“Pedal to the floor, hardcore, I don’t go slow. Future on my mind I’m leaving the past behind.” rocks K. Flay as the end credits roll. Her rock anthem, “T. Rex,” perfectly sums up the convictions of Nimona.
Nimona keeps the pedal to the floor during its nearly 90-minute run time. It is a hardcore punch in the face against prejudices and the institutions that enable them. The film looks to destroy problematic preconceptions. Like its title character, it charges toward the future with the might of a rhinoceros seeking to bring down the walls that harbor close-minded thoughts.
Nimona is introduced as a nonconventional fable. Set in a futuristic but medieval world, it is a story that includes knights in shining armor, the subjects they swear to protect, and the monsters they must protect them from. The film blurs traditionally well-traced characterizations.
The knight of this tale is Sir Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed). Ballister endured the hardships of his humble upbringing all the way through the completion of an elite knight training program. Usually reserved for the aristocracy, fellow members of the program are less than accepting of him except for Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang).
Ambrosius is not only supportive of Ballister but is his lover as well. Their relationship is seriously challenged when Ballister is framed for murder. Ambrosius is torn between his love for his partner and loyalty to The Institution and its director (Frances Conroy). Ballister looks to prove his innocence to salvage his name and his relationship.
Joining Ballister on his mission is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz). Audiences soon realize it is Ballister who is joining Nimona on her mission. Nimona is a shape-shifting creature, the same creature Ballister has been training to protect the realm from. At first, he is reluctant to accept Nimona’s offer to help but eventually realizes her abilities may help clear his name.
As Nimona and Ballister’s bond grows, she makes Ballister realize how problematic his “close-minded” attitude toward her is. This realization helps Ballister reconsider his preconceived notions and makes him question who the real monsters are.
Nimona is a force of nature. She has an appetite for destruction and chaos. Despite her palpable joie de détruire, Nimona is ridden with sorrow. Her sadness is a result of the constant hateful bias she has experienced. A reveal during the final act allows viewers to identify with her situation. Nimona longs for acceptance, and when the continuous rejection threatens to be too much to bear, the film delves into dark territory. Despite this, hope is never given up on.
Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane have given audiences a gem. The film’s position throughout is unwavering and powerful. The directing duo holds no punches in their delivery.
Nimona is a not-so-subtle allegory for the LGBTQ+ community, particularly the trans population. When asked who she is, Nimona responds, “I am Nimona.” She is comfortable and lives life to the fullest, being different versions of herself. There is no need for her to make others understand who, what, or why she is. She is just as deserving as everybody else of acceptance.
Nimona’s introduction proves to be a massive and clever turning point that eventually places her at the center of the narrative. The dynamic between Ballister and Ambrosius could have been its own story. Instead, Bruno and Quane decide to pivot from traditional fable territory and introduce anarchy in the form of Nimona.
Scribes Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor base their screenplay on the Nate Stevenson graphic novel. They have crafted a marvelous story that does not miss a beat. Nimona is equal parts hilarious and affecting. It never loses momentum and does more than justice to all the characters involved.
The animation leaves something to be desired. It is not awful, but the quality falls short of the other 2023 animated offerings. There are compelling visual moments, particularly toward the end. In addition, animators do an admirable job of displaying subtle emotions on otherwise simple faces.
The voice actors excel in breathing life into the characters. However, Moretz scales a different mountain altogether. Nimona will not reach the popularity summit of an Aladdin or a Shrek, but Moretz’s tour de force performance nips at the heels of Robin Williams as the Genie and Mike Myers as Shrek. That is not hyperbole, it is simply that good.
Nimona arrives to disrupt. The movie makes it clear it is here to tear down the walls held up by prejudice. In doing so, it reminds audiences of the beautiful world that lies on the other side of those walls. In a year that has offered a mixed bag of animated movies, Nimona is undoubtedly the most boisterous, unapologetic, and perhaps the most important.