ballister boldheart (left) and nimona (right) in nimona

Netflix

‘Nimona,’ the movie Disney once tried to bury, is an utter triumph

‘Nimona’ almost didn’t happen.

 

Michelle Jaworski

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Analysis

You often hear the people behind a movie saying they went through hell and back to get it made, but Nimona went through a special hell as it survived a merger, the shuttering of an entire animation studio, and an unlikely resurrection before arriving on Netflix this past weekend.

Based on the seminal graphic novel by ND Stevenson (which started out as a webcomic), it’s set in a walled-off medieval-futuristic kingdom. Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), one of those would-be knights, is framed for murder, which only makes him more appealing to Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenage shapeshifter who wants to be his sidekick. They team up to clear his name (even if Ballister shoots down Nimona’s more violent ideas).

The animation is vibrant and striking, especially as Nimona transforms from animal to animal. But Nimona is also a movie with plenty on its mind as it expands on Nimona’s backstory from the comic and puts the relationship between Ballister and Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang) front and center.

It also makes Nimona’s trans allegory—not the first in animation this year—a bigger part of the text; Stevenson, who came out as gay and later came out as trans, says it was obvious in hindsight. The movie shows Ballister working through his prejudices while Nimona knows exactly who and what she is. But Ballister and Nimona also live in a world that’s unkind to people who are different and how adults weaponize that hatred and fear of the unknown against them.

But Nimona almost didn’t happen. First announced at Fox Animation in 2015 with Blue Sky Studios (behind the Ice Age franchise) set to animate it, Disney shut down Blue Sky Studios and canceled Nimona in 2021 after acquiring Fox. Animators who worked on the film alleged that Disney was uncomfortable with Nimona’s overtly queer themes, which included a gender-non-conforming heroine and a kiss between two male characters. In 2022, Annapurna and Netflix revived it.

Eight years later, it was more than worth the wait. It not only didn’t tone down any of the film’s queerness, “it’s even gayer than the original comic,” one person on Twitter put it. Another saw Nimona’s journey as “the biggest argument against corporations having a hand in art ever.” And it’s a pretty epic example of “How It Started vs. How It’s Going.”

Why it matters

With so many of its canceled shows centering around queer characters, Netflix is hardly the paragon of inclusivity these days. But Nimona shows what’s possible when you’re committed to telling queer stories that go well beyond watered-down lip service and blink-and-you’ll-miss-it background characters.

And while Nimona features that gay kiss, it’s far from the most interesting thing about it.

Michelle Jaworski

Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and TV/film critic at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has covered everything from the Sundance Film Festival, NYFF, and Tribeca to New York Comic Con and Con of Thrones. She is based in Brooklyn.

 
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