June 29, 2023

“Nimona” is a Thrilling New Standard for Family Entertainment (Review)

As a queer, gender-fluid person with big thighs and a tendency to talk more than I should, I’ve always identified with cartoonist ND Stevenson’s work. Netflix’s futuristic fantasy Nimona, an animated adaptation of Stevenson’s 2015 graphic novel by the same name, is no exception.

Image courtesy of Netflix

follows the journey of Ballister Blackheart (voiced by Riz Ahmed of Rogue One and The Sound of Metal), a former knight misbranded as a villain, as he joins forces with a spunky shape-shifter named Nimona (Hugo’s Chloë Grace Moretz) to clear his name.

I was impressed with how the animators translated the 2D drawings from the graphic novel into 3D animation for the film. The art is unique and the animation feels very fluid. It’s a different spin on Stevenson’s characters in a new style, while preserving important parts of the character design. I loved seeing Nimona as a punky delinquent covered in piercings, but I also love that she retained her big thighs and partially shaved head from the comic. It feels fresh and new, while still true to the source material in the ways that matter.

Nimona is set in a futuristic fantasy world instead of the more typical medieval fantasy setting, which was a choice that really worked for me. The city setting is compelling and different for a story about knights and magic, engaging me and holding my attention from the very start of the film.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Since the graphic novel the film is based on was written by the same mind behind Lumberjanes and She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, I knew I could expect queerness to be central to Nimona. Stevenson is a master of writing queer stories that feel powerful and intentional, but never exploitative or overdone. Many of his characters are explicitly queer, but it’s never a source of pain or conflict. Characters suffer discrimination due to being perceived as different, but their queerness is never a factor. In this way, Stevenson reflects the queer experience without ever sacrificing queer joy, and the filmmakers duly follow in Stevenson’s footsteps.

While Nimona isn’t explicitly gender-fluid (she’s referred to as a girl and uses exclusively she/her pronouns), the way she talks about her shape-shifting ability felt accurate to my lived experience as a genderqueer person in a way I never thought I’d see, especially in a family movie. Throughout the film Nimona is often asked “what” she is, to which she always frustratedly answers “I’m Nimona.” Her shape-shifting is not a magical power that she has, it’s an intrinsic part of who she is. When asked why she continues to shift forms when she’d be more accepted if she just lived as a human, she describes it as an itch inside her that is uncomfortable to ignore. Then she adds that shifting forms just makes her happy. Her refusal (and perhaps inability) to label herself, as well as the joy she feels when she embraces all sides of herself, not just the one deemed socially acceptable, is a perfect reflection of transness. Nimona is full of natural and thoughtful representation and messaging, especially in its queer characters, something that brings me joy to see in children’s media.

Image courtesy of Netflix

Keep putting such positive representation in family films and I will watch – every time. Nimona was clearly created with care and with the potential social impact of the messaging in mind. The characters are fun and relatable, the humor mostly works (especially Beck Bennett’s voice acting as a douchey knight named Todd), and the story has enough twists and intrigue that it never feels stale. If you’re looking for an easy and fun watch, Nimona is worth checking out (and may even surprise you in the best possible way). And especially if you are a parent of queer kids (or kids you suspect may be queer), it will mean a lot to them if you pick this one for a family movie night.

Nimona premieres tomorrow on Netflix.

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