Who's the Real Monster?
Before it became a movie Nimona was a comic. Released in 2015, the graphic novel was an instant hit. It grabbed people with its story of justice and honor, right and wrong, with a lighthearted tale that had just enough darkness to make it interesting. It's a book I picked up having just heard the name before, never knowing what it was about, and the second I opened it I was hooked. It's a story good enough that it was no wonder a studio was interested in making it into an animated film. It begged for it.
Of course, as anyone that follows the industry knows, the filmic version of Nimona struggled to get to the big screen. it got caught up in Disney's purchase and merger of Fox. The film was canceled by Disney (presumably because it was just a little too gay for this kinds of animated releases), and that forced it onto a shelf, presumably never to get released. But thankfully Annapurna Pictures came along and purchased the film, striking a distribution deal with NetflixOriginally started as a disc-by-mail service, Netflix has grown to be one of the largest media companies in the world (and one of the most valued internet companies as well). With a constant slate of new internet streaming-based programming that updates all the time, Netflix has redefined what it means to watch TV and films (as well as how to do it). allowing the film to come out.
And that's great! Having watched the film the second I saw it come up in my Netflix queue, I can attest that it's a light, fun, and charming movie that gets to play around in the same world of the comic. It's not the same story, as this feels like a movie specifically talking at Disney and all their stupid things (like Shrek, Nimona in many ways feels like an anti-Disney movie, which may also be why that studio canceled it) and less a straight adaptation of the source. But that doesn't stop it from being great. Really great, in fact. So good that I'm sad it's on Netflix since we might never get to actually own a physical copy of the film (since those are rarities for Netflix releases).
The movie focuses on Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), a knight-in-training who came not from the select noble stock as all the other knights at the Institute have done but from the common folk. He was elevated as a child by the Queen, proving he had such heart that he deserved to be a knight, and now, after many years of training, his time had come. Except that as he's getting knighted a laser blasts from the hilt of his sword, killing the Queen. He's blamed for it, with everything thinking he's a villain, and he's forced to flee, hiding out in the darkest parts of the walled city, unable to fulfill his knightly destiny.
Except, maybe he will. Along comes a girl, Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz) who also happens to be a shape-shifter. After helping him out of more than one scrape, Ballister agrees to team with this chaotic little shifter to try and prove his own innocence. Only issue is that by teaming with a shape-shifter. he's basically aligned himself with a monster, and the knights for a thousand years, have been sworn to fight monsters. Will he be able to prove his innocence while teamed up with Nimona? Actually, he might just learn more about the knights, the monsters, and the truth everyone has been fed for a thousand years...
Nimona is, without a doubt, a charming film. It's not a straight adaptation of the source comic, and in fact it diverges pretty quickly right at the start, showing that it has other things on its mind than what the fans of the original book might be expecting. I wouldn't necessarily call this a bad thing as the story it tells works really well in the context, and is truly fun to watch. But I have a feeling some fans might be disappointed that the film strays so far from the source material.
What the film and the movie has in common is a basic idea: a bad guy teams with a chaotic shape-shifter. to take on an Institute that, despite it's good name, is actually doing evil. But to get to it's end, with villains revealed to be heroes, heroes shown as the villains they are, and a happy ending for all that deserve it, the movie goes on quite a tangent to the story. In fact, you could say that the only things the two works have in common are Nimona (and even those we have to fudge things just a little to get there).
The filmic version of Nimona feels like a movie designed to answer all the sappy fairy tale stories told by Disney. That's why i say it's like Shrek, in a way, but where that Dreamworks film was responding to all the Disney Renaissance films of old, Nimona seems designed to poke fun at Disney's current Princess Empowerment era. Magical girl comes along and upends the life of a ne'er-do-well man, and they both learn lessons in the process. Plus, it also has commentary on commercialism, product placement, selling toys, and more. The anti-Disney, for sure.
But it works for three reasons. One, it's very funny. It's not the same kind of laugh-out-loud one-liner comedy of Shrek. This film goes more for situational humor and sly winks. It has fun with the carnage Nimona leaves in her wake. It pokes fun at the idea that heroes have to be heroic. It uses it's humor to catch you off guard and make you laugh at both the darkness and the light. And then it goes for the throat with actual emotion, landing its punches right in the feels a lot harder than Shrek ever could.
Two, it has strong performances from its leads. Ahmed is solid as Boldheart (who was formerly Blackheart in the comic). He provides the needed straight man reactions with his voice work, while also finding depth to make Boldheart feel like a real person. Meanwhile Moretz an absolute force of charm as Nimona. She is able to provide all aspects of the character, from chaos incarnate to emotional core, proving why the movie is named after her character even when it feels like Boldheart's story.
Plus, it's really well made. The art style (like the story) doesn't resemble the book (aside from a few subtle nods the film makes). Instead it's very much playing in the realm of Disney's current 3D films. But that's the point, and the movie does it well. This is a handsome movie that blends a fantasy realm with sci-fi futurism, and it creates a movie that toys with the Disney style while looking like it's own really well made thing. Disney, frankly, could take notes from the art style here.
And, yes, it's pretty gay. The lead character, Boldheart, is in love with his "rival", Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), and the tension between them is strong. Strong, in fact, than in the comic, so that's certainly one area when the film absolutely ups the content. But the nice thing is that the film doesn't make it feel like it's having to say, "hey, we're gay over here." The unrequited love between the two isn't because they're both men but, clearly, it's because they're both knights and there's rules about fraternization. But to hell with that! Once you find yourself, find the one you love.
Disney may have kicked this film to the curb but, thankfully, it got picked up so it could get a release. It may only be available on Netflix, which is a crime since it deserved a wide release in theaters, but that means we can see it. Better that than this charming movie sitting on a shelf forever. Watch it, and then pray it gets a physical release (because the last thing we want is Netflix shelving it down the road, either).