It’s time we really start taking Netflix seriously as a major force in animated movies. In an already-great year for them, Netflix’s Nimona, an adaptation of ND Stevenson’s award-winning graphic novel, is a timely, inclusive blast of creative chaos. Set in a futuristic medieval world, a fun mix of Blade Runner and King Arthur, a newly-knighted warrior named Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) finds himself accused of murder and on the run. His only hope for getting through this and clearing his name? A short, feisty, pink-hued, shapeshifting chaos agent named Nimona (voiced by Chloe Grace Moretz), and she is definitely no hero.
The world of Nimona is a fascinating one. It’s a place where knights in shining armor ride metal steeds and fight with with laser swords; it’s a place where high-tech subway systems give way to massive castles. Knights, assigned to protect the realm and Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaint), are basically celebrities. Think something akin to The Boys, but without all of the explicit stuff. What the kingdom also has is a lot of discrimination, and the people aren’t ready for a commoner like Ballister to be among their protectors. When the moment of his knighthood arrives, and his sword suddenly acts of its own accord and slays the Queen, Ballister is seen as a murderer to everyone. Even his lover, champion knight Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang), only sees him as a killer.
Enter Nimona, who finds the fugitive Ballister and takes devilish glee at his actions. She’s been ready for someone to fight the system for ages, and now she wants to join Ballister as his sidekick. Ballister won’t hear of it. He wants to clear his name without violence. Violence is the entire reason she’s there. But she’s also extremely useful, and has shapeshifting powers that have branded her a monster to the realm. Even Ballister, who has been trained to kill Nimona, has to unlearn what he has been taught, and it isn’t easy.
With an established social hierarchy, bigotry, and intolerance central to the story, Nimona has a lot to say without being heavy-handed in saying it. In fact, the film moves along at such a quick, almost disorderly pace it’s like Nimona herself is running the show and not Spies in Disguise duo Nick Bruno and Troy Quane. Nimona is such a driver of the action and the humor that it being a bit scattered actually works to the film’s benefit. Kids checking out the film won’t even realize they’re being schooled. For instance, the fact that Ballister is gay and in a relationship with Ambrosius is just another part of this fantastic web being spun. Adding to the theme of inclusion and support for LGBTQ tolerance is Nimona, whose ability to transition is integral to her personality. Whether shifting from human girl to an angry rhinoceros or to a little demon boy, Nimona sees her fluidity as the truest expression of freedom.
Nimona had a rough go getting to this point. Starting out under the Blue Sky Studios banner, it fell into limbo when Disney bought 20th Century Fox and shut Blue Sky down soon after. Fortunately, Annapurna Pictures swooped in for the rescue and completed the film, with Netflix coming aboard as distributor. And we are all better for it. Featuring gorgeous animation that differs from the stale Disney/Pixar model, and modern heroes that audiences of all ages and lifestyles can relate to, Nimona is easily one of the best animated movies of the year and a must-see.
Nimona streams exclusively on Netflix beginning June 30th.