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Nimona (2023)

based on the webcomic and graphic novel by N D Stevenson, is an LGBTQ-themed science fantasy tale set in a thousand year old futuristic medieval city-kingdom of armoured knights, flying cars and London-style Tube trains. 

Our hero, Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed), is to be the first commoner to join the Elite Knights, an order set up by the kingdom’s founder, the legendary heroine Gloreth – coincidentally the ancestor of his fellow knight-aspirant (and boyfriend) Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Yang) –  to defend it from “a Great Black Monster”. The city has walls mounted with laser turrets to defend it, and a citywide alarm system to warn if ever the monster comes – which it hasn’t. Ever.  


But ruler Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaint) wants to shake things up, opening up the Knights so that “anyone can be a hero”, a highly controversial notion in this resolutely feudal kingdom. Just as she is about to knight her protégé Boldheart, a blast of green laser light from his sword fells her. Goldenloin reacts instinctively, chopping off his paramour’s sword-arm, but it is too late for the Queen. Boldheart runs, and the starchy Director of the Knights (Frances Conroy) takes over management of the kingdom, vowing the killer will be found.  

The now universally-hated regicide Boldheart goes into hiding and somehow manages to make himself a prosthetic arm, at which point the eponymous Nimona (voiced beautifully by Chloe Grace Moretz (of Kick-Ass fame)) shows up, demanding to be made official sidekick to the city’s “greatest villain”. Nimona is an outsider, who can shapechange into any number of creatures from a tiny bird to a rhinoceros, gorilla or even – with hilarious consequences at one point – a whale, and who can get quite demonic at times, prefiguring her eventual transformation. 


Pursued by the guards, headed by Goldenloin, aided and abetted by the moronic and annoying guard captain Sir Thoddeus “Todd” Sureblade (Beck Bennett) and the frankly useless knights (who display Imperial stormtrooper levels of competence and aim throughout...), Boldheart and Nimona must work together to vanquish the real evil in the kingdom. 

What follows is a wild, at times hyperactive ride towards a good climax and neat resolution. There are chases, battles and some moments of genuine pathos as the two outsiders bond through adversity. Trigger warning/spoiler here: the tense climax does feature a suicide theme (though nobody dies).  

The intention to produce a movie version of the acclaimed webcomic was first announced in 2015, but the project was cancelled in 2021 when producer Blue Sky Studios, a subsidiary of 20th Century Animation, was closed down by Disney (which had acquired Blue Sky as part of its purchase of various Fox assets in 2019). When Annapurna Pictures launched its animation division in 2022, it brought on British animation studio DNEG to revive the picture, building directly on the work Blue Sky had done.


Animation-wise, the production design mixes modern and medieval elements – Tudor beamed skyscrapers, self-driving flying cars which resemble fairytale carriages etc – and stirs in contemporary elements here and there, such as a version of YouTube and a cereal called Dragon Krisps (whose mascot, Kwispy Dwagon, is voiced by Nimona creator N D Stevenson). 

Obvious influences include Shrek, Blade Runner, Arcane, Tron and Attack on Titan while Nimona herself turns into all kinds of pink creatures rather like those in Disney’s The Emperor’s New Groove (when the guards are all transformed by polymorphic potions). The eventual, predictable “Great Black Monster” looks like Godzilla and Studio Ghibli had a baby. It looks good, but it sometimes feels like you’ve seen it all before. 

Thematically, Nimona is the latest in a line of animated movies and TV series to feature LGBTQ+ characters engaged in proving that just because they’re different, they’re no less than other people. Three previous Blue Sky Studios staffers suggested that part of Disney’s decision to cancel Nimona was because of its LGBTQ+ theme and a fairly prominent kiss between Ballister and Goldenloin, so it’s good to see Annapurna kept all that in. 


The handling of its main theme is a little problematic, though. The word “different” is used constantly, but the kingdom isn’t actually homophobic – nobody, including chief bruh Todd, has a problem with Ballister and Goldenloin being lovers. Instead, kids are brought up to want to put swords in monsters; it’s literally the marketing campaign for Krispy Dragon cereal. What the monster here stands for is unclear, and it’s not nothing because the movie has clearly set out to make a point. Trans? Non-binary? That’s fine, but it would mean that Ballister’s eventual – and by the way entirely unconvincing – turn on Nimona which sets up the climax, amounts to LGBT internecine warfare, a highly nuanced point to make for a movie which otherwise doesn’t especially push political or philosophical boundaries. 

Nor does the worldbuilding stand up to more than a moment’s thought – all these people have lived in a walled kingdom for a thousand years and nobody has gone outside in all that time? Where do they get their food from? The lithium for all those batteries? 

The characterisation could also have done with a bit more work; the real villain is pretty two-dimensional, and of the heroes, only Goldenloin is given a genuinely tough choice to make and only Nimona herself gets a proper arc. 

Those niggles aside, Nimona is charming, fun and kooky enough to make it an enjoyable way to spend its 102 minute runtime. But the lack of real depth or credible threat – an ultimately happy ending is never really in doubt – and a fairly predictable plot means it’s likely to be a more exciting and satisfying watch for young teens than for most adults.



 A colourful LGBTQ+-themed retro futuristic fantasy which manages to pull some genuine pathos from its hyperactive, at times predictable, story.




Mark Brandon has been a fan of all things animated since he can remember, and a writer since he could put pen to paper. He lives in the south of Scotland, where he writes science fiction and fantasy, goes for walks in the country and lifts big bits of metal up and down (mainly for vanity’s sake).