No shade at all on Flip… We just love a 4-legged sidekick!
Many of us have something like it: a stuffed animal or blanket from childhood that, for some reason, just stuck. The stuffed animal went with you through so much that losing it would hurt or feel like you’re losing something valuable. For some, it’s a vintage Simba puppet from the release of 1994’s The Lion King, and for others, it’s a blanket their Grandmother made them. For Nemo, in Slumberland, it’s her stuffed pig, Pig. Pig initially starts as a stuffed “lovey” she brings to bed, but as the adventures of Slumberland unfold, Pig becomes reminiscent of a beloved pet. It’s unclear where Nemo (Marlow Barkley) got Pig, but one can only assume that it was a gift given or made by her father, Peter (Kyle Chandler, of Manchester by the Sea). Pig has buttons for eyes and a little heart stitched into his back. Throughout the movie, he hangs out in Nemo’s backpack or alongside Nemo’s heels. Pig is adorably clumsy, often tripping or getting stuck in snow face-first.
Slumberland follows a grieving Nemo into the dream world, searching for a way to see her father again. Through a series of mishaps, she makes new friends while walking through dreams and nightmares, and learns to create relationships in the waking world. Slumberland first appears to be a sort of treasure hunt in the dream world, but it proves itself to be about forgiveness, letting go, and facing your real-world fears. While applicable to adults, the story is told chiefly through Nemo’s 11-year-old eyes and impresses the importance of holding onto your inner child. If looked at through the eyes of an adult, Slumberland may be a figment of Nemo’s imagination that mirrors her inner desire for the security that is her father. Pig is then a representation of that time which has now passed, a reminder of moments in her life with more certainty than she currently has.
Nemo is not the only one who loves Pig; the Internet has spoken, and Pig is unequivocally the fan favorite, with fans running the Netflix store out of stock of the lovable plush sidekick. Pig is far from pop culture’s first manifestation of a live stuffed animal, with famous characters coming to life in timeless tales like Winnie the Pooh or The Velveteen Rabbit. What is it that is so captivating about a stuffed pig or any other stuffed animal? The answer has more to do with childhood development.
Our Inner Children Needed Pig
At the beginning of Slumberland, Nemo is seen with Pig, but chooses not to sleep with him, feeling that she is getting too old, stating “I am 11.” Her father accepts it as a rite of passage, a moment that all children must go through when they decide to stop sleeping with the stuffed animals of their early childhood. Later, after her father passes away, she does not waste of moment of sleep without Pig, even before she first arrives in Slumberland. Pig is the first embodiment of Slumberland that Nemo sees coming to life.
Renowned child psychologist Donald Winnicott discovered that children with stuffed animals or some other object like a blanket tend to be happier and feel more secure. There are many reasons why children love stuffed animals, but the most prominent can be summed up with a few significant findings. First, they’re stimulating because their characteristics are noticeable to children; in Pig’s case, his button eyes or heart stitch. Over time, even their doll or blanket’s smell is distinct to children and cannot be replaced or washed. They also mimic humans’ happy expressions, like smiling. Next, these objects tend to be soft, and that texture is soothing. Pig has all of these qualities by being stitched with a smile and plush, snuggly form. Finally, it is a reminder of their parent’s love.
For Nemo, the love for Pig seems to give her some sense of security in a scary, new world. From being raised “like a hermit” at her father’s lighthouse to a city, attending school for the first time must be unsettling. She is around children her age for the first time and enrolled in a highly technical school. The transition is also complicated by the fact that she had never met her Uncle Phillip (Chris O’Dowd), who is trying to learn to be a proper parent and mourning the loss of his estranged brother all at once. With the help of Nemo and Pig, his long-lost imagination and sense of adventure return.
Pig is a Pet
What makes Pig and many of our childhood stuffed animals lovable is that for kids, if they use their imagination enough, their stuffed animals become like a pet. Throughout Slumberland, Pig follows and protects Nemo, even when hanging out in her backpack. Pig is as loyal as a family pet but can go where a real-world pet can’t by going into Slumberland with Nemo and her new adventure buddy, Flip (Aquaman’s Jason Momoa). Pig also behaves similarly to our pets by displaying apprehension about specific people or parts of the adventure. Pets can be great judges of character, and so is Pig.
Here in the real world, Pig tugs at your heart like your family dog or cat (or, in Jason Momoa’s case, an actual pet boar) for reasons beyond security. Pig holds the same innocence and love for Nemo. Nemo is Pig’s whole world, and Pig would go to the waking world or Slumberland’s end with her. Pig is a “good pig,” as Agent Green (Weruche Opia) says, and she’s right; not just because Pig got a couple of extra pearls from the Sea of Nightmares but because no matter what, Pig has Nemo’s back (literally, since Pig spends so much time in Nemo’s backpack). If our pets could do half the things Pig does in Slumberland, they would. Pets provide unconditional love, just like Pig does.
Our stuffed animals or baby blankets are reminders of a parent’s love. As adults get older, and places like Slumberland get further away, it’s nice to remember when living our dreams was so easy. Ultimately, we love reminders of our childhood and loyal animals that love us right back, despite our flaws. Pig is precisely that and adorable to boot.
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