on Ghibli.

  • Chris

    That was test film!? Somebody sunk a lot of money into this “test.” More like a final exam if you ask me.

  • Fernando Chan

    Wait a second, my memory is a bit foggy but I remember renting a Little Nemo feature out from blockbuster in 1990’s(when i was a kid),is this actually the same film that I am thinking of? Or am I mistaken? But definitely a cool clip, now I can add that to my memory.

  • Steven Finch, Attorney At Law

    Frankly, I would rather have people thinking Americans were “not that bright” than to have them thinking Americans are all as smug and obnoxious as a certain self-appointed ambassador of animation who will remain nameless.

    Oh, what the hell: Daniel Thomas MacInnes.

    Anyway, as for Nemo, I remember seeing very little marketing for the film when it originally hit theaters. Were it not for a making-of special hosted by Leonard Maltin (I think) just before it came out. Aside from that, nothing.

    Regardless of its box office draw at the time, it’s certainly amassed something of a cult following since, and is a bit of a nostalgic hit with the early-twenty-something crowd now. It’s a shame the DVD is out of print, but it’s $75 used price just goes to show you that it does get a certain amount of respect.

  • gingersoll

    Steven Finch, I agree, that was indeed a rude and highhanded comment. However, I must say…
    Look at this thread: Miyazaki, Miyazaki, Miyazaki, Miyazaki… And yet, Miyazaki had NOTHING to do with this clip.
    Again: Ghibli, Ghibli, Ghibli… This clip wasn’t animated at Ghibli!
    It is like someone pointing to a Don Bluth clip and talking about Disney and how it was animated by Chuck Jones.

    There are many great directors and animators past and present in the Japanese industry. Miyazaki is a wonderful talent who has made films loved the world over, but his contemporaries have their own talent (imagine a someone telling you Spielberg was the only American director worth noting!).

    For my two cents, Nemo could have been an outright disaster… but, even so, I just enjoy the original strips. Like so many great comic strips, they are all they really ever need to be, and the reader’s own imagination supplies whatever is not on the page.

  • Chuck R.

    Gingersoll: Miyazaki holds that prominent place because he’s the only director from the Japan that takes masses of Japanimation detractors and turns them into anime fans. Part of it is certainly due to Pixar’s gracious promotion of his recent films. I think that people who find they like Miyazaki’s films, should immediately seek out Grave of Fireflies by Isao Takahata (yes, I know that’s Ghilbli again.) which truly moved me.

    I grew up with Speed Racer and Star Blazers. I’ve seen Akira, Ghost In The Shell, Paprika, and Tekkonkinkreet, all of which are imaginative and well-crafted. But with the possible exception of Tekkonkinkreet, they’re all sci-fi and have that stilted quality of anime that leaves me cold. If I’m missing some masterpiece, let me know, and if it’s “Mind Game”, show me where to find it.

  • slowtiger

    I know of one masterpiece: “Belladonna” (see, which made a great impression to me when I saw it about 1980. (Wiki was not right there: the film was at least available for theatrical release in Germany.)

  • andrew osmond

    In fairness to the completed Little Nemo feature, the ‘actual’ opening sequence draws heavily on the Kondo (not, afaik, Miyazaki) pilot, borrowing some shots, imaginatively reworking others and ending up with something that I thought was just as good. You can judge for yourself at
    I’d be very interested to know if Kondo or any of his fellow animators on the pilot worked on the ‘actual’ opening sequence.

  • Well, you are missing a masterpiece in Mind Game, but by the sound of it you’ve already missed quite a few masterpieces that you’ve actually watched, so it may be lost on you.

    Where to find it? and numerous easily findable online stores have it. The japanese DVD has good english subtitles.

  • Killroy McFate

    Yeesh. Once you open the can of Anime Geekdom, good luck getting all the worms back in.

  • My above comment was directed at Chuck R. by the way in case it wasn’t obvious.

