Based on The New York Times best-selling graphic novel by ND Stevenson, directors Nick Bruno and Troy Quane’s Nimona is a relentlessly entertaining, beautifully crafted animated feature with a big heart which lands globally on Netflix on Friday, June 30th. With a touching queer love story, powerful themes of acceptance and being seen, and a voice cast that features Chloë Grace Moretz, Riz Ahmed, Eugene Lee Yang, Julio Torres, RuPaul Charles, and Indya Moore, it’s a thrilling, delightful ride that happens to be one of our favorite movies of the year so far.
When Ballister Boldheart (voiced by Riz Ahmed), a knight in a futuristic medieval world, is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, the only one who can help him prove his innocence is Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a mischievous teen with a taste for mayhem — who also happens to be a shapeshifting creature Ballister has been trained to destroy. But with the entire kingdom out to get him, Nimona’s the best (or only) sidekick Ballister can hope for. And as the lines between heroes, villains, and monsters start to blur, the two of them set out to wreak serious havoc — for Ballister to clear his name once and for all, and for Nimona to…well, just wreak serious havoc.
Nimona’s journey to the screen has not been without some major hurdles. When it was in the midst of production during the height of the pandemic in 2021, its then home, 20th Century Fox’s Blue Sky Studios, was shuttered by its new owner Disney, leaving the film’s future in peril. Fortunately, it went on to shapeshift, finding support from Annapurna to complete it and later Netflix to release it. Ahead of its launch on the streamer, The Queer Review was on the pink carpet at the New York premiere on June 24th to speak with the cast and filmmakers.
“Nimona has faced pretty much every challenge you can think of in the production of a movie”, producer Karen Ryan tells The Queer Review, “but it was the story and the message of the film that I couldn’t resist and it carried me through everything. Nimona is an incredible character who loves herself and doesn’t apologize for that and I feel like the world needs a bit of her love and her warmth and the message of get to know people.”
Co-director Troy Quane offers, “we had to do everything we could to get the movie out there”, adding that maintaining his passion and tenacity to achieve that was “easy” because of “the way this story and these characters would connect with people as we were working on it and the way that people would share their personal journeys. Ultimately it’s that universal story of wanting to be seen, not as what someone told you you are, but seen for who you truly are. That became such an important factor as we saw the way that people reacted to it.”
Voice star Chloë Grace Moretz recalls that when production was shut down on Nimona and “it fell apart, it was such a devastating day for us to think that this beautiful movie wouldn’t be seen by the world. I felt incredibly seen by it when I finally got to see it in a theatre and a lot of my friends that came to see it felt incredibly seen by this. It’s something that starts a conversation in a way that we can all come to the table and see each other for who we are.”
“I really connected with Nimona’s affectation of how she can be really hard and putting her exterior on and hiding her true emotion”, Moretz shares. “In those moments after the chaos, she really finds her vulnerability and she says a couple of lines that are so raw and so vulnerable. It reminds me of when I was younger, when I was covering up so much of who I am and then you grow up and you find your vulnerability and find that it’s okay to be who you are.”
Some of the voice talent recording sessions for the film took place during COVID lockdowns, which saw the actress take to her closet for makeshift home soundproofing. “Becoming Nimona, becoming a shapeshifter was crazy”, Moretz recollects. “It was high highs and low lows, and trying to find all the in between. I remember a very specific scene where I had to become an ostrich running around in a fight sequence and I was like, ‘what the heck does an ostrich sound like?!’ And it sounds pretty psychotic!”
When it came to the movie’s central love story between two knights in shining armor, Ballister Boldheart and Ambrosius Goldenloin (voiced by Eugene Lee Yang), the filmmakers were determined not to compromise on making the relationship between the men unambiguous and for the couple to openly demonstrate their affection for one another.
“The most important thing about this movie was to do it in a truthful and honest way” co-director Nick Bruno shares, “to show the world that we live in and the love that’s in this world that’s real and that’s often unrepresented in movies. This movie is so important for so many and it was important to us to get that right.”
“Ballsiter and Ambrosius, that’s who they are as people”, agress Karen Ryan. “Their love is not something that they’re trying to overcome or that they’re struggling with and it was really important to us to make sure that it felt real. They’re humans and they love each other and that is something that is celebrated that we wanted to make sure felt authentic to who they are. It’s an important part of the story and we couldn’t do it without them.”
