Film Review: The Napping Princess

This sci-fi anime, in which a schoolgirl must enter the world of dreams to rescue her father, comes to life mostly in its non-fantasy sequences, which are much more interesting than a welter of Transformers and monsters.
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The elaborate conceit of Kenji Kamiyama’s The Napping Princess establishes two realities from the outset: the real world and the magical kingdom of Heartland, which appears at first to be the recurring dreamscape of feisty schoolgirl Kokone (Mitsuki Takahata). Kokone’s supposed to be preparing for her college entrance exams, but her studies are interrupted by a weird form of narcolepsy in which she dreams of Heartland, a futuristic world ruled by a stubborn king. There, citizens toil endlessly on car manufacturing, all of them terrified by the threat of a monstrous colossus bent on destroying them all.

In Kokone’s waking life, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are about to begin. It becomes apparent that her depressed, widowed mechanic father has some shady connection with his corrupt former bosses—something to do with the all-important code for the creation of self-driving vehicles. Poor old dad lands himself in trouble, robots and missing tablets come into play, and it’s up to Kokone to lend a hand as time runs out.

When it comes to its real-world segments, The Napping Princess has a keenly observed, diverting charm. But all that dream stuff is a too-heavy conceptual load that, instead of lifting the film into sci-fi heaven, bogs it down with formulaic mundanity. Additionally weighing proceedings down are our heroine’s two obnoxiously cute companions: an animated, stuffed bear inherited from her late mother and a Transformer-like motorcycle from Papa.

Just when you’re about to become really engaged with Kokone’s story, here comes another fiery encounter with that colossus or a distuptively precocious moment with a damn talking toy that you’d love to unplug and trash if you only could. Full of worthy and engaging girl power (Kokone’s mother was a genius computer programmer and innovative executive) and satirical commentary about Japan’s moribund auto industry, The Napping Princess nonetheless travels a bumpy road indeed.

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