2024 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Fifteen “Robot Dreams”

The last day of the Milwaukee Film Festival is always kind of bittersweet. It’s been a long festival and tiredness is starting to creep in among the fest goers and staff. But, it’s been full of warm audiences, fine films, and real community spirit and it’s sad to see that end. But there’s thanks to be made and usually one final film to send people home on with good feelings. This year the film was ROBOT DREAMS which decidedly lived up to those hopes.

ROBOT DREAMS arrives with a strong pedigree, a premiere at Cannes in 2023 and a nomination for Best Animated Feature Film from the Academy Awards. And clearly it lives up to that pedigree.

Written and directed by Pablo Berger and based on a 2007 graphic novel by Sara Varon, ROBOT DREAMS is a tale about a lonely dog, named Dog, living in New York in the 1980s who orders and builds a robot to be his best friend. And it delightedly works for him transforming his lonely misery into happiness. Until an unexpected complication separates the two.

What’s perhaps most striking about the story is how much time is spent on the separation. Life does not end for either of those two characters. Dog experiencing loneliness again decides not to settle into his former existence and makes steps to find companionship and love, even if it doesn’t always work out. Robot doesn’t spend his days being endlessly sad, but has dreams that allow him to explore the world. Dog and Robot miss each other dearly, but life doesn’t end.

That’s the major takeaway I got from the story. Even if things don’t turn out the way we may want or expect, there are victories to be gained. Happiness to be found. It’s a story about love and loss, but it’s a story where it’s never as bleak as it seems.

It’s a very universal story, moreso because the story is wordless. Hummed music makes up the majority of the “dialogue” with Earth, Wind, and Fire’s “September” generally being the anthem of the movie. And the hand drawn animation is a delight, evoking New York of the 1980s but populating it with anthropomorphic animals, full of little touches of emotion and humor in every corner. It’s not exactly flashy, but the emotions of the story are fully reflected in the liveliness of the animation and human touch that went into it.

Neon will be releasing ROBOT DREAMS this Summer, expect a rollout in June. So, while the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival may be over, there are going to be additional opportunities to catch one of the highlights of the festival in the theater.

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival ran from April 11, 2024 until April 25, 2024. However, the Oriental Theatre and the Downer Theater are open year round and are playing some Best of the Fest offerings now. Tickets can be purchased via MKEFILM.ORG. The 2025 Milwaukee Film Festival will return in April 2025.