Movie Review: A fantasy adventure with riot-grrrl energy in ‘Nimona’
By LINDSEY BAHR
AP Film Writer
A powerful, shapeshifting teenage girl and a disgraced knight-in-training suspected of killing a beloved queen are at the heart of ” Nimona,” a vibrant and irreverent animated adventure set in a futuristic fantasy kingdom.
It is a familiar story — a society governed by ancient rules and a crippling fear of outsiders — even by recent Netflix animation standards (see “The Sea Beast”). But “Nimona” is wrapped in new, exciting packaging with a wildly fun soundtrack featuring the likes of Metric, Dope Saint Jude and Judas Priest, LGBTQ+ themes that aren’t clumsily subtle, and charismatic lead voice actors in Chloe Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed. There’s also a supporting character named Ambrosius Goldenloin. Ambrosius. Goldenloin. He has blonde, swooped hair and is voiced by Eugene Lee Yang of The Try Guys.
The fraught saga of getting “Nimona” to audiences could be its own epic movie. ND Stevenson’s popular graphic novel first went into development in 2015 at Blue Sky Studios and was inherited by Disney in 2019 as part of the Fox acquisition. Despite seismic shifts and leadership changes, work continued. Then in 2021, when the film was reported to be 75% complete, Disney announced that Blue Sky Studios was shuttering and “Nimona” was to be shelved. In addition to the economic hardships of the pandemic, Business Insider reported that Disney leadership took issue with a same-gender kiss.
Then Annapurna and Netflix stepped in, with new directors (Nick Bruno, Troy Quane), and got “Nimona” to the finish line.
Moretz is the voice of Nimona, a chaos-loving radical who sees a fellow outsider’s horrifying fall from grace and thinks “I need to collab with this guy.” The outsider in question is Ballister Boldheart (Ahmed), a kid from the streets who dreamt of being a knight, a position traditionally reserved for members of a certain class or descendants of an ancient, revered warrior named Gloreth, who 1,000 years ago saved the kingdom from a monster.
Despite the odds, and prejudices, he rose the ranks and almost made it.
On the “Night to Knight Knights” a big, televised event with futuristic Super Bowl halftime show-meets-“Blade Runner”/“Hunger Games” production levels, the public still isn’t convinced about Ballister – they sneer that he doesn’t deserve it and won’t keep them safe. The only people on his side are his boyfriend, the aforementioned Ambrosius Goldenloin, and the queen. But things go south quickly at the ceremony: The sword he’s given kills his most public champion, the queen, in front of everyone and no one gives him the benefit of the doubt.
He’s a queen killer and that’s that.
Ballister is reluctant to team up with Nimona – he wants to prove his innocence and she doesn’t seem like the best way back into society. But she also has some very useful skills, namely being able to morph into anyone and anything – an adult, a child, a rhinoceros – and single-handedly defeat a dozen men without much strain. Plus, she’s a lot more fun than the small-minded bros and icy leaders back at the Institute. Moretz, it should be noted, is an excellent voice actor who brings real life and punk energy to Nimona. And there are some real twists and turns on the way to the resolution that would be best to just experience yourself.
Certainly the release has been plotted to coincide with Pride, but it happens that LGBTQ+ rights are also once again under seige in the country. This may not push the envelope much further than recent animated forays into more blatant depictions of same sex relationships, but it’s another tiny step in the right direction which is always helped when the movie is good, too.
Netflix might not have initiated “Nimona,” but it won by getting it out in the end.