It’s a shame that most audiences will not get a chance to see Nimona on the big screen. It deserves to be witnessed this way. The movie, which was saved by Netflix and Annapurna in 2022; after Disney permanently shelved the project with the closure of Blue Sky Animation Studios, is an absolute feast for the eyes and ears. It beautifully meshes fantasy/medieval action with the futuristic look and feel of a Cyberpunk flick. Words can’t describe how stunning the movie is – you’ll have to see it yourself. However, by not giving Nimona the proper theatrical release it deserves; most audiences will not be able to see it in all of its glory. Hell, it could even give Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse a run for its money when it comes to its artistry, themes, action sequences, and physical comedy.
Nimona starts as a rather simple game of cat-and-mouse between Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) and the town’s Institution after he is framed for having killed Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaint) in front of the entire town. In an attempt to save the Queen’s life, his boyfriend, Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), chops Ballister’s arm and is quickly targeted by The Director (Frances Conroy) for the Queen’s death. Of course, he didn’t do it and has been set up. The movie follows him as he tries to prove his innocence. During this time, he meets Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), who wants to become Ballister’s sidekick. She’s quite annoying initially; but she proves useful when she turns into a Rhino, a horse, a mouse, Ballister himself, and…a whale. Oh yes, a whale. Massive hilarity ensues, and that’s where the film kicks into gear.
Nimona‘s First Half is Eye-Popping and Continuously Imaginative
The game of cat-and-mouse itself is tons of fun. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane (who previously helmed Blue Sky’s Spies in Disguise) take full advantage of the shapeshifting framing device. They use it to exploit all types of different animals (and humans) that Nimona turns herself into. I’ve revealed a couple of forms in which Nimona transforms herself, but one in particular during an extended chase scene at a market had me in stitches for a long time, even after the sequence passed.
The action is incredibly fast-paced and energetic: there isn’t a single moment wasted in any of the scenes; it’s all beautifully animated and masterfully timed. I was worried that the physical comedy would get tiresome, particularly with Nimona’s powers, but it grew to be more hilarious and engaging than I imagined. It looks great on a 4K TV, but it never ceases to amaze on the big screen.
Ahmed and Moretz have incredible chemistry together. They are not equals, but the way Bruno, Quane, and screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor pair them throughout the movie ensures that their relationship will evolve in a poignant and engaging way. They learn about themselves more when they’re each other than when they are apart. It’s what makes the core of Nimona so great, and it’s part of the reason why critics are currently raving about it.
The supporting cast is also terrific. Beck Bennett is a notable highlight as Sir Thaddeus Sureblade, an overzealous knight who thinks he knows everything and is the best in the game. Most of the other cast members are frequently underused. Particularly Conroy and Toussaint, who don’t have much to do in their respective roles. Conroy’s arc is also a tad disappointing and riddled with clichés, which is about the only unfortunate part of this movie.
Nimona Isn’t Afraid of Pushing Boundaries and Craft a Strong Emotional Core
Disney decided to cancel the movie because it received pushback from the studio due to its LGBTQ+ themes; like representation, and a scene featuring two male characters kissing. As much as Disney likes to brag about having queer characters in their movies, most of their representation amounts to a kiss on the forehead or a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment or line that can be easily censored for China. That’s not boundary-pushing, and the number of times they’ve said they have a “first openly gay character” feels more than ridiculous at this point because they’ve never once nailed it.
Nimona’s queer representation is special because no one in the cast questions Ballister’s love for Ambrosius. They’ve always loved each other, and they’re always going to love each other. They never make a big deal out of it – it’s just there, and everyone in the kingdom accepts it. That’s what all LGBTQ+ representation should strive to achieve in mainstream cinema. And throwing in the kiss was good, too – it doesn’t last very long, but it does so much more for queer representation than any Disney movie ever dreamed of.
As the movie progresses, it becomes far more complex than it initially presented itself. The action is more elaborate and less comedic, but it packs a surprising emotional punch I never saw coming. A good animated movie only entertains. It contains stunning animation, decently-crafted action scenes, fun characters, and a decent enough message to ride home about. A great animated movie does all that and then some. They elevate its material through a strong emotional core and an expressive finale that blends all types of animation styles to hammer its emotions home. I won’t dare spoil a thing, but I’ll leave it at that.
In my Elemental and Pixar piece, I’ve mentioned that I find animated movies to grow stale as of late and the current state of animation to be largely dour. Nimona is a once-in-a-blue-moon animated miracle. It’s got a terrific cast giving masterful vocal turns, eye-popping animation, terrifically staged action sequences, and a heart so big you’re going to want to wrap it around yourself and give it the biggest possible hug. If you’ve seen Across the Spider-Verse and are looking for the next big thing in animation, it won’t be Elemental. It’s Nimona. Netflix may not be total pioneers in animation yet, but they’ve absolutely done so much for the medium. At the same time, other studios scoff at the idea of a complex and thoughtful animated movie. There’s never going to be another animated movie like Nimona (unless a sequel gets made. Please). Support it.
Nimona releases on Netflix on June 30.
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