Sunday, July 2, 2023

Movie Review: Nimona

This is going to be more a rant than a review, because... well, frankly my thoughts on the artistic aspects of this movie are less complicated than my thoughts about the business end. Note I said less complicated, not less intense. But if you follow me on any of 6 social media platforms (unfortunately I'm not exaggerating - for the love of God, can something just replace Twitter already?), you already know I love the hell out of this movie.

So let's get a little of that out of the way. This is good. Strike that - great. Strike that, too - this is metal. The comedy isn't just hilarious, it's hilarious in ways family and kids movies never are, because Hollywood executives don't have the guts to follow through. This movie is what every "edgy" kids movie for the last 20 years has been cosplaying as, but this time the tone is coming from a real place of anger, and everything from the style to the writing to the voice acting convey that in every frame. This is the best animated feature I've seen in a long time. It's funny, emotionally resonant, and the titular character is the stuff of legends. It features meaningful representation that's interwoven into the themes and premise. It's a phenomenal film, and the only reason it's not a 10/10 is because the dial goes up to 11. In case it's not clear, I am recommending you head over to Netflix right now to watch this, and if anyone tries to stop you from doing so, you should knock them unconscious and shove their unconscious body in the trunk of a stolen car.

So if it's that good, why am I pissed off? Well, there are two reasons. First, Nimona kind of primes you to want to break something, but more importantly because....

We almost didn't get to see this. See, this movie was made by Blue Sky, which is another way of saying it was made by Fox. And that of course means it was passed off to Disney as part of the acquisition, and Disney's leadership took one look at the mostly completed film and decided they were better off shelving it. As far as I can tell, this came a hair's breadth from being written off the way Warner Bros./Discovery wrote off Batgirl.

(Side-note: fuck David Zaslav).

Sorry. Where were we?

Oh, yes. Disney was ready to throw out the nearly finished animated film, because they thought it made more sense than completing and releasing it. The main rumor for this seems centered on the movie's queer content. It's worth noting these decisions would have been made prior to Disney winding up the target of right-wing grifters going after the corporation.

Let that be a lesson to businesses - you can't placate bigots. If anything, they're more likely to come after you if they think you care what they think. Relative to other companies, Disney's a decade behind the times when it comes to lgbt+ representation in kids' media, but you don't see the right openly trying to weaponize government in retaliation against, say, Cartoon Network or Netflix (both of which have been far more progressive in this respect). If you reach out to bigots angry that gay or trans people exist, they take it as a sign of weakness and double their efforts.

Fortunately, enough people who believed in the project (i.e.: people with some goddamn clue what this movie actually was) convinced the right parties at Netflix and Disney there was a mutually beneficial solution, and a deal was struck. Like countless films before it, Nimona was sold, completed by Netflix, and released on that platform following a one-week limited release (almost certainly to qualify it for awards).

And, to be clear, I'm elated it was finished and released at all, which is more than I can say for several films caught in the Discovery-Warner Bros. merger (again, fuck David Zaslav). But, to be clear, it's infuriating it came close to not seeing the light. This movie is artistically valuable, will be deeply meaningful to a generation of kids who grow up with it, and - with apologies for belaboring the point - is rad as hell. It's virtually guaranteed a Best Animated Picture nomination.

Let that sink in for a second: a nearly-completed Oscar-caliber movie almost got trashed, because an executive thought it wouldn't be convenient to release it. What the hell is wrong with this industry?

But there's one silver lining of all this, for me at least: I don't own stock in Disney. Because if I did, I'd really be furious right now. So far, I've been focusing on the artistic and cultural aspects, but considered from a business context the decision is even more idiotic.

I'm pretty certain Disney just pissed away billions of dollars.

That's not an exaggeration. I think this movie, coupled with the right marketing campaign and (ironically) Disney's branding, could have been huge. Like, Frozen huge.

The title character in Nimona is basically a better version of Deadpool with a (sometimes literal) axe to grind against an uptight society that's essentially a blend of the default Disney fairytale kingdom, present day, and a touch of sci-fi. She's more transgressive than Shrek, and in ways that feel authentic rather than manufactured (because, again, the emotion that drove the creation of this character was authentic). As a result, the movie feels - and actually is - subversive. Oh, and she's a child, meaning she functions as a POV power fantasy for the key demographic.

Kids would have eaten this up with a spoon soaked in the milky blood of a cereal-breathing dragon. I'm sure the ones who find it on Netflix still will, and I have no doubt this will be a success for Netflix. But Netflix isn't built to capitalize on movies like this the way the House of Mouse is. If Disney had released it in the theaters with ads showcasing Nimona's gleeful bloodthirsty lines while playing up the fact she was going after a kingdom superficially resembling classic Disney (i.e.: actually delivering on that thing they've been half-assing in every other Disney movie of the past twenty years), they'd be dragging their parents to the theaters to see it an eighth time. They'd be selling a fifth talking Nimona doll asking who they wanted to kill to replace the fourth one confiscated by the school principal. Add in sequels and television shows, and my earlier estimate in the billions starts sounding conservative.

Disney pissed away good money (at a time they actually need it, for a change), because they were afraid they might offend the worst people in the country, and - because reality seems to have a sense of humor - those same people spent the last year fixated on destroying them anyway.