Nick Bruno and Troy Quane on the Magical Message of Nimona
Fantasy fiction can transport us anywhere and transform us into anyone we want to be. Nimona, a new Netflix animated adventure from directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane, is a story of transformation that celebrates finding joy in the most magical beings of all: our true selves.
“This whole movie is a love letter to all of those who have ever felt different or ever felt misunderstood,” Quane says of Nimona. The directing duo first met when working at the now-defunct Blue Sky Animation Studios, where they made their first feature, the 2019 comedy Spies in Disguise. The two were eager to tackle another project together and began developing Nimona, which is adapted from the best-selling, award-winning graphic novel by ND Stevenson. The story is set in a kingdom that is futuristic and rooted in medieval culture. The people who dwell within the kingdom walls are protected by the Institute for Elite Knights, descendants of the legendary warrior Gloreth,who fought off a much-feared monster and banished it from the kingdom a thousand years ago.
Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) is a young commoner who has spent his life training to be a knight and is finally realizing that dream … almost. Ballister suddenly finds himself running for his life when he is framed for the murder of Queen Valerin (Lorraine Toussaint), relentlessly pursued by his own would-be comrades in arms. An unlikely heroine in the form of a mischievous teen named Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz) comes to Ballister’s rescue and helps the hapless warrior hide out and find a way to clear his name.
“This whole movie is a love letter to all of those who have ever felt different or ever felt misunderstood.”
The only problem is that Nimona isn’t just any teen: She’s a magical, shape-shifting creature who may be the so-called “monster” that Ballister has sworn to destroy. This revelation causes the knight to question everything he’s ever been taught to believe about monsters and humans and forces him to take a closer look at the world he thought he understood.
Nimona’s themes are timeless and timely, and for Bruno, the dystopian world that he and Quane were tasked with bringing to life was a fascinating concept. “It’s a society that has literally built a wall around the kingdom to keep out perceived monsters without ever really knowing if those stories were true,” Bruno says. “What they’ve actually done is not just imprison themselves physically but also mentally.”
“It’s a society that has literally built a wall around the kingdom to keep out perceived monsters without ever really knowing if those stories were true.”
Nimona’s animation style echoes the idea of mixing the old ways with cutting-edge technology by giving three-dimensional, computer-generated images a design that deliberately harkens back to the golden age of hand-drawn animation. “It’s a bit of a throwback of past and present coming together,” Bruno says. “It really does give a little nod to the graphic novel origins.”
The heart of the story is Nimona herself, a deeply personal creation and something of an alter ego for her creator, ND Stevenson, who identifies as transmasculine and nonbinary. Nimona is a girl who doesn’t feel she belongs anywhere and harbors deep emotional scars and anger issues. She battles a dark side while choosing to see the good within herself whether anyone else does or not.
“It was such a fine line to find somebody who can deliver the complexity of playing both a chaotic character and a very sincere character, and she does that in such an amazing way.”
This complex characterization challenges the traditional, animated fairytale princess–archetype, and Quane praises Chloë Grace Moretz for her work in bringing the character to life. “She’s fucking amazing,” Quane says. “It was such a fine line to find somebody who can deliver the complexity of playing both a chaotic character and a very sincere character, and she does that in such an amazing way.”
Nimona also deals with LGBTQ+ themes through Ballister and his lover, Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin (Eugene Lee Lang), the most decorated knight in the kingdom, who is charged with hunting down Ballister. “Riz Ahmed brought such understanding and nuance and comedy to this character,” Bruno says, noting that Ballister feels more of a need to metaphorically shapeshift to fit in than Nimona does. “It was very important for all of us, just the idea of diversity and visibility on screen,” Bruno says. “It’s the world we see around us, and we wanted to make sure that we were true to that.”
Nimona premiered on Netflix on June 30 and emerges as one of the most critically acclaimed films of the year and even a likely Oscar contender. This visionary and richly entertaining film is a big feather in the cap of its talented directors. It’s a movie with a much-needed message about embracing a spirit of open-mindedness and acceptance, both toward others and ourselves.