Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane | Written by Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor, based on a graphic novel by ND Stevenson |101 min | ▲▲▲▲△ | Netflix
First off, kudos to the world-building in this energetic animated adventure. Imagine a medieval Blade Runner 2049 and you’re halfway there — a city of people with swords and ray guns, with flying cars, neon, castles, and a hint of fascist authoritarianism in the architecture.
It’s about a girl (actually a shapeshifting demon), Nimona (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz), who takes on a project: help out a disgraced commoner-turned-knight on the run, Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed). Ballister was about to become part of The Institute, but is framed for the murder of the Queen and in the melee his true love, fellow knight Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), cuts off his arm. As he’s trying to clear his name with the help of Nimona, he starts to doubt the entire ruling class of this kingdom, its laws and judiciary, especially when he discovers who set him up.
Nimona herself is a wholly fun character — a punk-metal amalgam and a chaos-bringer, she’s nothing like Walt Disney ever imagined.
That afore-mentioned world-building makes you want to freeze every second frame and enjoy the images and details, but what’s even more impressive are the themes underlying this mythological sci-fi mash-up. This is a movie about the loneliness of being different, being an outsider, even when you’re gifted with enormous power. It’s also wildly and wonderfully gay, with excellent representation in the story and a parallel subtext about the cost of staying closeted, pretending to be something aside from your true self. The magical element of Nimona’s shape-shifting carries with it all kinds of interesting metaphoric possibility.
The picture is all these things but wholly a joy, providing funny and engaging characters and a whole bunch of zippy action. Full marks for the creative soundtrack featuring Judas Priest, Metric, and the theme from The Banana Splits. When, late in the running, it turns into a kaiju picture with a fully Miyazaki-influenced antagonist, I was all in.
Hopefully, the well-earned Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature will earn Nimona a few more fans. It worked with me.