‘Nimona’ Is A Powerful And Refreshing Animated Adventure With Timely Thematic Layers – Review
Annapurna and Netflix knew that Blue Sky Studio’s Nimona was worth investing in, and with a year of stellar animated features, their belief has been justified, as the fantastical animated feature proves to be a real winner. Based on ND Stevenson’s graphic novel, Nimona balances many themes and is unafraid to present a not-so-subtle allegorical tale based on real-world issues.
The film opens with a classic retelling of a legendary tale from this prototypical world of dragons, knights and mythical figures. Gloreth, the iconic founder of the kingdom, ordained an elite force of knights whose descendants carry on the tradition of protecting the people from dangerous monsters. The film takes its first major turn when a thousand years pass, and instead of a medieval world that one may have assumed would be the setting, we have a futuristic fusion of fantasy and sci-fi staples. There are hover-craft carriages and enormous LED screens at every street corner alongside ancient stone buildings. The setting is one of the film’s best aspects, with exciting modern twists on traditional fairy tale tropes.
The story centers around Sir Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), the first commoner selected to the institute of knights, and his unlikely friendship with the shape-shifting, mayhem magnet, Nimona. Ballister finds himself the most wanted man in the realm after he was framed for the killing of the Queen and is now an outcast forced to return to the impoverished side of town. Here we meet, Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young girl whose affinity for chaos knows no bounds and is eager to make a friend of this fellow castaway. Nimona represents an eye-opening figure for Ballister, who insists that he will be welcomed back as soon as his name is cleared and doesn’t see the failures of the institute, which has always radically discriminated against outsiders. A significant part of Ballister’s misplaced faith in the knights is his relationship with the most famous knight in the kingdom, Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), a direct descendant of Gloreth and, more importantly, his partner. This push and pull between Nimona’s revelations on the uglier side of the crown and Goldenloin’s connection to Ballister present a rich tale filled with countless relevant themes.
On the surface, with Ballister’s commoner background set up from the beginning, the initial theme appears to be on class and the never-ending uphill battle the poor must face receiving the scraps of the privileged. Although that is undoubtedly the case, the film dives deeper into Nimona’s character. The reveal that she is a magical being (or how this world describes her, a “monster”) quickly shows the immense hatred that comes her way simply for being who she is. Her eccentric personality and enjoyment of aggressive music only scratch the surface of her outsider-like qualities. She reveals that she feels more comfortable shape-shifting and finds it challenging to remain in her “normal looking” state, even though it is deemed as more acceptable for other people. Nimona is clearly a queer presenting character, and the film centers the allegorical story around the bizarre and unfounded discrimination currently faced by the queer community.
The movie’s villain only emphasizes this theme, with love for “the way things have always been” and reverence more for tradition than for people. The “protection” from monsters is an easy way to fearmonger anything deemed different. Nimona’s endearing attributes shine increasingly as the film dives deeper into this prejudiced society. This is where directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane delivered their best work. The setting, characters, and world-building all favour this message. The film expertly peels back the layers of discrimination this kingdom was built on. It delivers a powerful breakdown of how forced conflict aimed at amplifying people’s hatred is a dangerous system to live by. Nimona breaks this down to Ballister in a devastating manner – “Kids. Little kids. They grow up believing they can be a hero if they drive a sword into the heart of anything different.” The phrasing is crushing and exceedingly becomes more and more pertinent as we reach the third act. The film stirringly explores this relevant sentiment in a heartfelt and compelling manner.
Nimona does have its shaky moments with some overstuffed action scenes and a slow set-up of Nimona’s character, but the strong voice in the movie overshadows its flaws. The detail is placed on the emotion much more than any comedic or action sequence. The core message of the movie is handled with thought and care.
Annapurna and Netflix put their faith in Blue Sky Studios and the talent behind the scenes to deliver a stand-out animated original in an already stacked year. That belief in the film paid off, with a genuine, refreshing animated movie that distinguishes itself with its blunt approach to its themes. The film embraces its boldness with a matter-of-fact attitude towards topics currently grabbing headlines and dividing people. This distinction makes it an incredible experience for animation fans looking for something different. Regardless of your relationship with animation, give this one a shot. It’s definitely a film worth seeking out.