Reviewed by Jonathan Berk
Nimona is the new animated film by directors Troy Quane and Nick Bruno, which was a long time coming. It stars Riz Ahmed as Ballister Boldheart is a knight in a futuristic medieval world who has made a stir by being the first knight not of nobility. He is framed for a serious crime and forced into hiding. That’s when Nimona, a mischievous teen who happens to be a shapeshifting creature (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) arrives to be his sidekick and help him as a super-villain. There’s clearly a miscommunication at first, but the two team up to prove Ballister’s innocence.
If you’ve seen Ahmed’s performance in movies like Sound of Metal or Nightcrawler, you’d know how much emotion he can convey with just a look. His eyes are unbelievably expressive, which does no good for a voice-acting role in an animated movie. Yet, Ahmed proves that he can bring whatever emotion a character and story needs through whatever medium you ask. His performance in this film is outstanding, and he brings so much to the role. It’s almost as if you are seeing him through his animated avatar. Kudos to him and the animators for bringing his performance to life.
Moretz also brings tons of energy to this role. In many ways, her manic repartee and constant jokes call back to her first cinematic bad-ass, Hit-Girl, from Kick-Ass. In fact, the first time Hitgirl shows up and demonstrates her fighting ability, “The Tra La La Song” kicks in and sets the energy for the scene. That song makes an appearance in a key action sequence when Nimona shows off her shapeshifting skills and takes on many knights. Nimona is a character who truly embraces who she is and has a lot of fun being the “monster”, which totally feels like a spiritual connection to Hit-Girl. This character has more deep-seated insecurities that play heavily into the themes of the film.
The allegory of this story is a bit on the nose, but is so vital to the world we live in. The city the movie is set in is surrounded by a wall to keep the monsters out. Ballister keeps asking Nimona what her deal is and if it hurts when she shapesshifts. There is a lot about this film that mirrors the bigotry and push back of those perceived as “different.” While this film will likely upset many people who do not want to see LGBTQIA+ acceptance in our stories, it may also feel like it is pandering. It may be naive to still believe that a story has the power to change the views of someone, but Roger Ebert once said, “the movies are like a machine that generates empathy.” If that’s true, this film can put its audience in the shoes of a fictional character in a fictional world who struggles to be accepted exactly as they are… maybe it’s enough to change someone’s perspective.
Nimona is gorgeously animated and features a few different styles at the same time. The two leads have so much chemistry, and it bursts out of the screen, creating a fun ride for its audience. Between some cool set pieces, compelling characters, and lots of heartfelt comedy, Nimona is a powerful animated movie that’s sure to be in the Oscar discussion at the beginning of next year.
Nimona will be streaming on Netflix June 30.