I’ve been familiar with ND Stevenson since his appearance on an episode of Critical Role campaign one. I’ve since watched his show She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, which I LOVED, so obviously I had to check out the new Netflix movie Nimona, based on his graphic novel of the same name, as well. I’m not usually one to watch something on the day it’s released, but somehow I managed this time!
I really didn’t know what to expect from this movie based on the trailer. I remember it establishing that Nimona could shapeshift, but I didn’t recall much else. To be honest, a lot about this movie took me by surprise. At the start of the movie, there are a lot of tone shifts that feel odd. I only realised later on that Nimona is based on a graphic novel, which definitely explains it. I have to admit I haven’t read the graphic novel, but often, they have a lighter tone than one would expect from a full-length movie. Nimona deals with a couple of heavy themes, so it was a little bit jarring when the character of Nimona herself was so incredibly blasée about it all.
Nimona features a really fun cast of characters. Two main characters are explicitly stated to be queer, but it’s not framed as an obstacle or as something that isn’t accepted. The voice acting is stellar, and the animation is unique and nice to look at. The story is also great, but it did leave me a bit confused for the first half of the movie.
To me, it almost felt like Nimona didn’t belong in the story she was in. She kind of reminded me of how a young fanfiction writer might rewrite their favourite book but include themselves as an important character. Her role in the story definitely becomes apparent as the movie progresses, but in the first half of the movie it feels like she is this weird supporting character and also somehow the movie is named after her?
Looking back, I don’t mind the fact that Nimona’s inclusion in Ballister’s story feels strange at first. Whenever a piece of media has LGBTQIA+ representation, there will be people complaining that the queer characters are “shoehorned” in, and that there’s no narrative reason why a character would be queer. The truth is, of course, that queer people have always existed, and don’t need a “reason” to be included in a story. Sometimes things just happen to queer people – I know, crazy!
With its many references to changing one’s shape and being accepted for being different, the movie is a clear Transgender allegory. The metaphor is very hard to miss (at least for those familiar with LGBTQIA+ issues), yet it’s still dealt with in an incredibly subtle and elegant way. Children might miss this part of the story entirely, but no one could fail to see the moral of the story: that we should accept people for who they are. That we shouldn’t let others tell us who should be treated fairly and who should be kept behind a wall.
Also, did I mention that I love stories that are both Sci-Fi and Fantasy simultaneously? That stuff’s rad as hell.
I’ll let you in on one of my reviewer secrets today. The difference between 4 stars and a higher amount is mostly dependent on if a story was able to make me cry or not. Now on to the actual review of Nimona…
All I knew of Nimona was that it was originally a graphic novel by ND Stevenson, and that this graphic novel was well-loved and – very likely – queer. Of course, this was enough for me to be interested in the adaptation. When the trailer launched, I didn’t learn much of what I could expect, but I was ready to go with whatever flow would present itself.
In total, I believe this film broke my heart approximately ten times, mainly in the first fifteen minutes and the last fifteen minutes of the story. It seems the emotional themes hit close to home. Nimona is a story about wanting to belong. Wanting to be seen for who you are, unhindered by the (pre)conceptions of others. It’s also a story about the dangers of blindly holding unto black and white thinking and the desire to put people into categories, even if these categories aren’t sufficient.
The cute and likeable characters help explore these themes in an elegant way. Poor Ballister from humble origins, who’s been trying to prove his worth since his youth. The titular Nimona, who’s simply ‘Nimona’ and longs for some connection with the world around her. And of course Ambrosius Goldenloin, who just has an amazing name that I wanted to point out.
The plot of this film is high-tempo with at times an episodic feel because of the intermediate climaxes. It has a weird pacing at times, however, one that fits Nimona’s chaos. As such, I wasn’t too bothered by it. I would have liked the movie to be a little longer, but on the whole it’s very efficient in its storytelling.
Despite its heavy themes, the flashy and colourful animation of Nimona is a joy to look at. Additionally, there were multiple times the humour had me laugh out loud. The ‘freestyle jazz’ was a winner for me.
Living can feel very lonely at times. The news is often grim nowadays, especially when you belong to a minority, such as the LGBTQIA+ community. Nimona is a reminder that you matter, and that you should not give up hope for a better tomorrow.