We review Netflix’s animated adaptation of ND Stevenson’s classic fantasy graphic novel Nimona, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, and more!
PLOT: After an ostracized knight in a futuristic, medieval world is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the only one who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona – a mischievous teen who’s also the shape-shifting creature he’s sworn to destroy.
REVIEW: After years of hard work, uncertainty, multiple delays, and a damning cancellation by the Walt Disney Company, Nimona is ready to dazzle audiences with a stunningly animated adventure about defying expectations, exploration of self, acceptance, and the limitless potential of love and friendship. After being canceled by Disney and resurrected by Annapurna and Netflix, Nimona‘s arrival on the small screen is a cause for celebration. Both a triumph of animation and heart, Nimona delivers a story as powerful as its title character for a film that deserves to be seen by everyone.
For the sake of full disclosure, I’ve been a Nimona fan since the first print of ND Stevenson’s powerful graphic novel in 2015. I’ve given the book as a gift during holidays on multiple occasions and the top prize during an annual end-of-year comics awards ceremony. I’ve loved Nimona for years, making me uniquely qualified to analyze the film adaptation after several years of touch-and-go production. Would it live up to my expectations? Will changes to the story and characters alter the impact of the experience? Can a character I hold in the highest regard leap from the printed page to the screen and retain what makes them unique? I’m thrilled to say Nimona exceeded all my expectations, securing a place among my favorite animated films of the past decade.
Set in a futuristic, medieval world that feels like The Princess Bride is holding hands with Blade Runner 2049, Nimona invites audiences into a kingdom unlike any other. Seemingly trapped between two eras, the Kingdom is a bustling, vibrant playground for Nimona to terrorize as they shape-shift into a menagerie of different animals in service of their friend and boss, Ballister Boldheart.
When the film begins, our introduction to Ballister depicts a man loyal to the Kingdom but plagued by his heritage. Despite his best efforts, the Kingdom views Ballister as an outsider unworthy of pledging allegiance to the Queen. Riz Ahmed delivers an inspiring performance as Ballister, with his voice embodying someone whose sense of duty outweighs the incessant heckling of his peers. Like Nimona, Ballister is a pariah, and Ahmed’s voice work brings the character’s sense of expectation and longing to a man with complex emotions. Be it his disbelief when fate finds him on the run after a terrible accident or as a lover whose partner stands at a crossroads when things go awry, Ahmed becomes a savior of the kingdom worth rooting for.
Ready and willing to aid Ballister in the fight to reclaim his reputation as someone worthy of the Queen’s blessing is Nimona, a buzzing, unhinged whirlwind with the ability to shape-shift into any creature known to humankind. Chloë Grace Moretz goes all out for this golden role. Meeting Nimona’s boundless energy and then exceeding it with the power of a teen high on too many pouches of Fun Dip, Moretz rides an emotional roller coaster throughout her spirited performance. At a glance, Nimona is overflowing with a playful antagonism toward the citizens of the Kingdom. However, beneath her rage and vigor is someone who’s spent their entire life misunderstood while seeking acceptance. People fear what they do not understand, and Moretz takes the form of someone who desperately wants to love while also being capable of unleashing untold destruction.
Trapped between loyalty to his new Queen and desire to hold Ballister close is Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin, a natural leader and respected hero of the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. Eugene Lee Yang owns the role with sincerity and conviction as a lover and warrior caught between protecting the citizens of the Kingdom against an impossible threat and seeing through a deception thrust upon the man he loves. I could hear Goldenloin’s heartbreak and frustration as Ballister’s opportunity for acceptance was snatched away by an insidious plot, a credit to Yang’s versatility as a gifted actor.
The relationship between Goldenloin and Boldheart, too, is a point of both note and interest. It is more firmly established in the movie than in the source material and normalized in a positively delightful way. Sensing that Disney doesn’t have the stones to represent the LGBTQA+ community in ways that move the needle, Nimona is better served by finding a home with Netflix/Annapurna.
While Nimona explodes with breathtaking action, intelligent observations about subservience, and animated sequences that represent the best of what modern animation has to offer, the partnership between Nimoma and Ballister Boldheart is the glue that holds everything together. Both outcasts, Nimona and Boldheart, develop an endearing bond throughout the film, ultimately leading to the presentation’s most gratifying display of affection. Their bond carries a powerful message of understanding as they evolve from an unlikely duo to friends as thick as thieves.
Discussing Nimona without drawing attention to the film’s directors, Nick Bruno and Troy Quane is impossible. The duo met the difficult task of taking the movie over head-on, directing dynamic camera movements, quiet moments of reflection, and epic displays of fantasy action on par with Netflix’s Arcane or Disney’s Big Hero 6. A fun and bubbly soundtrack accompanies the film’s outstanding technical prowess, while the score from Christophe Beck gives the adventure an overwhelming sense of grandiosity.
Everything about the Nimona movie adaptation feels well-earned. The changes to the story meet the needs of the medium, serve the narrative and the characters well, and feel fluid and natural. The character chemistry is brilliant in script and casting, and the dialogue is hilarious. I burst out laughing for what felt like most of the film, drinking in Nimona’s dry wit, chaotic goblin energy, and ceaseless snark. The story is an incredible distillation of the exploration of fluid identity and what happens to our humanity when we trade critical thinking for the comfort of faith in our leadership. While animated films like Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse and The Super Mario Bros. Movie are likely to get all the glory this year, Nimona is a glittering gem in an ornate crown forged from the cast and crew’s tenacity, faith in Steveson’s brilliant blueprint, and a desire to bring something honest and new to the animation stage.
Originally published at https://www.joblo.com/nimona-movie-review/