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Nimona Was Destined For Success From Its Trailer
Nimona hit the media landscape with such explosive power that avoiding spoilers was difficult. A stylized, bombastic, irreverent sci-fi fantasy mashup with an animation style reminiscent of Spider-Verse and Puss in Boots: The Last Wish has become a winning combination, practically guaranteed to get the attention of the critic community, and I’m no different. The question of Nimona was when I would review it, not if I would.
And, as expected, the movie was a ton of fun. The scenes from the trailers, despite me having seen them a few times, were even more entertaining with full context. Turning into an ostrich to evade guards and then a whale to act as a battering ram is exactly the thing animation is made to depict. Scenes like that are all over the movie and never cease to be kinetic and entertaining.
But the marketing didn’t reveal all there was to know. It’s actually a very different movie than anything I’ve seen recently. Nimona is dancing along a tonal line, and one half of that tone sometimes doesn’t work—and sometimes the other half made my eyes widen as I realized this story has a lot more interesting and potent storytelling avenues to explore than the premise implied. To say Nimona is a film with a lot on its mind is to put it lightly.
The Movie Has A Lot To Say About A Lot Of Topics
What I mean is that Nimona is devastating. It’s morbid. It’s emotionally complex. The humor and fun are there perhaps to lessen the impact of the other scenes. By necessity, I will spoil parts of the film because it’s difficult to even talk about the most interesting aspects while remaining vague. And if that’s going to make you stop reading, just know this: this movie uses a fantastical setting and some metaphors, and some not at all metaphors, to tackle the weighty topics of alienation, prejudice, bigotry, self-hatred, and violence. It has scenes that, though I cannot speak for their accuracy, are direct commentary on the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ people—and how society can and does mistreat them—and seems especially focused on the experiences of non-binary, gender-fluid, and trans individuals. And if you want to see a movie that covers all of that, and has a complex story, likable characters, and good worldbuilding, then you’re almost ready to go watch Nimona—but I have one more thing you need to read. I must give this content warning: this movie talks about (and almost on-screen depicts) suicidal ideation and a suicide attempt with no sidestepping or obfuscation. It’s very clear what’s happening. Be aware.
Okay, spoilers ahead. And since we’re already in this part of the review, let’s talk about what I meant about tonal issues. Nimona is intended for younger audiences and often has the humor of a kid’s movie. The jokes are downright wacky. Relying—sometimes—on things like goofy voices, cartoony physics, and sound effects. It even has an extended dance sequence. And sometimes that stuff was quite funny. What was more consistently funny was how Nimona (the character) would make morbid jokes that reminded me of Wednesday from Wednesday and Jinx from Arcane (although there are jokes about amputees that I’m not knowledgeable enough to know if they’re problematic). But, even when the jokes were clear of all possible or known other issues, the humor in Nimona felt too juvenile for the serious social commentary and heavy subject matters surrounding them. I find myself saying this more and more about recent media, but it feels like two movies. One scene Nimona will make herself look like an evil demon child and complain about pineapple on pizza, and in another scene, a little girl gets stabbed with a pitchfork by a member of an angry mob.
Nimona Has Jokes Around Its Very Intense Scenes
Even the movie’s ending has issues of being unsure how it wants to approach the story when you think about what Nimona attempts to do from one moment to the next. I also can’t tell if she’s actually fine with murdering and torturing people—but she kills at least one person (though they are an antagonist, at least) and would’ve a second if not for outside interference. While stuff like The Owl House and Star Wars: Rebels have moments in them made for older audiences but are otherwise kid shows, Nimona is a movie that feels like it was made less intense so kids could enjoy it but was ultimately designed with an older audience in mind. I haven’t read the original graphic novel (or webcomic) that Nimona’s based on, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was a much more brutal story.
This far into the article, you may have noticed I’ve yet to really mention any characters—not even really talking about Nimona outside of how she ties into the themes and plot—and that’s not because of any issues. It’s more that these main characters are just well-written and convincingly brought to life in all the usual ways. The voice acting, motivations, and character arcs are mostly excellently handled. The character dynamics are a highlight. Ballister (voiced by Riz Ahmed) and Nimona (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) end up with an adorable father-daughter-style connection. The scenes of Nimona slowly realizing someone cares about her, accepts her, and will fight for her are so sweet they honestly might make some cry. They have the effortless chaotic duo energy that could easily carry an entire multi-season show.
The Duo’s Hijinks Is One Of The Movie’s Highlights
And similarly, though we don’t get nearly as much of it, Ballister and Ambrosius (voiced by Eugene Lee Yang) have an adorable relationship with these small moments that paint an entire history together. The “he’s allergic to olives” line is one of the best off-hand character dynamic moments I’ve seen in dialog from almost anything. The core conceit of lovers on different sides of the law is classic and never fails to be fascinatingly dramatic. It would also easily work in a longer-form version of this story.
Jumping back, I briefly off-hand mentioned how interesting the worldbuilding is, and I meant it. Its sci-fi knights paired with an almost cyberpunk approach. There are multiple layers of city, very dense locations with large populations, and lots of holographic screens. I love how they integrate advertisements, sports, celebrity culture, and more while keeping to a defined esthetic and world history. There’s a clear level of genetics-based classism that isn’t explored fully but still informs background details and societal assumptions. Their technology is advanced but advanced in a way clearly informed by iterating on knightly technology. They don’t use guns—likely for lack of gunpowder—but use reinforced arrows. Beam weapons hide in sword hilts and can look like cannons. Their hover cars are at least sometimes reminiscent of horse-drawn vehicles. Between this and Strange World, I enjoy how often animation is used lately to bring unique fantasy/science fiction worlds to the screen.
Nimona Has Such An Inventive Setting To Explore
That said, the animation isn’t always great in Nimona. Facial expressions were—correctly—identified as one of the more important uses of the budget and are suitably dynamic, expressive, and varied. But sometimes (only sometimes), the backgrounds are too sparse and simplistic, and the character models look almost like action figures against those basic landscapes—especially if someone is wearing armor. It also does an odd thing to the random background details. Nimona has a lot of worldbuilding done through blink-and-you’ll-miss screens and signage, but it can almost become distracting because of how it stands out.
I suppose the summation of what Nimona is like is (appropriately) chaotic. Tonally all over the place but thematically cohesive. Snappily edited with efficient storytelling but also has a somewhat rushed and under-baked ending. It’s wonderful to see a movie that normalizes LGBTQ+ relationships and gives the people in the main relationship so much backstory and personality. I wish the bully character wasn’t actively irritating to watch, to the point I somewhat checked out whenever he was on screen. If you go into Nimona knowing what you’re watching, knowing it’s a deep exploration of a lot of pertinent themes with devastating scenes of trauma that’s also got fight scenes with barely observed physics and extremely cartoony humor, and you can appreciate both types of scenes for what they are, then you’re in for a ride. As much as is possible for any adaptation of existing source material to be, Nimona is original. It’s unique. And it’s a film worth seeing.
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