Closing off Pride Month 2023 with a punk futuristic party, Netflix’s latest animated film, Nimona, invites you to sit with a mopey knight and his shapeshifter sidekick to indulge in an elevated fairytale. Undoubtedly fresh, and bursting at its seams with innovative action, Nimona, albeit missing some polishing touches, leaves you giddy in the way that chasing made-up stories in your childhood did.
Set in a hyper-modern kingdom, called ‘the realm’, whose knights – when not endorsing brand name soda or cereal – are trained to defend it against monsters using drones and modified swords. ‘‘If you see something, slay something,” a guiding principle of sort blares across town. Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) is about to knighted as one such knight, when a freak accident kills the Queen. When everyone, including his boyfriend Ambrosious Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), suspects him of committing the crime, Ballister runs off into a fugitive existence. His lonely routine in a dingy lair is interrupted by Nimona, the titular character.
Director: Troy Quane, Nick Bruno
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, and others
Run-time: 99 minutes
Storyline: A knight, framed for the Queen’s murder, teams up with a shapeshifting teen to exonerate himself
Donnig short pink hair, and a sharp smirk, Nimona first appeared as a character in a webcomic on Tumblr by ND Stevenson, before being adapted into a full-length graphic novel. A deeply personal character for Stevenson, who describes it as culmination of several intense feelings coming to the surface: “A child screaming to be heard.” Chloe Grace Moretz as Nimona commands this attention. Zipping across the screen, an endearingly feisty Nimona essentially hires herself as Ballister’s sidekick, imploring him that he needs her by his side to exonerate himself. A mismatch of sorts – Ballister wants to work in the shadows, while Nimona is all too happy to commit crimes – the duo connects over the common burden of ostracization. As Ballister hides from his peers, Nimona’s shapeshifting ability means that she has always existed on the fringes.
These heavier themes are balanced by lighter facts such as Nimona being able to transform into any species, while retaining her signature shade of pink. Whippingly fast-paced, chock-full of action sequences and descending almost immediately into the trademark Nimona-level of chaos and destruction, the film is a crisp entertainer at a little under an hour and a half. While the plot may seem a little lax at times, Chloe and Riz’s performance makes up for it.
The film is also marked by its production history which saw a cancellation and a revival. Had it been released under its original parent production company, it would have marked path-breaking explicit queer representation for Disney. A delayed release and new studio means that the Nimona in front of us addresses its truths in not so subtle implications.
Though couched in metaphors, Nimona’s allegories on the queer experience ring loud. She talks in assured terms of the pain of having to police yourself, and the loneliness of being different. For fans of the 2015 graphic novel, the film plot is a significant departure from the original storyline. It shows a lot of its cards early on, though this concise treatment allows for Nimona and Ballister to pivot to an introspective frame of mind.
As Ballister is outrunning the manhunt under way for him, he attempts to define Nimona, and raises multiple questions. Nimona, then in the form a pink gorilla, rebukes him and advises him not to ask small-minded questions. In what seems like an elevated bedtime tale, Nimona gleefully, mischievously asks the audience to expand its mind to fresher ideas.
Nimona is currently streaming on Netflix