    It depresses me how every time there’s a post mentioning japan or anime, so many people apparently switch off their brains and eyes in favour of regurgitating off-topic, confused and faintly xenophobic recieved ‘opinions’.

    I’ve always thought a stop motion Nemo film could be good. It would be hard to capture the brilliance of McCay’s drawings using cel animation, but I think models could be an interesting approach to his highly architectural style.

  • Captain Kirk can SO kick Captain Picard’s ass! Oh, wait.

    Andrew Osmond made a great point, and I was going to make it myself after watching the first segment of the ’89 Nemo on YouTube. This is where YouTube is so great, imo. But the opening sequence is very much inspired by Kondo’s 1984 Nemo pilot. It’s eerily similar in many regards, but reenacted in the American style.

    I think this is an excellent opportunity to compare and contrast East and West. Both Nemo scenes are quite excellent and compelling and speak well of the many artists’ talents. I have to admit, I’m afraid, of a certain bias towards Nemo ’84. The impact of first seeing that was so great, and the pilot just reverberates again and again, in scenes like Satsuke and the Catbus in Totoro, and the thrilling river escape in Porco Rosso.

    To me, Nemo ’84 feels more like McCay, that is, it carries a certain surrealism to it. The moments are connected, yet they are not. There’s not really any danger, just the thrill of a lucid moment that veers from exhileration to terror without warning. Perhaps it’s the video quality (and I’d love to see it in its original 70mm print), but Nemo ’84 feels dreamier. It’s pure kinetic cinema in motion, like the classical music it joins.

    Nemo ’89 is very well made, again (I’ll have to see the rest of the movie later). But it feels less like a lucid dream state, and more of a Hollywood action setpiece. It’s very much in that post-Star Wars vein of cliffhanger action scenes. There’s more of a threat, especially with the train that appears, and it feels much busier.

    Perhaps I’m just a bit older and tired of all the noisy blockbusters. But the sense of wonder, that moment where you realize you’re lucid in your dream, isn’t here. It feels more pinned down by the Hollywood conventions of plot and story. Somthing has to be happening to Nemo now, and for a reason. There has to be a vicious chase. Everything has to be loud.

    And…lord help me…I’m really not a fan of “stretch and squash.” I know it’s the cornerstone of American animation, and I’d gladly sit through any number of classic cartoons with a silly grin on my face. So perhaps I just need to be in the right mood. I’ll fetch a bowl of Fruit Loops and try again with the full feature.

    I’m fairly convinced that when it comes to action, swift movement, and the sheer kinetic thrills, the Japanese masters have the upper hand. They more closely studied from the masters of action cinema: Griffith, Eisenstein, Ford, Kurosawa, Welles. Everything in American movies plays out like roller coaster rides, like video games. It’s what Pauline Kael once dubbed “bam-bam-pow” cinema. It’s based on the notion that the audience must be distracted every moment.

    But you can’t be loud all the time. You need to pause, to allow for some space between the notes. Great cinema is like all the great arts, music and painting and so on. There needs to be a proper balance. I think the best thing Miyazaki did with Porco Rosso was limit himself to only one major action set-piece. The whole movie teases us with tales and hints and shadows, but slyly avoids revealing its hand. Marco, the director’s avatar-pilot, is whispered of as a living legend, but we never get to see it, not until the final showdown with rival Curtis. And once we got there, the payoffs were fantastic.

    I think Nemo ’84 has the upper hand in this, most likely because Kondo and Tomonaga knew this was the whole ballgame. They didn’t have a full-length feature to play with. And yet they were still able to pace themselves, to feature all the movements in the span of four minutes. It’s wonderful and inspiring — apart from the Takahata/Miyazaki canon, it’s the greatest action scene in all of Japanese animation.

  • Another short post on more great anime to discover. I know many of us are tired of the cliches – violent cyberpunk, naked girls, giant robots, seiure-inducing toy commercials – but there is much to discover if you dig around. As always, AniPages is your greatest resource. You will learn more about anime by scouring that site than anywhere else in the Western world.

