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April 9, 2008 > Movie Review: Nim's Island

Movie Review: Nim's Island

By Vidya Pradhan

One grouse that women have with animated family movies of the Disney school is that female characters are often portrayed as evil harpies or dumb victims. Even in the top-grossing Horton Hears A Who, the over-regimented villain is a middle aged female kangaroo while the only other female character is the mayor's wife who just stands around rolling her eyes while her husband has adventures and saves the day.

Nim's Island is not an animated movie but, in an era of princesses and Barbies, it is a fairy tale that should warm the hearts of mothers looking for positive role models for their daughters. Based on a book by Wendy Orr, the movie is set on an unknown island in the South Asiatic Sea inhabited by the enterprising Nim and her oceanographer father, Jack.

Jack and Nim live an idyllic and undisturbed life on the island, with Nim being home-schooled by sand, surf and the colorful adventures of Alex Rover, whose books are mandatory bedtime reading for the intrepid 11 year old girl. One day Jack departs on a scientific expedition, leaving the young Nim in the company of a pelican named Galileo, a seal named Selkie and an iguana named Fred. When Jack gets into trouble on the high seas and loses contact with the island, Nim enlists the help of her fictional hero Alex Rover, who in her mind is a real person with all the heroic qualities needed to save her father and her island.

Little does Nim know that Alex Rover is the creation of the eponymous Alexandra Rover, an agoraphobic, obsessive-compulsive author from the San Francisco Bay Area, who has not left her home in 16 weeks. When the distress call comes from the island via email, Alexandra overcomes her phobias and sets out on a perilous journey to track down the lonely Nim.

Abigail Breslin, an up-and-coming young superstar for the tween set, plays Nim with a mix of innocence and devilry that is endearing. Her feats of derring-do are not quite believable, but she plays her part with an unselfconsciousness and sweetness with which young kids are sure to empathize. Jodie Foster puts aside her intensity and dramatic acting chops to cut up as the nutty Alexandra, who manages to find hidden reserves of strength and fortitude in her attempt to rescue Nim. Gerald Butler plays both Jack Russo and the fictional Alex who shows up in his author's fantasies as an Indiana Jones look-alike.

The movie is a rich fantasy for young children. Under-10s should thoroughly enjoy the Swiss Family Robinson style island adventure, though Nim and her father lack none of the comforts of modern suburban life. In fact, it is a little strange that while the technology and furnishings of their island paradise are distinctly 21st century, they seem to be making meals out of worms! Many such logical inconsistencies are sure to bedevil the logical minds of adults and I believe it is this lack of internal logic and credibility that led many mainstream critics to roundly pan the movie. When Alexandra, whose phobia prevents her from even stepping out of the house to get the mail, rows a boat through a tropical storm to reach the island in the dark, it defies credulity.

But young girls will be thrilled to have a heroine who is tremendously brave and independent, a contrast to the simpering beauties they have been exposed to so far. Boys will be intrigued by the contraptions and inventions used by Nim and her father to get around the island. Scenes of the pelican helping out Nim's stranded father and the seal dancing to the beat of kid's music will enchant the little ones. But the movie bears very little resemblance to reality so prepare to leave your brains at the door and enjoy this uncomplicated fantasy adventure with your family.

Nim's Island
Genres: Action/Adventure, Comedy, Science Fiction/Fantasy and Adaptation
Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.
MPAA Rating: PG for mild adventure action and brief language.
My rating: 2.5 stars out of 5.

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