Dreambuilders is a stunning, charming animated adventure about a girl who discovers a secret portal through which she can control other people’s dreams.
Where do we go when we fall asleep? What happens to our minds when we enter the realm of dreams? Is everything we see and feel just the product of our imagination, or is it also, somehow, real? In Dreambuilders, co-directors Kim Hagen Jensen and Tonni Zinck’s approach these and many more questions, showing us a hidden world that exists within one of the most fascinating, mysterious, private realms we’ve ever been to – the one we visit every night, in our own dreams.
This compelling animated tale comes from Denmark, and revolves around a young girl named Minna (Emilie Kroyer Koppel) who discovers a world hidden behind her dreams, where tiny robot-like figures “build” people’s dreams on theatre stages. As Minna convinces her own dreambuilder (the adorable Gaff, played by Martin Buch) to give her behind-the-scenes access to her own dreams, time and time again, she soon discovers that she can manipulate other people’s dreams too – which seems to be the perfect way to try and influence her new stepsister by instilling ideas in her mind. But Minna soon learns that interfering with people’s dreams has consequences, and she finds herself embarking on a mission to save her family from a nightmare of her own creation – and learning a few things about herself in the meanwhile.
The first thing you’ll notice about Dreambuilders is that it looks absolutely stunning. Animated by the team behind Big Hero 6 and Sherlock Holmes, the film features flying chessboards, cascades of corn flakes falling from the sky, adorable creatures – whether real or imaginary, and gorgeous scenarios that will make you instantly fall in love with Minna’s hidden dream land. You’ll be captivated by her imagination, you’ll instantly develop a liking for her affectionate dreambuilder and you’ll find yourself smiling at every single scene featuring Viggo Mortensen – by which I mean, of course, Minna’s adorable hamster. A lot of effort has been put in making Dreambuilders look magical, an effort that really comes across in the beauty of its details.
It’s also impossible not to notice that this gorgeous tale seems to bear some similarities with Pixar’s Inside Out, another incredibly appealing animated tale that revolves around the creatures in our brains. Dreambuilders differs from Pixar’s beloved adventure for many reasons, starting from the enthralling, Alice in Wonderland-like look of its protagonist’s imagination, with clocks, chess pieces, floating animals and pastel-coloured rollercoasters that will definitely draw you into Minna’s world. At the same time, Dreambuilders lacks the one element that Pixar excels at – the ability to make a story resonate with both children and grown-ups.
While Dreambuilders shines at making its animated scenery look gorgeous, it soon becomes quite clear that its narrative isn’t up to that standard. The conflict of the film arises from Minna’s life being disrupted by Helena (Ditte Hansen) and Jenny (Caroline Vedel), two figures who we later somehow come to know as Minna’s dad’s new fiancée and her sushi-loving, technology-addicted daughter, but whose backgrounds are never even hinted at in the film. Not only do we never find out a single thing about Minna’s dad’s relationship with Helena, but we are never given an explanation for Helena and Jenny’s random arrival at that precise moment in time. Worse than that, these characters are all so one-dimentional that they’ll make you re-evaluate Bella’s parents from Twilight.
Minna’s father, John (Rasmus Botoft), seems to be obsessed with an oddly-named Mexican band, and the only bit of character development he gets throughout the film is that he develops a liking for anchovies. The other side of the family is even worse, with Helena’s presence often going completely unnoticed and Jenny being depicted as the typical selfie-obsessed millennial, in a not-so-subtle way that you’ll soon find predictable rather than thought-provoking. Yet, the biggest missed opportunity concerns Minna’s mother, Tøjsælger (Mia Lerdam), a singer who we soon learn has left her husband and daughter out of the desire to pursue a career in music, and who appears in the film through the occasional postcard and YouTube video – making her quite an unnecessary presence that adds to the collection of underdeveloped characters in Minna’s life.
Dreambuilders really does come close to achieving Pixar-like magic – the kind of magic that comes from the combination of superb animation and compelling storytelling. While Jensen and Zinck’s animated adventure has plenty of the former, what is a real shame is the absence of the latter. That said, Dreambuilders is still going to be an absolutely fun ride for younger audiences, and an enjoyable watch for grown-ups, if only for the cuteness of its dreamy scenarios.