How ‘Nimona’ Made Its Miraculous Comeback From Oblivion: ‘It Took Partners Who Have Courage’

TheWrap magazine: Netflix’s medieval-inspired buddy fantasy was scuttled when Disney acquired Fox

Nimona
Netflix

Netflix’s “Nimona” is a medieval-inspired fantasy about a young, shape-shifting monster named Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz) who teams up with a one-armed knight named Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) to clear his name and uncover a royal conspiracy along the way.

Characters perceived as villains get to be heroes in front of the entire realm. It’s buoyant and energetic, effortlessly fusing art styles and mixing poignancy with oversized visual gags. But the fact that “Nimona” even exists at all is something of a miracle, because no other animated feature from 2023 had so many setbacks.

The project, based on ND Stevenson’s graphic novel (he is a producer on the film), was originally set up at Blue Sky Studios, an animation outfit owned by Fox. After Disney’s acquisition of 21st Century’s assets, they shut down Blue Sky and with it, “Nimona.”

Even though the movie was already in production, Disney balked at its more overt LGBTQ+ themes.

“For us it was like, this story is important. How could you do that?” said Nick Bruno, who directed the film with Troy Quane. It was resurrected later by Annapurna and Netflix, who hired DNEG to handle the animation. (The material done at Blue Sky was ultimately jettisoned.)

But finishing the production was only half the battle. Bruno and Quane also had a lot of listening and learning to do too.

“When we first started being a part of the film, we realized what those themes were and we were a little ignorant about some of those things,” Bruno said. “We pulled in people and asked: Why do you feel connected to ‘Nimona?’ And we started hearing their stories.”

They listened to stories that members of the production shared about coming out to their parents or talking to a close friend in a small town, and used those as the emotional backbone of the story.

“We had all these stories of very specific experiences, but the underlying (theme) was connecting,” Quane said. “It was a universal idea of no matter how different we are, as humans our story is really quite similar.”

One of the more powerful moments in the movie, and one that would have been inconceivable in an animated project released by Disney, is when it depicts the near suicide of a desperate Nimona.

“We got to a point where that kept coming up in conversations,” Bruno said. “That’s a real thing for people who don’t find acceptance. That is a very unfortunate reality all too often. We thought, Well, we should be telling that part of the story too.”

Not that it was ever a sure thing. “It takes courage and some commitment in being true to that story, and it took partners who have courage to let us go down that path,” Quane said. “We had to be delicate. We had to be honest. We didn’t try and glamorize anything or oversell. It was just being honest to someone who is so hurt and who is in such despair.”

This story first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.

Ava DuVernay (Maya Iman)

Credits
Creative Director: Jeff Vespa
Photographer: Maya Iman
Photo Editor: Tatiana Leiva
Stylist: Kate Bofshever
Hair & Makeup: India Hammond

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