Netflix’s Nimona manages to mostly overcome an arduous production history to deliver an incredibly entertaining and moving tale, whilst providing plenty of great LGBTQ+ representation.
Nimona’s production history was a long and arduous one. An adaptation of the graphic novel of the same name, the film was originally a production of Blue Sky Studios, before the Disney-Fox merger, which resulted in Blue Sky being shut down in 2021, caused the film to be cancelled, with it being reportedly 75% complete at the time. A year later, the project was picked up by Annapurna Pictures, with Netflix set to release it in 2023, and so, here we are now, with Nimona finally seeing the light of day after all this time, and thank the lord for that. Although you can definitely see its rugged edges, Nimona truly feels like a step above the rest of its former production company’s catalogue, and is a brilliant animated adventure, not just for kids, but for everyone.
The film follows Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), a knight who, on the biggest day of his life, ends up being framed for a crime he didn’t commit. In order to prove his innocence, he’s forced to team up with Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a chaotic, slightly evil, shapeshifting teenager. The two make for an incredibly likeable partnership, and the film particularly shines during their exchanges. The script has a delightfully wicked sense of humour, which helps make the titular character a joy to watch propose crazy plan after crazy plan. Boldheart is a perfectly fine protagonist, who more so serves as a vehicle for the plot than as a fully fleshed-out character himself, though his relationship with Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang) helps massively in making his character far more engaging and interesting.
Potentially the biggest talking point about Nimona is its commitment to LGBTQ+ representation. It’s not content with simple subtle nods, or throwaway mentions, instead choosing to fully depict Boldheart and Goldenloin’s tragic relationship without shying away from any detail. There’s no sheepishness about anything, which is an incredibly welcome change from most family-oriented animated films, where we’re expected to cheer after simply hearing the word “gay” said in a positive light. The two aren’t even a particularly happy gay couple, with Goldenloin being part of the army sent to capture the two protagonists, but getting to see a genuine, well-written same-sex relationship take centre-stage in a major animated family film is a dream come true for many, and this film absolutely supplies that.
Thematically, the story is all about not judging a book by their cover, and making sure you actually make the effort to get to know someone, and it tells that moral in an incredibly moving and exciting way. There’s a particularly beautiful and emotional scene in the film’s third act which reminded me of that classic opening montage from Up (2009), and that might be some of the highest praise I can give to a film like this. It’s not just the emotional side of the narrative that works well, but simply as a piece of entertainment, it works well, filling itself with some incredibly fun action, largely in part thanks to Nimona’s shapeshifting abilities. She can become everything from a shark to Boldheart himself, and it allows for the action scenes to be more creative and unique than you’d expect.
Given all of its positives, it’s a shame then that there’s a constant sense of roughness to the whole film. Visually, it’s an odd one, seemingly caught between the simple style of the 2010s and the more stylised animation style that’s taking the 2020s by storm, and as a result, it just seems to lack imagination. Everything about it, from the characters themselves to the backgrounds, just feels cheap and unfinished, lacking any kind of polish or visual flair. It unfortunately does feel like a film that’s the result of a difficult production, with the end product just seeming uninspired visually, and then on top of that, just straight up not looking as well-made as some of Blue Sky’s prior films, such as The Peanuts Movie (2015) or Spies in Disguise (2019).
Again, you’d imagine a large part of that is due to the arduous production, but it does end up hurting the film, and I worry that in this time of audiences expecting more from their animation, that this genuinely great story will wind up being buried in the depths of Netflix’s catalogue simply due to its somewhat bland look. Especially for a film that manages to tell such a good LGBTQ+ love story in a genre that desperately needs them, it’s a real shame to feel like it’s doomed for obscurity. Hopefully though, this won’t be the case, and audiences will gravitate towards Nimona’s many, many positives, like its moving script, great vocal performances and fantastic pacing. Simply put, everyone should watch this.
Nimona will be available to watch on Netflix from June 30, 2023.