With stylistic flair and a very welcome wicked streak, this colourful Netflix adventure should be a real treat for families with older kids
One of the highest-profile casualties of the Disney-Fox merger and subsequent film cancellations, the long-in-the-works Nimona – based on ND Stevenson’s graphic novel – finally arrives in cinemas and on streaming courtesy of Netflix. Flashy and fun, it’s heartening to see this bombastic animation complete its journey – the end result might be formulaic, but it’s often gorgeously animated and with a sense for the wicked (albeit toning down the darkness of the source material) that should really appeal to older kids.
Set in a world that feels like a mix of Cartoon Saloon’s Wolfwalkers and the Final Fantasy series, Nimona doesn’t introduce us to its title character (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz) right away. Instead, we first follow a knight called Ballister (Riz Ahmed), part of an elite unit of warriors that protect a fantastical kingdom that mixes medieval high-fantasy with futuristic laser weapons and hovercars. Ballister is the first knight ever chosen from the lower classes of the kingdom, but it’s not long before his accession ceremony is sabotaged, leaving him missing an arm and framed for the murder of the queen.
This is where Nimona, a teenage shapeshifter who can take the form of any animal she chooses (generally picking the toothier ones), comes in, breaking Ballister out of prison in exchange for his help in taking down the corrupt and bigoted institutions that prop up the kingdom. It’s a premise that is unwieldy on paper, but much more intuitive in practice, fluid animation and speedy dialogue scenes making quick work of the exposition. Once we break into the story proper, things do become very predictable, but this overly familiar story is pulled off with enough stylistic panache to keep you invested.
From conversations to kaiju fights, Nimona is gorgeously put together, mixing slick CG with stuff that captures a more hand-drawn magic. It’s not quite Spider-Verse levels of visual amazement, but it still feels fresh and exciting to have ever more western animations escape from the “gotta look like Pixar” directives. It is a shame that the writing never achieves the same level of distinctive personality (though its message about not inherently trusting authority is a nice one for a kids’ movie), while the voice acting is only so-so across the board. There are a lot of lines aiming for laughs, but only a few actually get one thanks to quite a few flat deliveries.
Both Nimona and Ballister are slightly annoying protagonists, Ballister for his naivety and Nimona for leaning too hard on “quirky antihero” tropes, though the film is able to overcome this for an admittedly affecting finale that raises the stakes and the scale by a huge amount without feeling incongruous. It’s the kind of grand set-piece that would be best experienced on a big screen, and it is a bit of a shame that Nimona is getting such a limited cinema release. As the summer holidays approach though, it’s a great option for families to have on streaming, its storybook visuals disguising the sort of earnest darkness that modern kids’ entertainment is all too often shy about.
Nimona is released in UK cinemas on 24 June and on Netflix on 30 June.Where to watch