Review: ‘Robot Dreams’ (2023), an emotionally moving, dialogue-free animated film about the friendship between a dog and a robot in 1980s New York City

June 3, 2024

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Robot Dreams” (Image courtesy of Neon)

“Robot Dreams”

Directed by Pablo Berger

Culture Representation: Taking place in New York City sometime in the mid-1980s, the animated film “Robot Dreams” (based on Sara Varon’s graphic novel of the same name), features a cast of non-talking characters that are animals and a few robots.

Culture Clash: A lonely dog buys a robot, which becomes the dog’s best friend, but their friendship is tested when the dog and robot get separated from each other. 

Culture Audience: “Robot Dreams” will appeal primarily to people who are open to watching an unconventional animated film that has themes about friendship, love and loss.

A scene from “Robot Dreams” (Image courtesy of Neon)

“Robot Dreams” is a gem of a movie that is best appreciated by viewers who are open to watching an animated feature film with no dialogue. This is a charming and often emotionally moving story about a dog, a robot, and what happens to their friendship. It’s a simple story that packs many big wallops in how personally invested viewers can feel in finding out the story’s outcome.

Written and directed by Pablo Berger, “Robot Dreams” is based on Sara Varon’s 2007 graphic novel/comic book of the same name. “Robot Dreams” had its world premiere at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival and its North American premiere at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival. “Robot Dreams” was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film for the 2024 Academy Awards.

The movie takes place sometime in the mid-1980s in New York City, where a male canine character named Dog lives alone in his East Village apartment. It’s an alternate world where there are animals and no humans who live in New York City. The animals (wild and domesticated) act like humans, but they are not shown speaking.

Dog buys a robot companion, which he assembles himself. This robot, like most of the characters in the movie, does not have a name, but can be called Robot. Dog and his robot become inseparable friends in an adorable relationship. The robot is a quick learner, can express emotions, and can imitate almost anything that the robot sees someone else do.

Although there is no talking in “Robot Dreams,” there are creatures and things that make wordless sounds. Songs are also played in movie. The favorite song of Dog and his robot is Earth, Wind & Fire’s 1978 hit “September.”

On a Labor Day weekend, the two pals go to Coney Island and spend the day at the boardwalk and Ocean Beach. At the end of the day, the robot and Dog find out that the robot (which is lounging face up on a beach towel) has gotten rusty from the ocean water and can’t move.

The beach has become deserted, and Dog can’t move the robot on his own. Dog tries to drag the robot on the towel, but the robot is too heavy. The robot indicates with its eyes that Dog should go home for the night. The beach has also been closed, locked up, and won’t re-open until June 1 of the following year.

A large dog security guard forces Dog to leave. But Dog doesn’t want to leave his robot friend behind. Dog goes back to the beach the next day, and breaks off the locks on a gate, using bolt cutters that he bought at a hardware store. Unfortunately, Dog is caught by the security guard, who arrests Dog.

The rest of the movie shows what happens in the months that follow. There are unexpected twists and turns. Several other animals (including a cat, birds, an alligator and a monkey) are part of the story. Some of these animals make a difference in whether or not Dog will be reunited with his robot best friend. During this separation, the robot has fantasies about what it would be like to reunite with Dog.

“Robot Dreams” has superb sound design and a story rich in a myriad of experiences that will make viewers feel many emotions. What makes this movie exceptional is how it creates and develops empathetic characters with memorable personalities without using any verbal language for the characters. It’s a highly unique animated film that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Neon released “Robot Dreams” in select U.S. cinemas on May 31, 2024. The movie was released in Spain and in France in December 2023.

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