Premiering on Netflix June 30th, ‘Nimona’ represents a film that almost never made it to screens, but one that you should be very glad did survive the machinations of studio takeovers.
Originally developed at 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky arm, the movie was roughly 75% complete when Disney bought Fox and effectively consigned Blue Sky to cinematic history. ‘Nimona’ looked to be going along with it, before being rescued by Annapurna Animation and, following a deal, Netflix.
If there’s one regret from that decision, it’s that audiences really won’t have much chance to see it on the big screen, because ‘Nimona’ really deserves to be experienced in a huge theater with an appreciative crowd. Yet it’s good that the movie is coming out at all.
What’s the story of ‘Nimona’?
A thousand years ago, in a fantastical realm, a warrior named Gloreth defeated a monster. That has since passed into legend, upon which a new society of knights and warriors was built.
In the present day of this world –– imagine if Ridley Scott had made mashup of ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘Blade Runner’, where knights ride flying steeds and giant screens show news updates –– it’s one of the biggest days of the year, when new knights are knighted.
When Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), a knight who has risen from the streets and is still searching for acceptance is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the only one who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a mischievous teen with a taste for mayhem — who also happens to be a shapeshifting creature Ballister has been trained to destroy.
But with the entire kingdom out to get him, Nimona’s the best (or technically the only) sidekick Ballister can hope for. And as the lines between heroes, villains, and monsters start to blur, the two of them set out to wreak serious havoc: for Ballister to clear his name once and for all, and for Nimona to… just wreak serious havoc.
Who else is in ‘Nimona’?
The cast also includes Eugene Lee Yang as Ambrosius Goldenloin, Ballister’s fellow knight and true love, Lorraine Toussaint as Queen Valerin, Frances Conroy as The Director, who runs the knight training program, Beck Bennett as dumb, ambitious knight Sir Thoddeus Sureblade, RuPaul Charles as TV presenter Nate Knight and Julio Torres as Diego the Squire.
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One of the movie’s smartest moves – whether it was driven by budget concerns or not, was to largely skip the big-name actor voice cast in favor of people who just fit the roles. Beyond Ahmed, Moretz, Conroy and Bennett (who is a ‘Saturday Night Live’ veteran), most of the cast vanish into their characters, which helps you focus on the story.
Ahmed, of course, is excellent as Ballister, by turns driven and funny, nervous and assured. And he plays well against Moretz, who is a bundle of energy as the title character, who harbors a broken heart inside her ebullient personality. Lee, meanwhile, handles the role of Ambrosius with sensitivity, and Bennet brings big bro energy to Thoddeus.
Writing and directing
Nick Bruno and Troy Quane are in the director’s chair for this one, and they bring the story to life with an assured touch. Working from a script by Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor, it’s an adventure that also has enough good jokes that the movie feels like it had the hand of Phil Lord and Chris Miller involved (it didn’t, so kudos to the team working on the movie).
‘Nimona’s tale rattles along at a good clip, and even when it does pause for necessary exposition, it delivers it in such a way as it doesn’t feel like the momentum grinds to a halt for a lecture. Ballister’s background in particular is conveyed in a manner that is entertaining rather than a chore.
Yet where ‘Nimona’ really scores are in its themes and messages, which are beautifully supported by its narrative. Ideas such as Ballister’s search for acceptance in a world where a kid from the streets can aspire to be knighted, only for the city folk to instantly turn against him. Nimona’s own quest to find a place where she isn’t treated with suspicion, fear and anger just because she’s considered different, and an overall feeling of state-imposed paranoia about the potential for monster attacks, when the real threat is coming from within those who are supposed to protect the populace. And in a pleasingly progressive stance, Ballister and Ambrosius’ relationship is treated without comment. Unlike, say, the recent ‘Elemental’, which took a decent stab at tackling immigration and star-crossed lovers, ‘Nimona’ does more with its subtext than most.
The look of Nimona
While it may not push the envelope in quite the same way as ‘Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse’, ‘Nimona’ does have plenty to recommend it on the animation front. It’s a compelling blend of 2D and 3D, giving real life to the characters and, at times, a painterly feel.
The characters pop, and when the big action finale kicks in, it keeps it visually interesting while never detracting from the heart of the tale.
And again, And unlike ‘Elemental’, which had an interesting, stylized city but suffered from comparisons to, say, ‘Zootopia’, ‘Nimona’s medieval tech look is superbly thought out –– there is a meticulous detail to the world that Ballister and Nimona inhabit. From posters and announcements pushing the message “if you see something, slay something” in the subways to the blend of screens and turrets, it’s completely engrossing.
There are, of course, the expected beats, but ‘Nimona’s team puts such a good spin on them that they go past easily. This is one of the best movies of the year, no matter the medium.
‘Nimona’ receives 9 out of 10 stars.
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To watch our interviews with the cast of ‘Nimona,’ please click on the video player below.