Film Review – Nimona



What a strange and interesting world that inhabits Nimona (2023). The film plays like a traditional fairytale, with knights and queens and mystical beings in a faraway kingdom. Yet at the same time, it incorporates cityscapes, flying vehicles, TV, Japanese anime, rock & roll, and sci-fi technology. This is a world of shimmering lights and bold pastels. It all congeals into something uniquely its own – traditional and progressive simultaneously. I suppose that is the purpose. The narrative intentionally takes long held belief systems and subverts them. Ideas regarding race, class, sexual orientation, gender, customs, bravery, friendship, and honor are all put on the table and reconfigured in different ways. This is an animated movie that has the trappings of a sword and shield tale, but executed from a distinctly modern viewpoint. 

Based on the graphic novel by Nate Stevenson, the screenplay (Robert L. BairdLloyd Taylor) and direction (Nick BrunoTroy Quane) establish the narrative as an examination of “The Outsider” – the weirdos and outcasts who live on the fringes of society. This is no better seen than in our protagonists. Ballister (Riz Ahmed) is a commoner who has worked his entire life to become a knight of his home kingdom. He is the first commoner to do so, supporting the notion that “anyone can be a hero.” However, things take a turn for the worse when Ballister is framed for a heinous crime and is forced to go into hiding. The Director (Frances Conroy) commands her knights to track him down. Amongst them is Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), who has recently been knighted and just happens to be Ballister’s lover.


Joining forces with Ballister is our title character, Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz). Nimona is a pink-haired shapeshifter, who can transform into any kind of animal she chooses. While this power has its advantages, it also ostracizes Nimona from any kind of social contact. Anyone she encounters immediately recoils, thinking she is a monster. At first, Ballister is no different. Nimona’s high octane energy and taste for chaos causes him to put up his defenses. Soon enough, though, they see similarities in each other. Both have been rejected by society in one form or another. They each want to have some sort of connection to the wider world: Ballister wishes to clear his name and become a knight, while Nimona wants a companion who accepts her for who she is. They form an odd couple on a mission to solve the crime Ballister was pinned for. He wants to go about it discreetly, whereas Nimona simply wants to break stuff along the way. 

Like many of today’s animated features, Nimona is slick and polished, with a hyper-kinetic liveliness – as though it can’t sit still for too long. Sometimes, the pacing becomes too frenetic. This is reflected in the action scenes where Nimona uses her powers to get out of a sticky situation. Within the span of just a few seconds, she will transform from a rhino, to a whale, to an ostrich, to an eagle, a cat, and a wolf. The animation renders these sequences by highlighting Nimona’s animal forms in pink – that way we know where she is at any given time. The camera whips and turns and flies around in circles trying to keep up with her, as though it were as baffled by what she is doing as the characters on screen. Tonally, the narrative has a pop-infused aesthetic, similar to that of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010). In both, the rhythms in editing and camera movement takes precedence over believability. There’s an artificiality in the visuals that reminded me of music videos, and I mean that in a good way.

That isn’t to say that the film is all surface and no substance. In fact, what makes it worth consideration is due to how it bends around social expectations without becoming overtly self-righteous. As narration says at the beginning, this isn’t that kind of story. The second half is where the fun escapades die down and the emotional drama takes center stage. One of the big running themes is how information can be manipulated to force the greater population to think a certain way. Much of the trouble Ballister and Nimona go through involves having to convince the citizens of the kingdom that Ballister was not the culprit. This goes in direct contrast with The Director, who relies so heavily on propaganda – manipulating people into one specific belief. This is a fairly obvious parallel to real life, where politicians and other authorities limit, change, or withhold information from the public as a form of control. 


Ballister and Nimona are the enigmas – the rogue agents who disrupt the delicate balance of “The System.” This creates a whole set of problems, especially involving Ballister’s relationship with Ambrosius. The two represent opposite ends, where one is the non-conformist and the other is an integral piece of the establishment. The fact that Ballister and Ambrosius love one another creates palpable tension over how their story will resolve. Ambrosius – just like Ballister – had always wanted to be a knight. He holds the title in high esteem, which explains why his suit of armor is solid gold. But the love he feels for Ballister is genuine as well, and when Ambrosius is ordered to hunt him down, he feels a tremendous amount of inner conflict. Eugene Lee Yang delivers a multi-layered performance, giving the character depth and tenderness, but with a good amount of hilarity as well. When The Director asks him what is on his mind, Ambrosius goes on an epic rant covering just about every thought and feeling he is going through. While the scene is funny, it also shows how conflicted Ambrosius is over his current position. 

I had heard nothing of Nimona – including the graphic novel – prior to watching it. But I am glad I did, because I was treated with a fun and exciting adventure, filled with creativity, social awareness, and a ton of heart. It does that thing that many great movies accomplish: putting us into the shoes of others and seeing the world through their eyes. When we allow ourselves to see things from someone else’s perspective, we come to realize that we are all more alike than we are different.




Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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