THE STORY – A knight is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and the only person who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona, a shape-shifting teen who might also be a monster he’s sworn to kill.
THE CAST – Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, RuPaul, Indya Moore, Julio Torres & Sarah Sherman
THE TEAM – Nick Bruno, Troy Quane (Directors), Robert L. Baird & Lloyd Taylor (Writers)
THE RUNNING TIME – 99 Minutes
When Blue Sky Studios was shut down in 2021 by Disney as the result of the Disney-Fox merger, the fate of several projects was up in the air. One was the film adaptation of “Nimona,” based on the popular graphic novel of the same name by ND Stevenson, which was in production at the time of the Disney-Fox merger. According to Disney, “Nimona” was canceled and considered a causality in the shutdown of Blue Sky. But much like the titular character, the former Blue Sky Co-Presidents Andrew Millstein and Robert Baird refused to let powers of authority have the last word. They pitched the unfinished film around several studios and found a second home with Megan Ellison of Annapurna, who later found a distributor in Netflix. What once was considered dead and gone now rises from the ashes. This story of the film’s almost death and rebirth beautifully (and ironically) mirrors the film’s overall themes and central characters: rebellion, determination, and standing back up after the universe banishes you.
“Nimona” begins with Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) and Ambrosius Goldenlion (Eugene Lee Yang) on the day of their knighting ceremony in a medieval kingdom. The two are about to officially become Knights of the kingdom and pledge their allegiance to fight off monsters. Ambrosious is a direct descendent of the first Monster killer and, therefore, was destined for this moment. But Boldheart is not and will be the first Knight that is not a direct descendent, making this a historic moment for the kingdom. But before officially being sworn in, he is framed for a terrible crime, forcing him into hiding as a wanted and hated man.
In hiding, Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a young, mischievous, and violent teen, offers to be his sidekick. Ballister quickly states he’s not a real villain and wants to prove his innocence. To Nimona, this still sounds like an opportunity for violence, carnage, and mayhem, so she agrees to help. But it isn’t until the reluctant duo comes into trouble that Nimona unveils her secret: she’s a shapeshifter (which really comes in handy).
This year seems to be a stellar animation achievement, and “Nimona” is no exception. The world is full of bright colors and designs that represent the jagged and rebellious nature of the titular character. There is an element of chaos, rock-and-roll, and insanity in every frame. Everything is a little outside the lines, and it works, especially considering that Nimona and Ballister are exposing the corruption of their world. Nimona would consider herself a villain, but she is a villain that has fun and takes pleasure and joy in wreaking havoc. Therefore, it is lovely to see the animation reflect that, making the action pieces leap off the screen. From the art design alone, audiences of all ages will be entertained by this film. It is extremely fun and beautiful to look at. There is a fun element in the disobedience that is visually appealing. This punk-rock aesthetic is also reflected in the score and fantastic soundtrack, which consists of The Dickies, Metric, and more.
But the story of “Nimona” is also incredibly strong, grounded in important life lessons, and funny and exciting. Watching Ballister and Nimona, two outcasts and falsely accused villains, become a found family is incredibly moving. Both characters have been rejected by society and labeled as an enemy, but Ballister still has faith in the organization, whereas Nimona has completely turned her back on it. Therefore, the conversations these two characters have about authority and the people’s perception of them are interesting and thought-provoking, especially with the age differences between the characters. The film might have a few pacing issues, especially as it moves from the second to the third act, where giant leaps in the plot are taken. But the film’s beating heart is so palatable and strong that the characters shine despite any screenplay weakness.
In addition, the queer representation within the film is lovely. Yes, both characters were targeted because of their otherness to the rest of the community, but the queer themes are more direct than that. The film shows a cute courtship between Ballister and Ambrosius, adding a nice touch of romance and angst. In addition, young queer audiences may see themselves in Nimona, especially regarding the symbolism of her shapeshifting ability. When Ballister asks what she is when she first shapeshifts, she simply answers, “I’m Nimona.” And when asked why she shapeshifts, it is simply because that is who she is, and she would feel weird if she didn’t. The conversations about why and how Nimona shapeshifts always circle back to the ability simply being part of Nimona, that the world has a problem with it, and she refuses to stop shapeshifting because it would be unnatural for her to stay in one body. Plus, she is proud of her ability, and said ability is typically why she and Ballister get out of their problems.
“Nimona” is a wonderful tale about revenge, friendship, and embracing and celebrating one’s differences because one’s differences is one’s superpower that will entertain and educate audiences of all ages. Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane have given us a rebellious, fun, spunky, heartfelt, scrappy piece of animated punk-rock magic that will stand the test of time and become an instant household classic to many. In the 1920s, there was Annie, the Orphan, and then there was Matilda, the Telepath. Now, there’s Nimona the Shapeshifter telling audiences young and old to cause a little trouble when they see something is wrong with their world (and have fun with it) because, let’s be honest, the world needs more troublemakers.