Dreambuilders PG, 81 minutes, 2 stars
Watching the Danish-produced Hydralab animated film Dreambuilders, it's hard not to think, "If only Pixar had made this."
It's not like the filmmakers aren't inviting such comparisons. "Pixaresque" is one adjective used in promotional material, and it's been described in reviews more than once and not inappropriately as a mashup of Inside Out and Monsters, Inc. Unfortunately, as is usually the case, such comparisons don't flatter the imitator. Dreambuilders - which is also reminiscent of Inception - has a decent if derivative premise and the animation and imagery are good: it's let down by the script and character details and in the execution. Perhaps the relative inexperience of co-directors Kim Hagen Jensen and Tonni Zinck is partly to blame.
Dealing as it does with the difficulties of divorce, blended families and step-sibling relationships, this film might be uncomfortable viewing for some children and parents.
The set-up is promising enough. Young Minna (voiced in English by Robyn Dempsey) lives with her loving father after her mother has left the family to pursue her musical dream. They're close but Minna feels threatened by the sudden arrival of a stepmother and her bratty, Instagram-obsessed daughter Jenny (Emma Jenkins).
Jenny is selfish, snarky and demanding. Not only does she commandeer Minna's bed, she demands the removal of her step-sister's pet hamster Viggo Mortensen (presumably a nod to the actor's Danish ancestry).
It's a difficult situation, but one night Minna discovers what might be a solution. While asleep, she discovers that dreams - hers and everyone else's - are created by a team of creatures using costumes, sets and props in a giant world connected by a rickety transport system. Minna manages to get into Jenny's dreams and engages in subconscious manipulation of the girl to change things in real life.
Eventually, Jenny cottons on to what's happening but the two girls will soon have to join forces to save themselves and each other when the dream world takes a nightmarish turn.
The dream sequences, perhaps unsurprisingly, are the most imaginative in the film, whether in depicting the workers' challenges of creating and sustaining dreams or the darker elements and dangers of the dream realm.
I don't know if the film was originally in English or has been dubbed (the lipsyc doesn't jar) but the dialogue and voice acting sometimes sound stilted and there's an overall feeling of blandness and sterility to the film.
This is a great pity because there are moments that if handled more adroitly could have been deeply affecting. Dealing as it does with the difficulties of divorce, blended families and step-sibling relationships, this film might be somewhat uncomfortable viewing for some families and passable holiday entertainment for others.
It's your call.