As for taking on the role of Ballister and portraying that relationship, Eugene Lee Yang says “it means everything” to him. “The thing that I most love about this film is that Ballister and Ambrosius’ relationship is treated very casually. It’s not a will-they-won’t-they, it’s not about coming out—which are both valid—but this is basically about boyfriends who are going through a really rough time. To watch a relationship like that at that stage being portrayed so effortlessly is magical and I couldn’t be more proud. I’m so happy that it found a home at Netflix because a lot of people who need to see this are going to be able to see it. I really hope families are able to come together to watch this and take away the primary message of the movie, that it only takes one person to see you for who you are and that can save someone’s life. I think that’s something that we all need to hear right now.”
Early on in pre-production, the filmmakers agreed that Nimona creator ND Stevenson’s input was vital. “When we first came on to the film, the most important thing was getting ND involved” recalls Nick Bruno. “ND is the heart of this film. Getting his experience, his voice, his comedy, some of his writing, and making him part of the process was such a joy for us. He’s amazing; funny, and heartfelt. You see him all over the movie.”
“ND has been a co-producer on this film and been involved in every step”, adds karen Ryan. “His heart is in this movie. We’ve been through this together and we’ve been on the project a long time so to be able to celebrate the release of the movie with him now means a lot.”
Sharing his initial inspiration for Nimona, ND Stevenson tells The Queer Review, “the comic was one that I started to come up with around this character that I was drawing a lot in my sketchbooks and I really wanted to explore her story. She was a shapeshifter and I’ve always loved shapeshifters, I was obsessed with them, and she was a villain and she was working with a villain, and I’ve always been really compelled by villains too. In a world of fairy tales, where we’re supposed to relate to the princesses, I never did. I related to the ugly stepsisters, I related to the witches and so I wanted to know what the story looked like from their point of view, the people who don’t fit in, the people who are pushed into the shadows. So that was the organic seed that the rest of it grew from.”
“I started to realize that it was becoming so much bigger than me”, ND Stevenson recalls. “First it started out as a comic, and then it was picked up as a graphic novel by Harper Collins and suddenly it was in bookstores around the world. It’s been translated into all these different languages. I have a shelf that’s full of nothing but translations of this book. Then the movie was set in motion and it was starting to change again. I started to realize that this character had taken on a life of her own, that it wasn’t just this balm for my own soul, there were so many people who needed this story and who saw themselves in Nimona. It’s been the coolest thing in the world to be a part of making this movie.”
The film’s themes and narrative will no doubt deeply resonate with many queer and trans folks, just as the comic and graphic novel did before it, while its initial creation was crucial to a young author finding themselves. “At the time, I was so many years away from figuring myself out in any way”, ND Stevenson shares, “I wasn’t out as gay, I wasn’t out as trans, but I think that the comic is very obviously is an exploration of that. Fiction and telling stories has always been my way of exploring my own identity and now the world has changed and this movie is taking that message in a far more contemporary way that is front and center. It’s so cool to see how much this story has evolved in the ten years since the comic was first published.”
When it comes to the film’s voice talent, ND Stevenson “can’t imagine a more perfect cast”. Adding, “Now, when I read the comic I hear their voices, that’s how much they’ve taken on these characters for me.”
“Every single one of our cast has had such a profound, heartfelt connection to the themes of this movie”, Nick Bruno adds, “that feeling of being misunderstood. They delivered in such a big way, it’s amazing.”
For Karen Ryan, “casting the film was one of the easiest choices that we made once we figured out who the characters were. They’re all our first choices. Chloë is exactly Nimona. She nailed it and she elevates the role so much. Eugene Lee Yang brought this charm and fun to his character, and Riz Ahmed really connected with Ballister, having to shapeshift in his own way to fit in where he grew up. RuPaul has been amazing too. He loved the story and jumped in right away when we offered him the role.”
When it comes to the look of Nimona, Troy Quane explains, “the visual style of the movie was so purposeful. Here’s a medieval future where society has moved forward in time, but the thinking is still nostalgic and traditional. With the CGI, it was about making sure the look of it harkened back to a more traditional style of classic art, so that was playing with the thematics. There was also a nice nod to the graphic novel that the movie was inspired by. Then if you look at the way that we handle the detail in the movie, you’ll notice that the characters that are closer to the camera have more detail, and the further those elements get away from camera the less detail there is. That was connected to the idea that the closer we allow people to get to us, the more we get to see each other as our full, unique selves, whereas the further we push people away, all we’re left with are these vague impressions that we just guess at or we have to take other people’s word for. So the visuals were really connected to that theme of seeing an individual for who they are, getting to know them, and letting them get close so you can see them for their whole selves.”
Nimona launches globally on Netflix on Friday, June 30th, 2023.
Watch our exclusive Nimona New York premiere pink carpet interviews: