By: Jolie Featherstone
Subversive and witty, Nimona is a high-energy yet poignant swashbuckler that will delight older kids and adults alike.
In a Medieval kingdom that has top-notch technology, a young man by the name of Ballister Boldheart (Sound of Metal Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed) is about to be knighted. This is a cause for both celebration and controversy in the kingdom. Ballister is not of noble blood; he’s a regular person who grew up determined to defend the kingdom. He’s worked hard to prove his skill and allegiance, and yet the kingdom still looks at him with uncertainty.
When Ballister is accused of a heinous crime he did not commit, he’s forced to go on the run. While in hiding, he’s approached by a spunky teenage girl, Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz of Kick-Ass fame), who insists on being his sidekick. They have vastly different personalities, but she is his only lifeline as he works to clear his name. As they work together, he starts to see that she’s not exactly who he thought she was. Nimona has the ability to shape-shift and remains evasive about who she really is. All the while, they’re in a precarious situation: everyone in the kingdom is out to get them. They’re forced to trust each other and somehow work together – for Ballister to clear his name, and for Nimona to wreak serious havoc and break lots of stuff.
If you grew up a fan of Shrek and The Sword in the Stone, there is a very good chance you’ll enjoy Nimona. The wit, the magic, the humour – it’s got all that with a healthy helping of poignant moments. It is uplifting and inspiring, but doesn’t shy away from the darker side of life that necessitates those values.
Based on a sci-fi fantasy graphic novel by American cartoonist ND Stevenson, the film adaptation of Nimona took years to get to us. Originally under Blue Sky Animation, when Blue Sky closed, the movie sat dormant. Hollywood mega producer Megan Ellison revived the project. It was picked up by Annapurna, and DNEG Animation was brought in as the animation partner. It was eventually picked up by Netflix. I’m grateful to the folks who got Nimona on track again because it is an incredibly clever adventure with eye-meltingly gorgeous animation and endearing characters.
I had the privilege of attending an exclusive screening of Nimona, followed by a Q&A with Animation Director, Theodore “Ted” Ty. Ty is Head of Animation at DNEG Animation. He contributed to so many of our childhoods. He worked on: The Lion King (1994), Pocahontas, Lilo & Stitch, Shrek Ever After, Puss & Boots, Shark Tale, Kung Fu Panda, Madagascar and so many more movies. Ty was incredibly gracious and intentional during the Q&A. He gave everyone a thoughtful response, and spent extra care when answering kids or animation students. I noted during the credits that they gave credit to Blue Sky Animation, and they started each new category with a little animation to illustrate (pun intended) the work done by that category. Ty also made sure to verbally shout out Blue Sky and Megan Ellison for their work on this film as well, of course, giving props to ND Stevenson. Apparently Stevenson remarked, after seeing the film, “if I could draw better, I would have made it like this.” Following jovial laughter from the crowd, Ty was quick to follow up with how great of an illustrator Stevenson is.
Ty discussed how they focused a lot on shapes during the movie (hot tip: pay attention to the white glint in each character’s eyes), to help them bring each character to life. It also helped to keep Nimona grounded as she shape-shifted. Throughout the film, we get to see Nimona shape-shift into several impressive specimens (think the Madame Mim sequence from The Sword in the Stone but across a feature-length film with *way* more punching). Ty shared how they had several rigs (almost like puppets or moveable figures) of each version of Nimona to help guide them in how they’d animate these wild transfigurations.
The animation truly is a force in this film. The power of the animation in concert with the exceptional vocal performances make these characters feel real and textured. When Nimona asks a character who recently lost their arm (you have to watch it to find out) if they “let you keep the old one” – her eyes wide in fervour and her head turning in an unnatural spin (ala The Exorcist) – you just can’t help but laugh at her feral, unabashed love of the grotesque. Later on, when trying to get intel from someone to help Ballister, she transforms into a cherub-cheeked toddler…then goes full demon-baby-mode, with glossed over eyes, sharp fangs, and her toes dragging along the ground as she levitates toward the terrified target. Moretz matches the visual changes of the character toe-to-toe. Nimona is basically like a cooler Harley Quinn.
Ty shared some great points about the character, Nimona, and the representation in the film. He discussed how the film keeps you guessing about who the real villain is. He wisely framed it in one sentence: it depends on what your perspective is of villainy.
The lore and storylines in Nimona may be too complicated (and scary) for kids to follow. However, kids 9+, pre-teens, teens, and adults will enjoy the movie and be able to appreciate the twists and turns, as well as the heartfelt messaging behind this raucous adventure.
Note: Nimona may result in the desire to rock out – this is highly encouraged.
For more information on Nimona, visit www.netflix.com/nimona!
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Jolie Featherstone: @TOFilmFiles