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Nimona (Film Review)

3 min read

was initially announced in 2015 as a 20th Century Animation production, adapting the graphic novel of the same name. When Disney acquired Fox, it was cancelled and just sort of forgotten about for a long time – without a huge pre-existing fanbase to kick up much of a fuss on its behalf. Eight years later, Nimona has finally been released straight to by way of Annapurna Pictures rescuing it from purgatory.

The story is pretty chaotic on its surface, but has an impressive amount of charm going on just underneath it. The first character we meet is Ballister Boldheart (voiced by ), a commoner who's just about to become a knight. He's instantly likeable – he's humble, soft-spoken, and craves the reassurance of his loving partner, Ambrosius Goldenloin voiced by Edward Lee Yang. His knighting ceremony goes surprisingly well, and his heart is flash filled with joy as the spectating crowd cheers his name. At his highest moment, it all goes wrong when a mysterious laser shoots from his sword, killing Queen Valerin (voiced by Lorraine Toussaint).

Despite knowing that what happened was likely not the fault of his partner, Ambrosius is forced by the kingdom to cut Ballister's right arm off as a punishment. Bearing in mind this all happens within the first ten or so minutes, it's a bit overwhelming. But it keeps going.

Through some slickly animated expositional news reports, we learn that Ballister has gone into hiding. Watching the news reports is Nimona herself, voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz. Initially, she presents as a young girl, but we quickly learn that she's some kind of shapeshifting entity. She appears to have some kind of obsession with Ballister and immediately forces her way into his life by finding exactly where he's in hiding and just… Knocking on the door. And he just answers it, to make the situation even more baffling.

That aside, there is something very sweet, and very endearing, below all of the fluff that doesn't quite make sense. After some humourous back and forth about who Nimona is and how she found Ballister, the two of them agree to work together to clear his name. There are situations where Nimona chooses to present in a way that makes their mission a bit harder than it needs to be. An example is when she's on a subway train, taking up space and drawing attention as a big pink gorilla. When Ballister questions why she wouldn't just present as a young girl to make things easier, the suggestion doesn't make sense because, at that moment in time, that isn't who she is. It's a gentle representation of self-identification packaged in an absurd aesthetic, and it becomes something meaningful as a result of it.

On the topic of absurd aesthetics, though, the chaos doesn't start or end with just the story – Nimona is visually a smorgasbord of ideas and influences from anywhere and everywhere. The animation style is unique in a way, but it's also derivative of a lot of what we've seen before. It's as if there was a slider available with traditional Disney at one extreme and modern Pixar at the other, and what we ended up with is the preset that sits right in the middle. It isn't overtly one or the other, but there's enough clear influence of both styles that it hinders just how new any of it feels.

Then there's the world itself. There are establishing shots that recreate parts of Blade Runner, shapeshifting scenes that aren't a million miles away from Turning Red, and arena pans that are suspiciously reminiscent of Space Jam. The list could go on, but it's all to serve the idea at the centre of it all –  to take medieval cultural cues and recontextualise them as something that can be futuristic. It does work, to be fair. There's a genuine sense of wonder and fantasy that comes from it for sure. But it is a lot to process, especially when everything else is so chaotic too.

Where Nimona works best is at the soft centre that a messy and overwhelming exterior almost hides. There's genuine meaning to it all, but it takes an open mind and a serious suspension of disbelief to find it. At all points, though, the good comes with the bad, and the former is usually just about enough to outweigh the latter.

Nimona is now streaming on Netflix