    Mind Game is often mentioned, and it’s the best animation movie of this past decade. It’s the kind of animation Fellini would have made.

    Night on the Galactic Railroad is another masterpiece. It’s beautiful and pastoral, meditative and thoughtful. It’s the second great movie made from a Kenji Miyazawa story, the other being…

    Gauche the Cellist, the Isao Takahata film from 1982. Created over the span of six years as a labor of love, Gauche is the great tribute to the transcendent power of music. The opening sequence, where the orchestra is literally swept away by the storm in Beethoven’s Pastoral, is sublime.

    Belladonna of Sadness was mentioned earlier. It can be found online via bit-torrents, or YouTube. Very very different from what you’d expect from Japan, brilliantly psychedelic and a sure snapshot of its era. And it deftly points the way to Mind Game.

    There’s episode four of Goku’s Big Adventure, a crazy anarchist cartoon from the late ’60s that plays out like Tarantino or Ren & Stimpy with a heavy political bent. It’s absolutely crazy.

    Studio Ghibli fans should get familiar with Toei Doga, especially their golden years from 1958 to 1972. Little Prince and the 8-Headed Dragon from 1963 is masterful and bloody amazing to watch. And, wouldn’t ya know, it’s available on YouTube. Check there or go to the Ghibli blog.

    The later Toei movies, the ones involving Takahata and Miyazaki and the rest of the clan, should all be household names to animation fans. Horus, Prince of the Sun. Puss in Boots. Animal Treasure Island, Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.

    And the three magic words…Heidi Marco Anne.

  • gingersoll

    ChuckR: Consider, if someone asks what a good films from the US is, do you say Blue Velvet, Schindler’s List, Mean Streets, City Lights? A given person might blacken your eye over Blue Velvet! And Blacksploitation? Do you chance suggesting Eyes Wide Shut or Crash, films which Martin Scorsese called two of the best of the decade, but so many others hate…?

    Heck if I know. I just like films that move me emotionally or make me think about the world around me and the choices I’ve made in life.

    Angel’s Egg (Oshii) and Brother dear Brother (Dezaki), have long been my favorites…films of Kihachiro Kawamoto, films of Tadanari Okamoto, Koji Yamamura (he’s done much more than just Mt. Head) Aim for the Ace, Ashita no Joe, His and Her Circumstances, Akage no Anne, Wings of Honneamise, Here and there Now and Then, Night on the Galactic railroad, Windy Days, Gosenzosama Banbanzai (Oshii, being unusually free and wild, the polar opposite of Angel’s Egg)… some of my favorites.

    I think the best approach is to always be searching, always sampling. maybe nothing on that list would appeal to you. But I’ve found so many of my favorite films from all over the world pretty much by accident.

  • Chuck R.

    There’s nothing xenophobic about admitting that some anime films appeal and others do not. Enjoy your air of superiority if you must, but seriously: would a Japanese guy be “xenophobic” for saying he enjoys Pixar films but can take-or-leave most other American animation? I’d call him honest.

    Thanks for the tip, Slowtiger. We’re getting few solid recommendations from the anime apologists here.

  • Sean

    @Dock Miles

    Koji Morimoto, Masaaki Yuasa, and Hiroyuki Imaishi just to name a few I think that deserve more praise for just their experimentation alone. I do understand that they haven’t been around for 40 years and do not have 10 films under their belt. Basically, you’ve seen maybe two or three Miyazaki films, you’ve seen him all. His television work is nothing to praise. Kemonozume on the other hand is mindblowing. You keep your Nausicaa or whatever, I’ll have Mind Game.

    I could go on with a few more, but they have gotten their hype, although I would much rather see anything by Otomo, Isao Takahata, or Watanabe over any Miyazaki film. But I know how much the Cali artists love that guy, so I know I’m speaking to a dead audience here.

    Oh by the way, Mind Game was on Youtube for a while split into 20 parts but not so anymore.

