A film adaptation of Nimona has been in gestation for quite a long time before it landed at Netflix. Originally a science fantasy graphic novel by ND Stevenson, an animated film was announced by 20th Century Animation all the way back in 2015. With an initial release date of 2020, the film was ultimately canceled after Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century Fox and the subsequent closure of Blue Sky Studios. The studio that gave the world Ice Age, Rio, and Horton Hears A Who! almost brought to life the story of shapeshifter Nimona and her adventures with Ballister Blackheart, but alas it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, Annapurna Pictures, who produced films such as Hustlers, Zero Dark Thirty, and Booksmart, saw the potential of Nimona. Reviving the project, along with DNEG Animation, the studio set out adapt this story of acceptance. Directed by Nick Bruno (Ice Age: The Meltdown, Epic, Rio 1 and 2) and Troy Quane (Enchanted, Hotel Transylvania) and a story from Robert L Baird (Big Hero 6, Monsters University) and Lloyd Taylor (Spies in Disguise), Nimona has a ton animated experience behind the scenes. This film is one of my favorite animated movies of 2023, but is Nimona for you and your family? Continue on to find out.
[Warning: light spoilers and impressions from Netflix’s Nimona are below!]
Setting the stage for a technologically advanced medieval world
Nimona starts off like so many children’s films do, with a bit of fairy tale exposition. The voice-over tells the story of a monster a thousand years in the past and the knights created to rid the world of its evil. But that’s just a fairy tale, right? Perhaps, but it’s a story that is still at the core of Nimona and the society painted across the film.
Society has become a weird mix of Bladerunner and King Arthur and The Round Table. The kingdom we see from the start has advanced beyond even ours, with floating vehicles and screens everywhere. Think Times Square but in a world where technology has advanced society incredibly so. However, weaved into that is still a world where knights are still ever present. Their armor is still made of metal and they still wield swords and some ride horses. And yet, these traditional medieval pieces are also infused with some technological upgrades.
This amalgamation of medieval and technology took a moment to get used to, but by the time the story begins, it doesn’t seem so odd. If you can buy into the mix of old and new in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, then Nimona isn’t much different.
Ballister Blackheart is a knight on the run
In the present-day utopia, Ballister Blackheart (Riz Ahmed) is the knight that everyone wants to be. Raised as an outsider, Ballister fought his way through the ranks to be the best knight in the kingdom. However, some distrust him, seeing that he wasn’t born into the ranks in which he’s attempting to break into.
That distrust spreads like wildfire when Ballister’s framed for a crime that he didn’t commit. No one seems to believe him, including his love Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), who becomes caught in the middle between duty and love. The hunt begins for Ballister, who takes on the task of clearing his name.
Thankfully, he won’t be doing this alone, although he may wish he was. Joining him is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a slightly deranged individual looking for a villain to be a sidekick for. She has an insane amount of bloodlust, which makes Ballister uncomfortable many times throughout the film. Oh yeah, she’s also a shapeshifter, being able to change into both animals and humans at will.
Together, the two begrudgingly work together to clear Ballister’s name, finding out who’s responsible for the crime he was accused of.
The good and bad of Nimona
When asked if I would screen and review Nimona, I knew almost nothing about the film. Fellow writer Vin seemed rather excited about the film, but the development and subsequent advertisement seemed to escape me. That being said, I went into Nimona with no preconceived notions and I’m so glad I had a clean slate in which to take in this film.
The story above anything else deserves the most praise. While Nimona has a typical story of heroes on a quest, Baird and Taylor used this story to share something deeper. At its core, this film is about feeling lost in a sea of people who don’t understand you. To me, as a gay man, I understand that perfectly and it felt like Nimona was written for individuals like me. However, anyone who has ever felt disenfranchised can relate to that message, a message that Nimona delivers perfectly without beating you over the head. The story delivers some beautiful and heartbreaking moments, cementing the story as something spectacular.
I also love how blatant the LGBTQ+ representation in the film is. Ballister Blackheart is in a same-sex relationship with Ambrosius Goldenloin and no one bats an eye. While the entire film is an allegory for acceptance specifically in the LGBTQ+, there wasn’t a moment where Blackhearts and Goldenloin’s relationship is discounted because they are both men. Normalizing this representation in films is so important, so I hope this pattern continues in other animated works.
Chloë Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed are amazing as Nimona and Ballister respectively. Moretz is hilarious as the murderous Nimona, portraying a reluctant hero who is just ever so slightly off her rocker. Nimona also has the most growth in this film, one that sees her hitting rock bottom and building herself back up. Ahmed’s Ballister also grows a lot, from the annoyed hero who fails to understand Nimona, to someone who sees past his fear of the unknown and embraces another as his family. These two build a strong emotional core for the film, leading to one of the best climatic scenes from recent years.
The one downside for me was the animation style, which took a while to get used to. At times it’s reminiscent of Netflix’s Carmen Sandiego, which is okay animation but not great. That being said, there are moments where the animation was strong, leading to a feeling of inconsistency between scenes. The animation style eventually grows on you, within the first half of the film, and can be easily overlooked for the sake of the story. I don’t think anyone is going to walk away thinking the animation is mindblowing, but it gets the job done, allowing the story to speak for itself.
Overall Nimona is easily one of my favorite animated films of the year, perhaps even the past couple of years. Seeing that it’s coming to Netflix, watching Nimona with your family is a no-brainer. There’s plenty of action and jokes to entertain the pickiest of viewers, with a strong story in which to enjoy. So don’t sleep on Nimona, watch as soon as you can when it arrives on Netflix.
My rating for this film:
★★★★ / ♥♥♥♥♥
Nimona arrives on Netflix on June 30th. Will you be checking it out? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.