Somewhere in Dreamland: My Favorite Cartoon of All Time and How It Portrays Childhood Poverty

Courtesy of Max Fleischer.

When I was a little kid, I used to watch old cartoons all the time (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this in a previous entry.). As a matter of fact, I had several DVDs of these old-cartoons compilations. Some I had at my mother’s house, and others I had at my father’s house. I had plenty of favorites to re-watch over and over again, but one cartoon that has stuck with me for good is 1936’s Somewhere in Dreamland.

Produced by animation legend Max Fleischer, Somewhere in Dreamland is his first cartoon to be animated in three-strip Technicolor. It’s also been available on several compilation DVDs and VHS tapes as well as being aired on TV several times. The reason as to why this cartoon has stuck with me since my first viewing of it, however, is the plot and how it portrays childhood poverty.

The cartoon starts off in the Great Depression with two young children collecting firewood for the week. They pass by a tailor, a baker, and a toy maker. Naturally, being kids, they stare with wonder at the baked goods and fun toys. All three men notice the children working hard and staring wistfully at the baked goods and toys, and they want to reward them in one way or another. The baker even tries to give the kids ice cream cones. However, the kids are gone by the time the men try to give them some treats. The three men then agree to reward the kids at their home the next day.

At home, the kids meet up with their mother, who gives them an empty dinner of hard bread and flat water. The house is wooden and bare, with barely anything in it to give it personality. The kitchen table is especially devoid of any decoration, and the bread is too hard to chew on by itself. The children solve this problem by dunking their bread into their water. That way, they finish their bread, crumbs included. However, it’s not enough. To quote the little boy-

“But I’m still hungry, Mom!”

The mother doesn’t yell at the boy or scold him for being ungrateful. She starts crying. She’s not angry at the boy for being selfish; he’s a child. Children are naturally selfish. No, she’s torn up because, despite everyone’s best efforts, she can’t provide enough for her children. I’ll let you in on a little secret — I grew up in grave poverty as a young child. Both of my parents could barely pay their bills and groceries to survive. And, when I see this cartoon mother cry, I can imagine the pain my parents must’ve gone through when they felt they couldn’t provide enough for me and my sister. The whole point of being a parent is providing the best opportunities for your children, and when you can’t do that, you feel awful about it — like you’ve failed not just as your job as a parent, but at life itself.

And of course, like every other child living in poverty, the little boy sees the pain the mother’s going through and says, “Ah, I’m just foolin’.” Naturally, he’s not fooling, but he doesn’t want his mother to feel even worse for not providing enough for her children. Even as a young child, he knows his mother feels bad for not being able to provide enough for him and his sister. And that’s how a lot of children growing up in poverty feel, myself included. Of course we want more food, but we know our families are trying their best and that sometimes, their best isn’t good enough.

After dinner, the children go to bed, each getting a kiss on the cheek from their mother. They go to their beds, which are dirty and had raggedy blankets on them. Their white nightgowns are also raggedy with holes in them. Right before they go to sleep, they sing a song to each other — the title of the cartoon.

“I’ll see you somewhere in Dreamland —

Somewhere in Dreamland tonight.

Over a bridge made of moonbeams.

We’ll find our clouds are silver lined.

Each little star is a castle —

Shining a welcome so bright.

Dreams will come true for me and you —

Somewhere in Dreamland tonight.”

Then they fall asleep and dream. They float in the air and skip in their to the titular Dreamland, where everything a child can dream of is there. Nice clothes, a syrup river, ice cream, an animal cracker carousel where you can grab doughnuts, a popcorn field, fun toys, comfortable beds — you name it. Naturally, the kids are ecstatic about all of these and have the time of their lives in Dreamland.

Alas, it was only just a dream. Their mother’s voice wakes them up, and, as they look around their bare and dirty room, the children are disappointed at the reality they live in. That is…until they notice something in the kitchen — lots of something. Food — delicious food just like they had been ogling at in the beginning of the cartoon and just like the food in their dream. Standing besides the doorway are the mother, the baker, the toy maker, and the tailor.

Naturally, the kids are excited and rush into the kitchen while wondering if this, too, is a dream. They ask the adults if what’s on the table is really for them, to which they answer, “All for you.” Upon hearing this, the chidren scream wildly in glee as they zip to the table and gorge on all the baked goods and sweets they could. While eating, the young boy still wonders if this is just a dream, so he pokes himself in the butt with a fork. Nope, it’s all real. The children laugh as they continue eating the good food.

Now, much like these kids and many other kids growing up in poverty, I also had fantasies about being in a Dreamland where I could indulge on all the sweets and toys I could imagine. I couldn’t afford those things otherwise, so how else was I going to experience them? And growing up during the Great Depression like those children must’ve made things a lot worse for them. They work hard collecting firewood to keep warm, and their mother slaves away just to keep a roof over their heads and food in their stomachs. Yet, it’s still not enough for them.

However, not all of us got rewarded with loads of sweets for working hard like those kids. I barely even had to lift a finger, and I feel so selfish because of that. And my mother certainly worked hard at all her jobs just to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs. My mother would literally starve herself before letting either me or my sister starve. And I know my mother was stressed over the lack of money, especially when she was unemployed looking for another job. I’ve heard her woes, and she’s opened up to me and my sister about them. So, I can easily see myself in those kids, and I imagine that plenty of other kids see themselves in those kids, too.

With the way the current economy is going right now (as of this article’s publication), we may not be in a depression, but we certainly aren’t doing that well, either. If more kids saw this cartoon, they might see themselves as those kids, too. I heard that MeTV aired this cartoon on Christmas in 2021, and plenty of other people show this cartoon to their children to appreciate what they have right now. And I can see where they’re coming from. Things can be better right now, but things could also be a whole lot worse. And, like the kids in the Great Depression, I hope that the kids today can pull themselves through to witness better times and get rewarded for their hard work — just like the kids in the cartoon.

Dreams will come true for me and you — somewhere in Dreamland tonight~!

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Emily Alexandra

Emily Alexandra

Just some autistic person wanting to write and write. I also like to draw and have a cat and dog that are my life. I publish on 8th, 18th, and 28th every month.