    I originally got Mind Game from a torrent with English subtitles.

    But if anyone would like to buy Mindgame and also have an all region DVD player ready, you can buy right here:

    I understand it’s expensive, about 40 bucks. There are some bootlegs that come up on Ebay for 15 from time to time if you want to try there. But HMV has English options and communicates well if there are problems. The Japanese DVD does have English subtitles, so it looks like they were planning an English release, but only Tekkon Kinkreet came out here instead.

  • Wow, this is pure GOLD!

    What a great find!… Mannnnnnnnn, if ONLY the film looked like this…
    Very strong.

    I DO think the actual movie boasted some shining animated-moments, but the quality was disjointed, which I certainly even sensed as a kid when i first saw it… Of course, as a 9 year old i didn’t use word’s like “disjointed,” though. ;)

  • There’s nothing xenophobic about admitting that some anime films appeal and others do not.
    Well no, and I wasn’t complaining about when people express their subjective personal tastes. I was complaining about when they make vaguely xenophobic comments.

    would a Japanese guy be “xenophobic”
    Is this a trick question? :)

  • Back on topic, the real thing:

  • snuppy

    I know it has been said here before.
    But it can’t be said enough that the Little Nemo videogame wasn’t bad at all.
    It was made by the guy who created the Ghosts ‘n Goblins and Mega Man series.
    If you don’t like videogames, then you don’t like videogames. But this is quite a good one:)

  • Oliver

    Saying “overrated” is just a fancy way for contrarians to declare, “Critics and audiences love such-and-such, but I don’t. Whoop-de-doo.”

  • zac

    well regardless of how “mixed” the end product ended up being I really loved the cartoon, it was one of my favorites growing up and it gave me alot of memories. the bumps or whatever those creatures were that were all gooey were awesome. and icarus.

  • Heyyyyy! Who’s idea was it to have Nemo race the kid from Nausica?

    They couldv’e called it Little Nausica- anime’s legion of consumers wouldv’e bought that up!

  • The japanese have a good emoticon for this thread:


    Or maybe >_

  • Well, that didn’t work. :)

  • Sean

    “Oliver says:
    Saying “overrated” is just a fancy way for contrarians to declare, “Critics and audiences love such-and-such, but I don’t. Whoop-de-doo.””

    Well yeah, that is what it’s saying. Critics and audiences really don’t know jack when it comes down to it. Just look at how the United States of America votes for reference.

  • andrew osmond

    A while ago, Sean said of Miyazaki:
    ‘I know how much the Cali artists love that guy, so I know I’m speaking to a dead audience here.’
    This is not a disagreement, but I can’t resist noting noting that you could substitute ‘mainstream Japanese audiences’ for ‘Cali artists.’ I belive that three of Japan’s five all-time box-office hits are Miyazaki films. Moreover, several of my own Japanese friends – not anime or Miyazaki ‘fans’ as such – have extremely affectionate memories of early Miyazaki TV projects such as Future Boy Conan, which Sean sees as ‘nothing to praise’; see also (poll results at the bottom)
    None of which invalidates Sean’s comments in the slightest; we’re down to YVMV. For the record, I saw Mind Game twice at London’s National Film Theature (or BFI South Bank as it’s now called) – enjoyed it tremendously, but still prefer Spirited Away.

  • Brad Bird

    Jerry Rees and I also worked on this for about a month. We were sent down because we were told the project was drifting and were asked to check it out and give our assessment.

    So we went down to a building they’d rented in Hollywood to check out what was going on, and were staggered at the quality of the artwork on the walls. The key staff was half American, half Japanese, all great artists. AMAZING stuff.

    We were floating around, talking to people casually, asking them about what they were doing, and they said “we’re just illustrating what Ray Bradbury is writing”.

    We walked around some more among the jaw-dropping imagination and talent on display and ran into Bradbury himself. We remarked about the terrific work and asked Bradbury about the story he was writing for the film. “I’m just putting in writing what these wonderful artists are drawing”, he said.

