2023 | rated PG | starring voices of Chloe Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, RuPaul Charles | directed by Nick Bruno, Troy Quane | 1h 41m |
In a techno-midevil world, a knight in training, Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) plucked from common society is set to be anointed when he is framed for assassinating the queen and sent underground on the run, where he meets outcast Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz), a shapeshifter who desperately wants to be his evil sidekick. While racing to prove his innocence, Ballister and Nimona seek to find the truth behind the conspiracy that framed him and the city’s history that put it behind a wall and instilled fear in the population for 1 thousand years.
Whether you call it political correctness, woke, representation or diversity, Nimona manages to handle with care and cleverness topics of outcasts and fear-mongering that Netflix and Disney have been fumbling under heavy-handed message movies for years now. Where a Disney movie like Strange World puts its message over logical coherence or a Netflix movie like The Sea Beast wants you to think it’s recycled story is unique because of it’s heroine’s identity, the original cocktail of fizzy fun that is Nimona does all of this, while putting it’s unique story and characters first. There are several of what director Bill Condon famously called “exclusively gay moments” in this movie and they are all both out in front and essential to the film’s theme and story. Nimona is fun, exciting and adorable while telling a clever story of a superficially Utopian society that secretly runs on media and political fear-mongering toward “outsiders”. While Disney and Netflix movies feel like they are checking boxes, Nimona feels like those elements are woven into the DNA of the film and the result is a smooth piece of sci-fi adventure storytelling.
While Nimona herself is, at first glance, the kind of manic pixie strong girl these movies love, bouncing all over Ballister’s hideout in a way only animation can deliver and able to do anything she wants at will – the film is setting up a story behind her mania and desire to be a villain that lands. However, the third character in this piece is the world the movie creates and inhabits. A technologically advanced world of tablets, TVs, subways, flying cars and neon signs blended in a midlevel society of knights, horses and castles. Where technology advanced and tradition stayed put. Where our knights carry swords with laser sights on them. It’s all beautifully brought to life with CGI animation that replicates the 2D handrawn style and is powered by punk music. It’s gleefully built on anacronyms. I love this kind of wacky world-building.
Probably not for very young kids and with political themes that would go over their head, Nimona is a fun, exciting, gorgeous film that also touches on real pain and social satire amid it’s shapeshifting mayhem. While we wait for Netflix’s perfect steampunk masterfully built Arcane: League of Legends to unfold another chapter, the world of Nimona is a nice fantasy layover that fits the bill until then. One of the most pleasant surprises of the year.