Netflix’s new animated film begins with words that we’ve all heard before: “A long, long time ago, a kingdom lived in peace…” Set in a futuristic mediaeval-style fantasy world based on ND Stevenson’s graphic novel of the same name, Nimona subverts many of its expectations. It’s unlike any of the usual fairytale stories that audiences have recently watched, such as Disney’s Encanto, Luca and Frozen, which deal with cultural conversations. It aligns itself with these familiar and cliché themes that become repetitive. Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, Nimona is a triumphant and delightful film that has fantastic characters and brilliant storytelling with an inclusive message of resilience and bravery.
The Adventure of Hero and Villain
With flying vehicles, neon lights, giant projected screens, and knights serving as military police, the world of Ballister Boldheart (voiced by Riz Ahmed) is about to change. Queen Valerin (voiced by Lorraine Toussaint) is about to knight the first commoner at the Institution. All he has to do is win the tournament, but the citizens doubt him and the Queen’s decision. Ballister is a lowborn commoner who was taken under Queen Valerin’s wings and trained at a very young age. His boyfriend and fellow knight-in-training, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (voiced by Eugene Lee Yang), encourages him through his efforts to win the tournament.
However, on the night of Ballister’s knighthood anointing, as he kneels before Queen Valerin, his sword emits a green ray and kills her immediately. The entire arena erupts in chaos, and Ambrosius cuts off his boyfriend’s arm. Ballister is wanted for the Queen’s murder but he flees the scene of the crime. He hides out in an empty castle and befriends a shapeshifting child, Nimona (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz), who was abandoned by the community for her abilities. Ballister is desperate to clear his name and find out who has framed him for the Queen’s assassination. Nimona, on the other hand, is excited to be his sidekick, uses her shapeshifting powers to help him, and just wreaks havoc wherever she goes.
A Challenging Beginning
With incredible worldbuilding, Nimona is stylised with 3D animation with elements of 2D work that blend well together. But it wasn’t easy to get this project made. Initially, the animated feature was stuck in development for a long time. After Disney acquired 20th Century Fox, several of its assets were shut down, including Blue Sky Studios. Netflix and Annapurna Pictures acquired the rights to this project and finished production. The team behind the animated film created an illuminating and out-of-the-world that features a fresh and unique story, polished character animation, and incredible voice performances by Moretz and Ahmed. It’s certainly a fresh dose of punk rock attitude and marvellous adventure that makes up for its subversive storyline and character tropes.
Crafting Nimona and Ballister’s Stories
What makes Nimona so incredibly mesmerising is how the directors and Stevenson crafted the central characters. Ballister is the hero until something unexpected happens that changes the trajectory of the story. Nimona is portrayed as a villain ostracised by the community due to her shapeshifting powers. Both of the characters deal with their conflicts. The directors take their time to explain their conflicts and the reason why they want to partake in this team-up. Throughout the entire runtime, Nimona and Ballister are neither portrayed as a hero nor a villain.
Even when the titular character is portrayed as the villain of the story, who wishes to destroy everything, her story unfolds as the movie progresses. By the end, it’s clear that not everything is as it seems, with Nimona’s reluctance to share her background story with Ballister. An easier way to understand a hero’s journey is that characters, especially heroes, are flawed. Nimona is one of the most likeable and relatable protagonists in an animated movie. She is happy and cheerful but goes punk-rock dark in a second to show her emotions.
Moreover, Ballister is also flawed. He wants to be accepted by a social structure that doesn’t see him as an equal. A knight who was raised to defend his country begins to question his beliefs the minute he is excommunicated. Alongside Nimona’s background story, Ballister’s emotional journey is just as important. Ballister battles with external and internal conflicts; the Institution he grew up in and his relationship with Ambrosius. It is a queer story crafted to explore longing and the complicated relationship of being with someone from a different world.
Chaotic and Inventive Storytelling
As a medium, animation has an endless amount of creativity. Along with the strong characters, fantastic worldbuilding, and character tropes, there isn’t a scene in Nimona that looks bland. There are cool action sequences that flow through endlessly — never missing a single beat. Every sequence is fun! With Nimona’s shapeshifting ability, Bruno and Quane animate the titular character. She stretches and moves and shrinks to different sizes. From a rhinoceros to a mouse, these transformations can only be done through the creation of animated storytelling.
Nimona is the result of thoughtful storytelling that explores the loneliness behind great power. A subtle romance that brings out all the emotions. It subverts all of the fairytale slash fantasy tropes altogether. The animated movie knows that a character like Nimona is far more interesting than a princess chasing a prince charming. Even in the darkest moments, this breathtaking story never loses sight of the message. Every part of Nimona is an unexpected journey — a hero’s journey.