    Jerry and I looked at each other; “Uh-ohhh”.

  • I never saw the actual Nemo movie, but I did really enjoy that snippet. Could have been something great.

    But, whoa, whoa, no criticism is allowed for the great NES game. It was one of my childhood favorites, and remains to this day one of the finest sidescrollers of its time, if not of all time. Absolutely brilliant and original and nothing to scoff at in the slightest.

  • Joshua Smith

    It’s a bit off-topic for people to talk about whether or not Miyazaki is overrated, since, as others have pointed out, he had nothing to do with the pilot that Jerry posted.
    It’s also a bit delusional to think there was ever much chance of Miyazaki ending up as the director of this feature, or that if he had, the film would have ended up better or more faithful to McCay’s comics. Miyazaki is an iconoclastic auteur, and this project was always intended to be a US/Japanese co-production meant to appeal to audiences of both countries. That kind of situation could not provide Miyazaki with the control he needs to make a good movie. Masami Hata is a much better choice in that situation as he is one of very few directors who has demonstrated the ability to synergize the best from Eastern and Western animation, though I also wonder if things would have turned out better if Hata had been the sole director.

    I’ve uploaded the third pilot from 1987, directed by Osamu Dezaki:

    I like this one maybe even more than the Kondo pilot. The variety of creatively done effects animation is great, but the character design and animation leaves much to be desired.

    >robcat2075 says:
    >I liked the animation in that test clip but it’s a little heavy on the “oh! ahhh! eeee! ahhh! ohhhhhh! uhhh! ohhhhh! oooooohhh! oooohhhhhhh!”

    So were McCay’s original comics.

  • That’s what I found really missing from the feature, it didn’t capture the brilliantly weird and stilted feeling of McCay’s comics.


  • H Park

    After reading people’s comments on Cartoon Brew, I noticed that some of staunch American animation supporters have this dog-chasing-its-own-tail problem. I want to say a thing or two. Whatever negative replies from western animation fans say about Japanese animation is no different from Japan Bashing in the 80’s. Instead the product being automobile, it’s the animation. People complain about subjective matters of design and technical quality, not the ultimate role of animation as a film. Again, it’s like judging car by solely on its horse power (technical quality) and large chassis (design), not the critical factors like assembly (story plot) and mileage (film).

    Appreciating classics are fine and all, but what the point if there is no motivation to move forward? Being reminiscent about good old glory days doesn’t bring back lost time. So what can we do? Just sit around and expecting someone with a lot of money and influence to bring back the industry to life again? Or are we just moan and complain about success of people on the other side of the planet? Spouting jealousy toward others popularity is just shallow and has no benefit in long run. If someone in Asia or wherever made this awesome story with butt-kicking action sequences, then we should do the similar or better. It’s not productive to say that we don’t work that way just because it’s not our tradition. Tradition and nostalgia can go to hell if it doesn’t do anything good for developing ideas.

    Also I want to make caution to close-minded young anime fans who tend to view their pop culture as superior to others. It certainly rubbed off non-fans wrong way. I made that same mistake when I was young & naive and I still regret it.

  • Dave

    “I’ve uploaded the third pilot from 1987, directed by Osamu Dezaki:

    Thank you to Joshua Smith for uploading the 1987 NEMO pilot.

    These pilots have definitely piqued my curiosity about the history behind this project .

    Can someone tell me why all these elaborate (expensive !) “pilots” were made for the Little Nemo in Slumberland film project ? Were these considered “proof of concept” pieces to secure final funding ? Was a pilot made to set a style guide for the rest of the intended production? (but then as the production changed directors a new pilot was produced to show the new director’s vision for what the final film would look and sound like ?) Did Japanese animated features in the 80’s typically make such elaborate “pilot” films before the main production started ? Were either of these pilot sequences actually part of the intended final version of the film ? (that is , were they part of the working script at that time ?)

