One of the best animated movies of the year never even saw a theater. Overshadowed by the back-to-back releases of juggernauts like the Super Mario Movie, Across the Spiderverse, and Elemental, the fantasy adventure film Nimona snuck onto Netflix in June of 2023. I had not heard of the movie when it was released, but steady and enthusiastic word of mouth pushed me to sit down and give it a shot. Going in mostly blind, I immediately understood why Nimona was garnering such positive buzz.
On the surface, Nimona is a standard fantasy film, embracing the tropes and cliches of the genre with glee. Honorable knights, scheming royal advisors, and ancient legends populate the world of the movie, aptly named “The Kingdom.” The plot has few surprises, following a standard narrative with few subversions. Yet Nimona somehow feels remarkably fresh, exemplifying one of the reasons I love fantasy as a genre.
The secret is in the execution. The setting adds a small burst of life by embracing a sci-fi/fantasy blend that breathes life into the central city. The classic castles and stone buildings are awash in neon and glowing screens, the clothing a playful mix of a modern wardrobe with fantasy tropes. The weapons creatively toe the line between pulp fantasy and sci-fi, with combat being an equal serving of sword fighting and flying lasers, making each action scene a visual treat.
As the movie progresses, the details pile up, giving the world more dimensions. The animation, while sometimes a little rough, is endlessly creative, finding fun and visually creative ways to not only bring the world to life but lend emotion and metaphor to almost every shot.
The characters all start as archetypes, but the more we learn about them, the more three-dimensional they become. While the side characters stay single-note, each of the main characters is remarkably complex, with multiple conflicting motivations that drive their decision-making throughout the film. The titular Nimona is an excellent example, starting as a typical sidekick character that would not be out of place in any Disney movie, with a relatable and understandable motivation and a clear character arc.
Where that would make for a perfectly serviceable character, Nimona only grows in complexity as the movie continues. While her initial motivation doesn’t change, her context and choices add remarkable depth to what would be a one-note character in less capable hands. The relationships are filled with this complexity and nuance, reaching emotional highs and lows that might have been expected but are still beautifully affecting due to the audience’s investment in the characters.
Moreover, Nimona does what all great genre fiction does, reflect on our world through the power of allegory. At its heart, Nimona is a deeply affecting allegory of the trans experience. Like everything else in the movie, the strength and complexity only grow as it is ties into the characters and plot. Nimona does not content itself in merely depicting the trans experience but in exploring the societal and legal reasons for that experience.
Each character is allowed to have a different view, each shifting as the characters learn from their experiences and one another. The result is remarkable, raising this animated kids’ movie released unceremoniously on Netflix to be one of the most affecting and detailed depictions of the trans experience I have seen.
Unsurprisingly, Nimona has been embraced by the LGBTQ+ community, and it is an important step towards trans representation in popular media. Nimona is not a perfect movie by any means. The humor doesn’t always land, the animation has some shaky moments, and the plot is cliché with few subversions.
Yet passion and creativity are so readily apparent in every frame that I find the product impossible to dislike. The care put into the themes and characters, paired with the anarchic sense of fun and genuine heart on display, results in a film that left me grinning wide and genuinely touched. Nimona is a film that more than deserves your time and fully stands as the best pick for any family movie night.