de facto film reviews 3 stars

Nimona, the swan song of the now-defunct Blue Sky Studios, the animation company behind the Ice Age franchise, Rio, Epic, and other films, recently snuck into the shuffle of Netflix’s weekly content overload. Disney famously shut the studio down in 2021 and canceled the movie; in 2022, Annapurna Pictures and Netflix resurrected the project, which fans have since hotly anticipated. Adapted from a graphic novel by ND Stevenson, the Annapurna production alters certain book elements but retains much of the story’s core and is, overall, a delightful success.

In the film, Nimona is a shapeshifter who allies with the disgraced knight Ballister Boldheart to topple the oppressive Institute for Elite Knights, a militant organization idolizing the legendary warrior Gloreth, which instills a fear of monsters outside the massive walls into the general population. Ballister goes into hiding after being framed for the monarch queen’s murder, and the mischievous, trouble-seeking Nimona offers to become his sidekick, thinking him the villain that the kingdom portrays him as.

Incorporating aspects of Frankenstein, Attack on Titan, sword-and-sorcery fantasy, and futurism, Nimona is a unique art piece that effectively makes the sum of its parts feel whole and legitimate within the context of its narrative. The citizens of this kingdom have only ever known life within its walls but have rapidly advanced technologically over the 1,000 years since Gloreth’s existence, whose brave wielding of her sword against the monster of legend inspired the continuation of such weaponry and medieval practices. However, the institute also weaponized the fear of the other to remain in power, making Nimona’s very presence in the kingdom challenging. Early on, it becomes evident that her alliance with Ballister is a chance at companionship and relatability between two social pariahs, despite Ballister’s stark humanity and tempered sense of justice, contrary to Nimona’s chaotic desire for upheaval and vengeance.

Ballister and Nimona’s budding yet complex relationship is the crux of the film’s story, as the former slowly warms up to the title character and aims to convince the population to accept her – regardless of her unorthodox and non-homogenous nature – and the latter works to prove Ballister’s innocence. But the joy of Nimona comes from how easily its other aspects weave through the story, particularly its themes of fluid identity, acceptance, and government institutions actively promoting heteronormativity and rejecting the unconventional. Through Nimona’s shapeshifting and Ballister’s same-sex relationship with the knight hunting him, Ambrosius Goldenloin, the film tells a charming and naturally constructed tale of building unity through understanding and empathy.

Of course, the creators of the beloved Ice Age franchise and, consequently, Annapurna’s new animation division have produced a beautifully animated visual spectacle with Nimona, a movie featuring some of the best editing of the year and a killer soundtrack. Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Frances Conroy, and standout Beck Bennett (channeling his best Will Arnett) all do an excellent job in their voice roles. Nimona‘s flaws are ultimately too minor to significantly discount the movie’s quality. Still, some tired tropes like the supposed “monster” seeking love and the evil government body masquerading as the do-gooders exist, and the animation style, while well-executed, isn’t for everyone.

Regardless, Nimona proves why it deserved to spring back to life despite Disney’s best efforts to stamp out its LGBT content: a heart-warming, action-packed, and culturally relevant story, excellent production design, and one of the best and most “metal” anti-heroes in modern animated cinema to boot.