    I can see making short experimental animation to get a feel for what the characters would look like when moving and to test the appeal of the designs in adapting McCay’s work 80’s style feature animation , but the two Nemo pilots that I’ve seen are LONG pieces , and obviously cost a lot of money. So again, I wonder who was the intended audience for these pilot films ? Investors ? Distributors ? I’m glad these pilots exist to give us a tantalizing, frustrating glimpse of what the Little Nemo film might have been …. but good golly that seems in retrospect like pouring money down a hole .

  • In answer to Dave’s questions about Japanese anime film pilots, it seems to be much more common to see pilot films from Japan play out like self-contained works. The two Nemo pilots from ’84 and ’87 are excellent examples. I am also thinking of the 1969 pilot made for Lupin III, which was planned as a theatrical film. Yasuo Otsuka left Toei Animation (he was the first of the Toei gang to make the jump) to work on Lupin, and it’s an excellent pilot.

    Like Nemo, it’s not a work-in-progress based on the actual final production, but a self-contained highlight reel, a selection of scenes that represent what the project would look like. It is a bit strange, I suppose, but I’ve seen a number of these pilots on YouTube.

    The Lupin III pilot never led to a movie, but instead was turned into a television series which ran for 23 episodes in 1971 and ’72. Interestingly enough, the title sequence used footage from the pilot (budget restraints no doubt), and one episode reworked one “plot” sequence from the pilot. This was, in fact, one of the first Lupin episodes that Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki directed after leaving Toei for A Productions, and we all know their tendencies to recycle and revisit their older work in this way.

    As for other Japanese anime film “pilots,” there is a pilot for Heidi from the 1968 or 1969 that is available on YouTube (forgive me for not providing a link, but I’m at work). Nothing ever came of this, but it does play like a highlight reel from the novel. It’s very different, and in no way connected, to the landmark 1974 tv series Heidi, Girl of the Alps, directed by Takahata (layout by Miyazaki, character designs by Yoichi Kotabe, etc).

    I’ve also seen a short pilot for a television project called Yuki’s Son, which was directed by Miyazaki. It was made in 1972 but became another project that went nowhere. But it did show a dramatic rural style that clearly pointed to Heidi two years later. I wrote a post about this and provided a YouTube clip – hopefully it’s still active, so here’s the link:

  • Carter

    It would be pointless to make an animated feature, however, that tried to feel like a cartoon from 1906. McCay wasn’t emulating 100 year old works, he was creating the biggest visual spectacle available in a brand-spankin-new medium.

    Nemo was not fundamentally about the weird dialogue quirks that are as much an artifact of their era as they are McCay’s personal stamp. (there are good collections of pre-Great War comics out there). It’s also not about a static camera, that was a trick to lay multiple panels across a full page image.

    The point of Nemo is that a 6 year old (Nemo’s age in the strip?) reading the comic would be physically smaller than the comic itself. Nemo was meant to be an overwhelming visual experience in the most popular and important visual medium of its time.

    Properly a Nemo movie should be done in IMAX. If you could grab McCay with a time machine and ask his opinion, he’d suggest 3D.

  • pete

    It is a pity that most of the WMT titles where Miyazaki and Takahata were involved, long before Studio Ghibili, were never broadcasted in the States and in the English speaking world in general. Except one broadcast of Little Women, a limited VHS of Tom Sawyer and Peter Pan and Anne of Green Gables and the Bushbabies in Canada.

    Had they been broadcasted as in the rest of the world, the US viewers would have a completely different opinion about anime and also about Studio Ghibili.

    Many of them were based on classic American novels and there were also other non-WMT series based on novels, like The Yearling.

    Those titles are closer to Western viewers tastes.

  • Blue Aerial Bergen

    I prefer the published version. The old city does look a lot cooler, but the other flyer and the upbeat music sets a mood far less mysterious and creepy than the later version.

  • Chris Maier

    The only people who have ‘problems’ with anime are American animators. Bar none. Jingo fetts.