The “humans are the real monsters” is a narrative that has been used and reused since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and was probably popularized for kids growing through the ’90s by Guillermo del Toro. It is a pretty effective way of showing that, despite having access to an abundance of knowledge and technology, humans are the most vicious, cruel, and soulless creatures to walk on this planet. Recently, Oni Thunder God’s Tale, Luca, Wolfwalkers, and The Sea Beast have shown how the general populace can be taught to hate something or someone that doesn’t look or act like them. In doing so, these movies have highlighted how government propaganda works and why we should think twice before discriminating against anyone who is living their life peacefully. Nimona proudly falls in that category while also delivering some much-needed queer representation.
Based on ND Stevenson’s graphic novel, the film is set in a futuristic time where medieval customs like knighthood are still followed. The kingdom is essentially ruled by a fascist organization called The Institute, which was put in place to keep shadowy demons out of the city. Gloreth, the one who was brave enough to take down one of these fabled monsters, made a team of knights whose descendants would continue this noble deed. This tradition was about to be broken by Ballister Boldheart, as he wanted to become a knight even though he wasn’t of royal blood. On the day of his knighting, Ballister is framed for murdering Queen Valerin. His hand is severed by his lover (who is also one of the knights), Ambrosius Goldenloin. After the acquisitions, Ballister is forced to go on the run. The titular shapeshifter comes to his aid and promises to help Ballister get his revenge against The Institute, even though Ballister only wants to prove his innocence.
As you can clearly see, Nimona has the appearance of a classic fantasy adventure where a noble representative of the government has been wronged, and now he has to find the real culprit. Usually, at the end of stories like these, the hero is rewarded by being reintegrated into the government after defeating a stupidly evil villain, thereby maintaining and celebrating the status quo. But that’s not the case here. Writers Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor ensure that Ballister has to do what he wants to do despite knowing that it’s going to completely destroy the status quo. There’s no glory to be achieved here. And the knighthood that is being flaunted by the government is just a front for one of the oldest forms of bigotry, i.e., classism. Therefore, even if Ballister succeeds in knowing the truth, the kingdom’s worldview about what they’ve been fed for so long is going to shatter. That automatically makes this film one of the most relevant pieces of art because we are living in a time where institutions all around the globe are peddling all kinds of lies to keep us divided and full of venom. Why? Well, if we fear one another, we’ll put our trust in those who appear to be more powerful than us.
Now, let’s talk about how queer Nimona is and why this is merely a Netflix release for a bit. Ballister Boldheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin are gay knights who go on a lover-haters-lovers arc. Mainstream entertainment has usually portrayed knights as White, heterosexual men with golden locks and whatnot. But here you have them proudly displaying their sexual orientation and introspecting about what it actually means to be a knight while being voiced by Riz Ahmed and Eugene Lee Yang. This is powerful stuff. And then there’s Nimona. I know that people were a little too confused earlier this year after witnessing some trans allegories around an animated character called Gwen Stacy in Across the Spider-Verse. However, I don’t think you’ve to be a genius to notice the trans themes associated with Nimona, as she explicitly states she doesn’t like it when people tell her to be a girl and that she prefers to keep transforming. Without giving away anything, the way Ballister and Nimona’s stories are resolved genuinely made me weep. By the way, these are the very reasons why the infamously homophobic Disney (read up on the queer content they’ve cut and the lip service they provide in the name of representation) canceled the release of the film until Annapurna and Netflix picked it up. So, even though Netflix is known for doing a lot of bad things, they occasionally do something good, such as allowing Nimona to reach the millions of queer people out there.
Coming to the visuals of Nimona, it looks magnificent. It has a comic-book-esque, hand-drawn, and hand-painted look to it, but the characters, as well as the backgrounds and foregrounds, don’t have those black outlines that are traditionally present in any kind of artwork. The best way is to compare it with Aaron Jason’s work in the Thor comics. The overall aesthetic is very soft, and there’s plenty of room for contrast. The color black is reserved for the third act of the movie and during certain pivotal scenes because of its thematic weight. The virtual bokeh effect and the light reflecting off of the irises of the characters form unrealistic shapes, which is such an interesting choice. Nimona’s transformations are exquisite. All the animals that she turns into are so cute. Every time she contorted her face, her eyes, and her whole body language to express her emotions in an overexaggerated way, I was in splits. That said, Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, along with editors Erin Crackel and Randy Trager, manage to have some quiet moments here and there as well to sell the gravitas of the narrative. The music by Christopher Beck, as well as the needle drops, are incredibly fun. The action sequences could’ve been a little smoother and a little more impactful, but one of them made me sob. So, I can excuse them.
The voice cast of Nimona is undoubtedly stacked, and they are all perfect. Eugene Lee Yang spends a lot of time doing The Director’s bidding. But there’s one moment where Yang goes on a long rant about his feelings, only to reveal that he’s ranting in his mind, which I really liked. It’s due to Yang’s commitment to the role that makes that bit land. Frances Conroy exudes regality and menace in every scene she is in. Beck Bennett brings a jock-like energy to Sir Thoddeus Sureblade, which makes his sarcastic comments all the more hilarious. That said, it’s Chloë Grace Moretz and Riz Ahmed who do all the heavy lifting, and they deserve every award there is for voice acting because that’s how excellent they are. Moretz’s turn as Nimona reminded me of her Kick-Ass days and how much fun she can be. I mean, she has done a lot of spectacular work since then. However, she needs to let loose more often and bring a sense of unhinged, punk rock rage to the screen that can help us digest the dystopian times we are in. Riz is brilliant, as always. I think the dictionary needs to come up with new adjectives to complement Riz’s expressiveness. He is truly one of the best actors working in the industry. And I’ll take 100 more movies with Riz’s Ballister and Chloë’s Nimona going on various adventures.
Nimona loudly says “gay rights” and “trans rights” and waves its queer flag unabashedly. It has a relevant message about government propaganda—especially propaganda against queer folks—that’s being blasted into everybody’s homes on a daily basis. Everyone should watch it. Every single person with a Netflix account (or even those who don’t have a Netflix account) should watch it. As mentioned before, this would’ve been available in theaters worldwide if it wasn’t for Disney’s spineless behavior. But I am hoping from the bottom of my heart that all those who love the fantasy, action, comedy, and adventure genres tune into this amazing film and show the world that we want more queer stories. In addition to that, if you are in the mood for a double or a triple feature, line it up with Wolfwalkers and/or The Sea Beast and have a blast!