Some movies get stuck so long in development hell that it’s a surprise they even get to see the light of day. That is the case with Nimona, which was in development by Blue Sky Studios before Disney bought multiple Fox assets and canceled numerous projects after the deal was done. It took a while for Annapurna and Netflix to acquire the rights to Nimona and finish production, but the wait was well worth it. With eye-popping animation, a fresh story that challenges tropes, and an energetic voice performance by Chloë Grace Moretz as the titular character, Nimona is nothing less than a triumph.
‘Nimona’ Subverts Medieval Fantasy Tropes
As much as we might love medieval fantasy, the subgenre usually revolves around world-threatening villains and recovering a mystic artifact. Even the best movies inspired by the setting, like this year’s Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves, have trouble rising above these tropes. So, the first thing worth praising in Nimona is how the movie twists expectations regarding medieval adventures. For starters, instead of taking place in some sort of Dark Ages, Nimona is set in a futuristic kingdom where gunpowder was never invented, and the government structure never ditched monarchs and knights clad in armor. As a result, we get introduced to a retro high-tech universe where crossbows and digital screens coexist. Nimona also avoids some of the pitfalls of medieval adventure by almost wholly removing magic from the equation, ensuring there’s no easy solution for most obstacles the movie’s characters find in their way.
Nimona‘s world building indeed finds a brilliant way to make medieval-inspired fantasy feel fresh. However, it’s worth noting that the movie also challenges the audience to question the hero’s journey. In Nimona, we follow the misadventures of the titular shapeshifter and the former knight Ballister Boldheart (voiced by Riz Ahmed), both of who are turned into public enemies. Ballister wants to clear his name, while Nimona only wants to wreak havoc. Nevertheless, they’ll join forces, slowly learning to trust each other. There have been many stories focused on villains instead of heroes, but it’s rare to find an actual deconstruction of what it means to be a villain, which is exactly what we see in Nimona. Instead of just offering a banal redemption story in which a villain rises to the occasion and becomes a hero, Nimona asks what makes a villain in the first place and how those in power have the tools to turn people against each other. It’s a complex narrative that explores how differences are often mistaken as threats and how governments can harvest people’s fears to reduce freedom in the name of supposed safety.
If all that sounds too serious for a family-friendly experience, fret not. Nimona never loses sight of the fun, delivering an exhilarating adventure filled with mind-blowing set pieces. Still, the movie has enough layers to keep adults engaged as it explores the danger of totalitarian states, how tradition often gets in the way of personal achievements, and even gender fluidity. However, instead of letting the seriousness of these subjects get in the way of creating a light-hearted story that can be enjoyed by parents and children alike, Nimona masterfully weaves its many themes into a narrative that’s still thrilling and funny.
‘Nimoma’ Keeps Character at Its Core
As impressive as Nimona‘s fantasy world might be, the movie is most mesmerizing thanks to its fantastic cast of characters. From the many sides of the conflict, characters are never reduced to the part of heroes or villains. By the time the credits roll, we can understand the reasonings that led each person involved in Nimona’s story to act as they did. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to fight for or a definitive antagonist. It’s just that Nimona doesn’t take any shortcuts through storytelling and actually takes the time to explore what drives its main characters.
At the center of the story, there’s the titular character. Nimona is presented as a villain, willing to spread destruction wherever she goes. But, of course, there’s more to her than meets the eye, and as the story unfolds, we learn more about how and why she became an agent of chaos. The character’s nuances already help Nimona become one of the most likable protagonists in animation. Still, Moretz’s brilliant voice acting then gives Nimona a magnetic presence that keeps us glued to the screen as her chaos engulfs the world. This is not Moretz’s first ride in the animation world as she recently voiced Wednesday Addams for the two latest The Addams Family movies. Still, it sounds like she was born to play Nimona, going from explosive to melancholic so naturally that it helps us understand the internal turmoil of the shapeshifter.
Then we have Ballister, a knight raised to defend a societal structure that quickly got rid of him, and who must confront his beliefs during his quest for the truth. Ballister is unquestionably flawed, but his shortcomings help the audience to follow the emotional journey at the core of Nimona as the knight uncovers the secrets of the kingdom and is forced to question his reality. That is not a painless process, nor is it represented by a linear progression. Instead, Ballister will twist and turn with the viewer as he tries to come to terms with Nimona’s history and his own mishaps. Everything is tied together thanks to a tight script by Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor who capture the essence of the original comics created by ND Stevenson while still developing a story of their own.
‘Nimoma’s Animation Gloriously Embraces Chaos
When it comes to animation, it’s not enough to have a great story or strong characters if the movie looks bland. Fortunately, Nimona’s directors, Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, knew that they should embrace the chaotic energy of the titular character and turn it into a guideline for the animation team. As a result, Nimona features a beautiful mix of 3D and 2D art that borrows from classic hand-drawn animation and the inventiveness of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse to create something of its own. We can feel the love and dedication poured into each animated frame of Nimona as the shapeshifter constantly stretches and shrinks, absorbing new animation elements with each transformation.
Nimona’s shapeshifting abilities also leads to dynamic action sequences where the girl becomes something utterly unexpected at each moment, overcoming enemies while the camera never stops focusing on the actions. Watching these big set pieces is a joy, but even in the movie’s quieter moments, something interesting is always happening in the background. In short, the world of Nimona is bursting with life, thanks to the dedication of the animation team. So, while the movie has a finite story to tell, we hope Netflix taps into Nimona’s franchise potential and bring us back to this glorious kingdom.
Nimona comes to Netflix on June 30.