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Entry updated 18 September 2023. Tagged: Film.

US animated film (2023). Annapurna Pictures. Based on the web Comic Nimona (2012-2014) by ND Stevenson, assembled as the Graphic Novel Nimona (graph 2015). Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane. Written by Robert L Baird and Lloyd Taylor. Voice cast includes Riz Ahmed, Charlotte Aldrich, Frances Conroy, Chloë Grace Moretz, Lorraine Toussaint, Eugene Lee Yang and Karen Ryan. 99 minutes. Colour.

Long ago a peaceful kingdom was attacked by a Monster which was defeated by a Hero, Glorith (Ryan), who then trained an elite force of knights to defend that land from future threats, for "the monsters are always out there". A thousand years later, a City is circled by a vast wall which keeps away any monsters that might lurk outside; within, it is protected by the Institute for Elite Knights.

Though the monarchy and the Institute provide a feudal air (see Medieval Futurism), the city is otherwise futuristic, with flying cars and suchlike (see Technology) and a Media Landscape not dissimilar to our own. Queen Valerin (Toussaint) wishes to open up the Institute to all and has selected the first commoner, Ballister Boldheart (Ahmed), to be knighted; but at the ceremony the pommel of his new sword fires a green Ray that kills the Queen; fellow knight Ambrosius Goldenloin (Yang), a descendant of Glorith – and Ballister's boyfriend – cuts off his sword arm.

Now a hunted regicide, Ballister goes into hiding: one day, when he has just built a Cyborg arm for himself, there is a knock on the door. It is a young girl, Nimona (Moretz), who insists on becoming his sidekick "to help you do whatever it takes to get revenge on the cold cruel world that rejected you": she's very disappointed when Ballister insists he is not a Villain and wants nothing to do with her. However, he's arrested shortly after and she rescues him; he wonders how a small girl, no matter how psychotic, can beat up an entire guardroom; that puzzle is quickly answered when they are attacked and she turns into a giant pink rhino. Nimona is a Shapeshifter who hates being called a monster and wants to kill everyone; Ballister, who doesn't want to kill anybody, reluctantly accepts he'll need her to find out who was responsible for the Queen's death. Which is done reasonably quickly – it was the Director (Conroy) of the Institute. For Ballister this is a problem since proving his innocence could threaten people's faith in the Institute; to Nimona this is incomprehensible; he should be questioning everything. But he insists the Institute protects the realm: "From villains like you ... or monsters like me?" responds Nimona.

Ballister's attempt to present the evidence to Ambrosius doesn't go well: it gets destroyed and Ambrosius's refusal to believe him cuts deep. Nimona's trauma is exposed when she rescues a child whilst in monster form and their response is to pick up a sword: "[Kids] grow up believing they can be a hero if they drive a sword into the heart of anything different." Later, the Director is shocked when Ambrosius confronts her over Ballister's accusation: she explains her nightmare of a crack appearing in the wall, which widens, through which monsters pour. To her the commoner Ballister is that crack, with Nimona's appearance proving she is right. Then she stabs Ambrosius, who dies somewhat melodramatically ... because this is Nimona in disguise, with Ballister recording and posting the Director's admission on the Internet. Unfortunately the Director responds with a broadcast saying Nimona was impersonating her – and with a shapeshifter in the city, "We are under attack ... it could be anyone: your spouse, your child, your best friend" (see Paranoia). She has also discovered an ancient scroll showing that the human form of Glorith's monster resembles Nimona, which Ambrosius shows to Ballister: he goes to speak with her, but other knights follow him home and break in – Nimona flees into the forest.

As children, Glorith (Aldrich) and Nimona had been friends, but adults found out about her shapeshifting and labelled her a monster – and Glorith sided with them. Recalling this, and burning from what she believes is Ballister's betrayal, Nimona grows huge and marches into the city, causing destruction; but her rage hides despair – she had earlier admitted to suicidal impulses – and she tries to impale herself on the sword wielded by a giant statue of Glorith. Ballister climbs to the tip of the sword and stops her: "I see you Nimona, and you're not alone." She reverts to her human form. The populace are moved (and surprisingly unconcerned about the many deaths Nimona must have caused during her rampage), though not the Director – and when Ambrosius defies her order to use the wall's cannons on Nimona – "What if we're wrong, what if we've always been wrong?" – she goes to fire one herself, though this will kill many others too (it fires an energy beam – see Weapons). But Nimona transforms into a giant bird – likely a phoenix – and flies up to the mouth of the cannon, taking the full blast: the explosion – aside from disintegrating her and killing the Director – breaches the city wall.

Sometime later, the city now engages with the outside world; Ballister and Ambrosius are a couple and Nimona mourned as a hero. Ballister sorrowfully returns to their old hideout; a knock has him rushing to the door but there is no-one there ... then behind him there is a pink glow and we hear Nimona greet him (see Regeneration).

Nimona's shapeshifting is a metaphor for transitioning (see Transgender SF) and the individual's experiences when doing so (see Identity). Despite the Fantasy motifs, this is a sf tale (the comic has more fantasy elements), the only grey area being Nimona's origin, which is not explained. Amongst other changes, the film softens Nimona's character, whilst the effect of compressing the source comic into a 100-minute film means the plot is a little rushed at times, with some vagueness to the worldbuilding. But these are minor quibbles: Nimona is a memorable film with excitement, Humour and likeable protagonists, which handles its themes well.

Nimona was begun by Blue Sky Studios, but when the owner, The Walt Disney Company, closed it in 2021 it looked as though the film would remain unfinished. However, it was picked up in 2022 by Annapurna Pictures, who completed then released it the following year. The author of the Eisner Award-winning comic, ND Stevenson, also developed the excellent Television series She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018-2020). [SP]


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