'Nimona' Netflix animated movie is a resounding success after it was almost killed

Based on ND Stevenson's graphic novel, the film with a gender nonconforming, "curvy" lead character is an epic fantasy adventure

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Years in the making, ND Stevenson's graphic novel "Nimona" has finally be transformed into a on Netflix, with a star-studded cast of voices including Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang and RuPaul.

“Nimona was a character that actually came about when I was a teenager in high school, and it was a time where I was having a lot of really big feelings, and those were feelings that I didn't know where to put them,” Stevenson said at a virtual press conference back in April. “Being a shapeshifter was a big fantasy for me. I really wanted to be able to change my body and my presentation at will to be everything that people wanted me to be, but also aggressively the opposite of that as well.”

“Nimona became an outlet for that. She was this punk, just like total rebel, total rule breaker, always doing the first thing that she thought of, always following her heart and just becoming this creature of any size, any level of power.”

As Stevenson progressed with developing the character of Nimona, he became particularly interested in "the dynamics of heroism versus villains" and our ideals of what those characters mean.

As the audience is transported into this medieval but also futuristic world, a knight, Ballister Boldheart (Ahmed), is wrongly accused of murder, joining up with young teen Nimona (Moretz) to try to clear his name. But Nimona is a shapeshifter who has a knack for causing chaos and if fact, Nimona is the exact creature that Ballister, as a knight, has been trained to destroy. While Nimona is Ballister's only hope to get him out of trouble (even his boyfriend Ambrosius Goldenloin (Yang) doesn't help him), Nimona and Ballister start to become true sidekicks, kindred spirits, as the line between heroes and villains blurs.

A Knight (Riz Ahmed) is framed for a crime he didn't commit and the only person who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shape-shifting teen who might also be a monster he's sworn to kill. Set in a techno-medieval world unlike anything animation has tackled before, this is a story about the labels we assign to people and the shapeshifter who refuses to be defined by anyone. (Netflix)

'She's chubby and she's curvy, but she's never sexualized'

While some things certainly have to shift when adapted for the screen, Stevenson felt very strongly about keeping a few elements of his graphic novel, including particular elements of what Nimona looks like.

“I knew that things were going to change, but it was always really important to me that Nimona herself remain the centre of this story and that the things that made her were not removed, or sanded down or simplified too much,” Stevenson said.

“One of the things that was really important to me was her body type. She's chubby and she's curvy, but she's never sexualized, and she's gender nonconforming. She just has her own unique style. She chooses to look this way and so that was something that I just really wanted to make sure at least, no matter how much it might change in the adaption, that was something that stayed true.”

Stevenson also wanted to maintain the "darkness" and the "pain" that Nimona has in the story, particularly because, in working on the graphic novel, Stevenson found it "cathartic" to use this story as a way to explore personal emotions.

“One thing that I think is really important about this story for me, and it was really important to see in the movie, was the darkness at the heart of it," Stevenson said. "Nimona is not just quirky, she's not just fun, she's not just like a … kick butt protagonist, she has a lot of fear and a lot of pain at her heart, and that comes out as anger."

“That was something that I found very cathartic at the time. I was looking for an outlet for my emotions and I felt like I wasn't really able to express them. But through her, I could do that. At the end she becomes this monster. The monster that … everybody's been telling her that she is, and she's just like, ‘You know what, you want a monster? You got one. Here I am.’ That was something that I really needed to see and it was kind of a hard sell for a female character then and now. … The book is dedicated to monster girls and I think there are so many monster girls and boys and beyond who are going to see themselves in her.”

(L to R)  Ballister Boldheart (voice of Riz Ahmed), Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz) and Ambrosius Goldenloin (voice of Eugene Lee Yang).  (Netflix)
(L to R) Ballister Boldheart (voice of Riz Ahmed), Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz) and Ambrosius Goldenloin (voice of Eugene Lee Yang). (Netflix)

Same-sex kiss controversy can't stop this Netflix hit

Since the film's June 30 release, Nimona has been celebrated for being an unapologetically queer fantasy adventure, but this comes after reported claims that there were initial concerns about the same-sex kiss featured in the film, when Disney acquired animation studio Blue Sky in its 2019 Fox merger. Two years later, Blue Sky was shut down, shortly before the initially expected 2022 release of Nimona.

But according to Insider, issues about the film's same-sex kiss started to pop up in 2020.

"Blue Sky leadership felt enough pressure in this meeting to leave the kiss out of future presentations to Disney, despite hoping to ultimately include it in the film," Insider claimed in a 2022 article.

While Stevenson, who is transmasculine, highlighted that the genesis of "Nimona" began before he was out, Stevenson stressed that ultimately the story is about "acceptance."

“There might not be any homophobia or transphobia in the movie, but there are metaphors that stand for that lack of acceptance or for the fear that can be drummed up around other people, other human beings,” Stevenson said. “I think it's just always been part of this story's DNA or just a major part of what's at the heart of the story.”

Co-director of the film, Nick Bruno, stressed that Nimona is "a love letter to all those who've ever felt different" or "misunderstood."

“I know we all can look back at a point in our life where we've done our own shapeshift in order to be more presentable for people or to be more accepted," Bruno said.

“It became, really, such this universal story that was so important to tell. … ND's comic has touched so many people in their heart. … When we started making the story, a lot of people wanted to share their individual stories about what that meant to them.”

For fellow co-director Troy Quane, something Stevenson said specifically became a core source of inspiration in creating this movie.

“I put it on a little post-it note above my computer so I’d see it every day, he’d always say, ‘Who is Nimona before the movie?’” Quane said.

“She wasn’t a character in service to anybody else’s story, but she had her own story and we just happened to be riding into this moment and connecting with these characters as they’re happening. That became such a mantra for how we approached it, and it was super helpful and insightful to keep us on the right track.”

Another element of what makes Nimona, in particular, feel unique is that the story leans into how she feels like a real, flawed and passionate character.

“I think a lot of times animated films make a perfect cookie cutter of a character,” Bruno said. “Nimona is always unapologetically herself and it’s such a fun character to follow.”

“I think really embracing the messiness is something we really wanted to do,” Quane added. “Animation is such a planned medium sometimes that all we could do is say, ‘What would the characters do? What’s true for the character in this moment?’”

Ultimately, Stevenson said it's been "emotional" to be able to see his character "come to life" on screen.

“[Nimona] can't be confined. She can't be constrained to any form. She is completely free, and she's able to be something as big as a dragon or as small as a mouse," Stevenson said. "So I'm really, really excited for kids to be able to see themselves in that power fantasy.”