'Nimona' review: A deeply wonderful, deeply queer fantasy adventure

Nimona's going to steal your heart.
By Belen Edwards  on 
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A knight in black armor and a young girl with pink hair stare menacingly into the trunk of a car.

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Even if you don't know anything about Netflix's new animated film Nimona, its winding journey from page to screen is good enough reason to check it out.

Based on the graphic novel by ND Stevenson, Nimona started out at Fox's Blue Sky Studios, only to be canceled when Disney shut down the studio in 2021. But Nimona's team wouldn't let it die. Just one year later, Annapurna Pictures and Netflix revived the film. Now, Stevenson's story of a mischievous shapeshifter and a rogue knight has finally made it onscreen — and it was more than worth the wait.

Remarkable resurrection aside, Nimona is an extraordinary film in its own right. It catapults us into an eye-popping futuristic medieval world, where shapeshifter Nimona (voiced by Chloë Grace Moretz) will wreak havoc and win your heart in the process. Along with its unique animation and rollicking action sequences, Nimona digs into themes of individuality, identity, and acceptance that aim to speak directly and warmly to the queer community. At a time when LGBTQ rights and spaces continue to come under attack from bigoted legislation(opens in a new tab), Nimona cements itself not just as a great fantasy film, but as an important one as well.

What's Nimona about, and how is it different from the graphic novel?

A knight in black armor gazes in terror out a subway window while a young girl with pink hair smiles next to him.
Behold, your new favorite misfits. Credit: Netflix

Before we meet Nimona herself, the film introduces us to Sir Ballister Boldheart (voiced by Riz Ahmed). He's the first commoner in the kingdom's history to rise through the ranks of the Institute and become a knight. However, once framed for a crime that he didn't commit, he's forced to hide from the Institute's forces — including its golden boy (and Ballister's former beau) Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (voiced by Eugene Lee Yang). With the whole world against him, how is Ballister supposed to prove his innocence?

Enter Nimona. She's a spunky ball of salmon pink anarchic energy who wants nothing more than to stick it to the Institute. Oh, and she can shapeshift. Shark, gorilla, otter ... you name it, she can become it. Believing Ballister to be a true villain, she offers him her services as a sidekick. What follows is an adventurous odd couple pairing for the ages: Ballister just wants to clear his name, while Nimona just wants to cause carnage. Disagreements about murder and destruction ensue.

The film takes the darkness of Stevenson's original comic down several pegs — Nimona is far less homicidal — and its plot goes in wildly different directions. But the characters and their relationships with each other remain true to the source material. Ballister and Nimona find common ground in their status as outsiders, as well as a shared purpose in taking down the real evil at the heart of their kingdom. Who knows, maybe two so-called "villains" are exactly what the world needs to change for the better.

Nimona delivers glorious action and animation.

A knight in black armor sits on a grassy lawn while a young girl with pink hair makes punk signs with her hands and grins with fanged teeth and fiery eyes.
"Metal." Credit: Netflix

In addition to changing aspects of the graphic novel's plot, Nimona isn't animated in Stevenson's art style. Instead, it blends 3D animation with graphic, illustrative 2D stylings, creating its own distinctive look. In a year in which films like Elemental, Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, and Deep Sea have all brought something new to the animation table, it's exciting to see Nimona forge its own path and join these movies in proving the versatility of animation as a medium.

Nimona's animation serves as a vehicle for some phenomenal action sequences, like a jailbreak or a battle between Ballister, Nimona, and the army of the Institute. It's here that the film really gets to show off Nimona's skill set as a shapeshifter: She darts from one form to another in fluid flashes of pink, always keeping you on your toes for what comes next and maintaining the film's energy and sense of play.

Much of Nimona's fun also stems from its setting, which combines medieval aesthetics with futuristic technology. In fight scenes, that means we see laser crossbows, glowing swords, and knights on hoverbikes. When it comes to general world building, we get flying cars and castles covered in holographic advertisements, like knights hawking the sports drink SlayerAde. The world of Nimona may be made-up, but it's details like these that make it feel lived-in, grounding the film's stakes with dramatic weight.

Nimona's themes of acceptance will resonate with everyone — perhaps especially with LGBTQ audience members.

A knight in black armor and a salmon pink shark shake hands.
She's a shark! Credit: Netflix

One of the reasons Nimona's revival is so significant is because it is an explicitly queer story. The film does not beat around the bush when it comes to Ballister and Ambrosius' relationship: Their love for each other is at the heart of the film. Plus, Nimona features the voices of LGBTQ actors like Yang, Indya Moore, Julio Torres, and RuPaul.

Another element of Nimona that might especially resonate with queer viewers is Nimona herself. Throughout the film, Nimona is treated like a monster due to her differences. Ballister often questions her powers — why does she shift at all? Wouldn't it be easier just to stay a girl? Nimona expresses frustration at these "small-minded questions" and at the Institute's insistence on maintaining a rigid status quo. She doesn't want to fit into a neat little box for the comfort of others. When asked "what" she is, she simply replies, "I'm Nimona."

Nimona may never outright discuss transness and gender nonconformity, but moments like those leave no doubt about the trans allegories in Nimona. Nimona is able to change shape at will, and as she tells Ballister, not being able to change feels akin to dying. It's who she is, so why should she try to repress it?

Transness was present in Stevenson's original graphic novel, and since writing it, Stevenson himself has come out as trans-masculine and even written in his Substack(opens in a new tab) about revisiting Nimona post-coming out. That these themes are given so much space in the film adaptation is one of the great wonders of Nimona. It doesn't shy away from its source material's queerness at all, to the point that it's honestly hard to imagine what Nimona would have looked like coming from Disney, a studio notorious for its "exclusively gay moments."

The film also heads into some heavier territory, exploring ideas of self-harm and suicidal ideation, threats that LGBTQ youth and especially trans youth(opens in a new tab) face due to their mistreatment. Like with Nimona's nonconformity, Nimona handles this darker subject matter with care, sensitivity, and empathy. We see that with Ballister's arc throughout the film, as he works toward understanding and accepting Nimona for who she truly is. Anyone who has ever felt different from the so-called "norm" will see themselves in Nimona, but it's important to see yourself in Ballister too, and to recognize that we all have the ability (and obligation) to understand and treat others with the respect they deserve.

Nimona balances these more intense themes with a healthy touch of absurdity, whether that's Nimona's penchant for asking morbid questions or a cute scene involving her dancing in shark form. Yet the film never loses sight of the absolutely necessary celebration of individuality and acceptance at its core. Like its titular character, Nimona contains multitudes: It's bold and rebellious, hilarious and heartfelt, and an overall vital watch.

Nimona is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)

More in Film, Netflix, Streaming

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Belen Edwards
Entertainment Reporter

Belen Edwards is an Entertainment Reporter at Mashable. She covers movies and TV with a focus on fantasy and science fiction, adaptations, animation, and more nerdy goodness.

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