Nimona (2023) Review

Nimona (2023)
Director: Troy Quane, Nick Bruno
Screenwriter: Robert L. Baird, Lloyd Taylor
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Beck Bennett

Nimona is like that classic start to a joke: a lonely, moping knight meets a devilish, shape-shifting teenager. What happens next?

The answer is one you can’t imagine, because Nimona is so incredibly unique that it’s impossible to anticipate its sheer genius. Two characters from completely opposite walks of life form the most unlikely of friendships in this adventure of love, pain, and acceptance. It’s fair to say that 2023 brought with it some beautiful and breathtaking animation, but you’ve never seen anything quite like Nimona.

Nominated for Best Animated Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, Nimona delivers not only a fresh and original animation style, but an exciting and funny narrative that holds an unexpectedly emotional message.

Riz Ahmed (Sound of Metal) stars as the voice of Ballister Boldheart, a knight framed for the murder of his queen who then goes into hiding. He is a character who rose to nobility from an unlikely upbringing that caused him great adversity, and has henceforth never really felt like he fit in. The only thing that makes him happy is his relationship with Ambrosius Goldenloin, voiced by Eugene Lee Yang (The Try Guys), and the two have a loveable romance. The film doesn’t shy away from sexuality overall, expressing it unapologetically through its characters and themes, which is at once refreshing and long overdue. Ballister’s grey world soon ignites into an explosion of colour when he meets Nimona (voiced brilliantly by Chloë Grace Moretz), a mischievous shapeshifter with a knack for causing trouble.

Ballister is Nimona’s personal pinata; she bursts his icy exterior and reignites his hope through her adrenaline-junkie personality. Nimona can take the form of anyone and anything she likes, from whale to otter to “rhinoperous”, yet she mainly takes the form of a punk-rock teenager with piercings and a love of destruction. Whilst she is a funny and loveable character, the rest of her world sees her as a monster. Similar to Ballister, Nimona is an outcast, a person who will forever be seen as dangerous and unlovable. All Nimona wants is to be seen, not for who society says she should be (a “normal” teenage girl) but for who she is, and for people to accept her.

Her shapeshifting is an obvious metaphor for transitioning teenagers, and her character even states she feels better when she does it. When asked what happens if she doesn’t shapeshift, she states rather pointedly, “I wouldn’t die die. I just sure wouldn’t be living.” Nimona never refers to herself by gender, either. When asked constantly by Ballister: “Who/what are you?”, she simply replies “I’m Nimona”, basically telling us her chosen form of a teenage girl does not reflect the way she truly identifies. Nimona is not one thing, she is many, and due to that, people isolate her.

The futuristic, cyberpunk world that encapsulates this epic narrative creates a visual experience comparable to an animated Blade Runner. The science-fiction elements hybridise in odd but awesome ways with a futuristic medieval aesthetic; the tech combines with fantasy in a manner similar to ‘Arcane’s’ (2021) steampunk aesthetic that merged magic and science. In Nimona, knights wear sunglasses and dance to rock music, there are huge projected screens and lights dazzle the medieval city in a bold attack of rich blues, greens, and reds. That’s not to mention how Nimona sports an iconic pink pixie cut that couldn’t make her look any less medieval.

Based on the graphic novel of the same name by ND Stevenson, the film uses a unique blend of the original 2D realisation with more traditional feature 3D animation, offering geometric shapes that reflect its very cartoonish and playful style. The set design is spectacular, with deeply layered and textured settings that blend with the 2D style of the characters. Whilst this approach is not in any way reflective of Stevenson’s artwork, the cinematic version captures the life of the story through the bold colours, dialogue, and themes that bring the pages to life.

What is reflective of Stevenson’s original work is how Nimona’s comedic writing is masterful. It produces the classic entertaining experience that is desired in the world of animation, yet hits home on its harder message of inclusivity. The expressive voice acting creates such a soulful audio-visual experience. Chloë Grace Moretz brings a hilarious rambunctiousness to Nimona that makes it so you can almost see the lines of pure energy about to form around her head as she goes full punk-rock-mischief mode. This, and a soundtrack filled with rock, assists the epic fight scenes and chase sequences that demonstrate the action and adventure, whilst a haunting and emotional score draws the raw heart of this film out to contrast its energetic exterior.

Nimona manages to achieve such a unique footprint on the massive and ever-changing world of animation. Its aforementioned bold use of colour goes even further than simple aesthetics; it portrays the deepest emotions of its characters, similar to that of Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse (2023), utilising key animated techniques to delve deeper into the layers of these characters. Ballister’s cold blues and greys are literally illuminated by Nimona’s crazy pinks and reds, heightening their levels of emotion. Nimona manages to be a feature completely of its own, running wild with mayhem and magic, truly paving the way for the diverse and expanding animated landscape.

The LGBTQ+ themes – the expression of gender fluidity and sexuality – make Nimona a truly moving and important watch. At its heart, Nimona is a story about individuality and acceptance, scratching that internal itch in order to be who you are. Its ending does bring to mind aspects of Princess Mononoke and even Godzilla (only if Godzilla was secretly disguised as a teenage rebel). Nimona is truly a standout movie in animation that delivers possibly the most emotional and hilarious story of 2023; it is one of the best animations released on Netflix in years.

Whilst there may be bigger favourites in the Animated Feature category at the Oscars in 2024, Nimona deserves recognition for its own unique form of greatness and societal relevance. Its message is clear: be different, stay metal. We could all learn a thing or two from Nimona.

Score: 20/24

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Written by Lamorna Peake

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