Now streaming–Nimona, a strong contender for the year’s best fantasy and animated movie

Review by C.J. Bunce

Nimona is a shape-shifter who can transform into animals large, small, and very much over-sized.  She can also transform to look like a girl.  Viewers of Netflix this weekend probably haven’t met an animated character this fun since the red-headed girl in Brave.  Nimona is alone, which makes it easy for her to empathize with Ballister, an unlikely candidate about to be knighted in a futuristic, high fantasy world that looks like an update to Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.  It also features vivid animation that is probably the closest to classic Disney movies since Brave.  A contender for the year’s best fantasy and animated movie, Nimona is now streaming on Netflix.

Academy Award-winner Riz Ahmed is the voice of Ballister, a citizen of the Kingdom from the wrong side of the tracks, who the Queen grooms to be a knight.  But at Ballister’s knighting ceremony, Ballister’s sword seems to come alive and kills the Queen.  He’s been framed.  At the same moment as the assassination, Ambrosius slices off Ballister’s arm to try to protect the Queen.  The effort is futile.  She is lost.  Ballister leaves behind his romantic partner Ambrosius, who becomes top gun of the knights who protect the Kingdom, also called the Institute.

Ballister is now an outcast in the Kingdom.  Enter Nimona, voiced by the incomparable Chloe Grace Moretz.  You might consider her new character Kick-Ass 3, or the next incarnation of Moretz’s Hit Girl.  Nimona is also an outcast, needing someone, anyone, and convinces Ballister he needs a sidekick.  She’s street smart, swift, effective at eliminating threats, and a little–make that A LOT–over eager.  She saves him using her shape-shifting power–think Claudia from Warehouse 13 with Wonder Twin powers from Superfriends.  She’s a rhinoceros, an ape, a (funny) shark, a whale, a dragon, and more.  In a word, Nimona is perfect.  In her girl form she’s full of energy, quick on her feet, and extremely funny, a good foil for the very Prince Charming prim and proper Ballister.  Viewers will learn she’s not another silly animated girl, but she has a gut-wrenching backstory.

The actual villain of the tale is up there with the Snow Queen of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, a truly cold, scary character voiced by Frances Conroy.

Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor’s screenplay, adapting N.D. Stevenson’s graphic novel, is so good that in the right year it could rate an Oscar nod, up there with the kind of animated movies that win awards like Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.  It also features an exciting Christophe Beck score.  Spies in Disguise’s Nick Bruno and Troy Quane directed another hit here.

The history of the film is worth mentioning.  This looks like a high-quality Blue Sky Studios movie–like Ferdinand, Spies in Disguise, Rio, Ice Age, and The Peanuts Movie–it’s because it is.  Its parent was 20th Century Studios, which got gobbled up by Disney.  Disney dropped Nimona because of its LGBTQ themes.  Clearly they made a bad decision.  The film is better than most Disney productions.

The worldbuilding of Nimona is sharp and clean.  It’s reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty’s midcentury medievalism, but it also drifts into Blade Runner-esque sci-fi flying cars and all the modern world’s communications tools–things you don’t usually see in this kind of royalty fantasy.  The knights look like Don Bluth’s hero from Dragon’s Lair.  Nimona feels like a superhero rooted in mythology and folk legends.  Then add in a kaiju segment with a creature influenced by the alien invaders in Attack the Block.  It’s all of these things, and somehow also unique.

Which is the year’s best fantasy movie?  Nimona or Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves?  These are the top contenders at the year’s midpoint.  Don’t miss this movie, a good watch for the holiday.  Nimona is now streaming on Netflix.

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