The new animated film premiering on Netflix starts exactly the way you’d think a fairy tale should. The first words we hear, after all, are, “A long, long time ago, a kingdom lived in peace.”

But don’t be fooled. Nimona, based on ND Stevenson’s acclaimed graphic novel, is about as far from an ordinary fairy tale as animated films get. Cheekily irreverent and hilariously subversive, it’s a consistent delight.


The Bottom Line

A sequel, please.

Release date: Friday, June 30
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, Indya Moore, RuPaul Charles, Julio Torres, Sarah Sherman
Directors: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
Screenwriters: Robert L. Baird, Lloyd Taylor

Rated PG,
1 hour 41 minutes

After that lulling introduction, the action shifts forward one thousand years, with the story set in a futuristic medieval kingdom that boasts skyscrapers along with its ancient fortresses. The story begins with a cheesy news broadcast hosted by two over-enthusiastic anchors (Indya Moore, RuPaul) covering the kingdom’s “Night to Knight Knights,” a reality show-style competition. Among the competitors is the insecure, one-armed Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), who’s encouraged in his efforts by his boyfriend and fellow knight-in-training, the deliciously named Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang).

Much to his surprise, Ballister wins the tournament. But just as he’s being knighted by Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaint, who could make a weather report sound regal), the sword he’s been handed emits a deadly ray that kills her. Accused of murder, he’s suddenly forced to go on the run, finding an unlikely ally in the form of Nimona (Chloe Grace Moretz), a teenage girl who’s been ostracized by the kingdom because of her shape-shifting abilities.

Nimona — the sort of uninhibited type who, upon seeing Ballister’s artificial limb, wickedly comments, “Sick arm! Did they let you keep the old one?” — proves an unlikely partner, especially since Ballister had once been tasked with killing her. But her abilities to shapeshift into creatures including a shark, cat, gorilla, dragon and even a seemingly innocent little boy prove quite handy. As does her fierce fighting spirit, demonstrated when she enters into a battle with a group of Ballister’s pursuers by shouting, “The one-armed club is about to get some new members!”

It’s fun to quote the title character because, thanks to the witty screenplay by Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor, she’s eminently quotable and one of the most delightful animated anti-heroes to come along in recent years. Despite her badass qualities, she’s very relatable in her victimhood over being misunderstood by the kingdom. When asked by Ballister why she’s helping him, she replies, “Because I’m bored, and everyone hates me too.”

The character’s effectiveness is greatly enhanced by the superb design that brings every one of her volatile emotions to life, and especially by Moretz’s sterling work that ranks as one of the best and most uproarious voice performances in a long time. Ahmed, working in a necessarily more sober vein, is equally strong, projecting real pathos as the falsely accused knight. All of the voice performances throughout the film are excellent, including Frances Conroy as the imperious “Director” of the knight-training “Institute” and former SNL cast member Beck Bennett as an obnoxious knight.

Directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, who previously collaborated on the enjoyable Spies in Disguise, bring a consistently lively, fast-paced quality to the action, and the gorgeous computer animation proves eye-popping throughout. Christophe Beck’s orchestral score, enlivened by various other musical styles — including some character-befitting punk rock interludes for Nimona (with no less than Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols providing guitar riffs) — is another strong contribution.

One of film’s most notable aspects is its touching handling of the tender romantic relationship between Ballister and Ambrosius, including hand-holding and a kiss. These elements reportedly scared off Disney when they inherited the project after acquiring Fox and shutting down the film’s original production company, Blue Sky Studios. Annapurna Animation subsequently picked up the film, which has now wound up on Netflix. Disney’s loss is their gain.   

Full credits

Production company: Annapurna Animation
Distributor: Netflix
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, Lorraine Toussaint, Beck Bennett, Indya Moore, RuPaul Charles, Julio Torres, Sarah Sherman
Directors: Nick Bruno, Troy Quane
Screenwriters: Robert L. Baird, Lloyd Taylor
Producers: Karen Ryan, Julie Zackary, Roy Lee
Executive producers: Megan Ellison, Robert L. Baird, Andrew Millstein, John Powers Middleton
Editors: Randy Trager, Erin Crackel
Production designers: Aidan Sugano, Jeff Turley
Composer: Christophe Becki
Casting: Kevin Reher, Natalie Lyon, Libby Thomas Dickey

Rated PG,
1 hour 41 minutes


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