Adapted from Wendy Orr’s same-named children’s novel, Nim’s Island tells the story of 11-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin, Oscar-nominated for Little Miss Sunshine),
a precocious girl who lives alone on a remote island in the South
Pacific with her widowed, marine biologist father, Jack Rusoe (300‘s Gerard
The lack of human companionship doesn’t bother them, though — Nim plays
with and talks to her pet lizard and sea lion, and enthusiastically
devours a once-a-month shipment of adventure novels featuring a
swashbuckling, fedora-sporting character named Alex Rover (also Butler, below).
When a huge storm unexpectedly sweeps her father out to sea, Nim finds
herself truly alone, and scared. A series of research email queries
from the real-life author Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), in actuality an agoraphobic recluse living in San Francisco, awakens, to various degrees, adventurous and heroic impulses in both parties.
As Nim looks to protect her island home from the intrusive tourism
inroads of Buccaneer Cruise Lines — a company peddling virginal beach
expeditions to their loud, gawking clientele — Alexandra faces up to
her own considerable fears, packs a suitcase full of Progresso soup and
Purell hand sanitizer, and embarks on a far-flung voyage to help her young fan.
More intimately scaled than a lot of other recent children’s book adaptations, the sweet-natured and light-hearted Nim’s Island nonetheless achieves a nice hold over its audience, courtesy in no
small part to Barry Robison’s superb production design. Co-directed by
Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin (Little Manhattan), the movie is pitched just a little to the left of naturalistic
but it’s never so outlandish as to come off as completely unrealistic,
as long as one is prepared to make a few acquiescences — mostly with
regards to the interacting-with-animals bits.
The obvious touchstone here is Disney’s 1960 family adventure classic Swiss Family Robinson, a sick-day staple for many a kid courtesy of its theatrical reissue and subsequent VHS
peddling in the 1980s. (There are a few brief allusions to that movie,
and Nim and her father’s last name, Rusoe, is another nod of homage, to
Daniel Defoe’s castaway tale Robinson Crusoe.) Many other movies, though — from Matilda and Zathura to Jumanji and even The Water Horse: Legend of the Deep — share the same sort of fantastical, flight-of-fancy imagination that powers this movie. While Nim’s Island
is in the end far less explicitly effects-driven than some of those
films, it does open and close with hand-crafted credit sequences that
frames this tale as a metaphorical yarn as much as anything else.
It gets the detail right, though. I’ve written some before about the difficulty a lot of movies have in tackling, let alone making comedic hay out of, the realities of airport security in a post-September 11 world, but when Alexandra heads to the airport, the movie scrupulously makes a point of adhering to the three-ounce baggie rule. It’s bits like these that provide an underpinning which allows one to buy into the rest of the film. As
for the performances, Breslin is suitably bright-eyed, and energetic.
Butler, meanwhile, has great fun portraying both Jack and the more
rugged, roguish Alex, who appears both in Nim’s imagination during her
reading and in several spirited arguments with Alexandra, who is the
antithesis of the best-selling character of her own creation. The movie
also benefits greatly from a
pitch-perfect manic turn by Foster, who knows how to take formulaic
bits of slapstick and uptight unease and make them ring amusingly true.
Nim’s Island isn’t without a few moments of over-familiarity, and in some ways it’s
actually demure when compared to a lot of other movies aimed these days
chiefly at kids — which may be a bit of a strike for those raised on
the Harry Potter films and The Chronicles of Narnia. Its greatest success, though, is the manner in which it taps into the pleasurable feeling of awakened imagination that surges during adolescence. Rekindling fond memories of childhood is never a bad thing.
Housed in a regular Amray case with an accompanying cardboard slipcover, Nim’s Island comes presented in 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen, with an English language 5.1 Dolby digital surround sound audio mix, and Spanish and French language Dolby surround sound mixes. Two audio commentary tracks kick-start the slate of supplemental features — one with co-directors Flackett and Levin, and the other, quite pleasingly, with Foster and Breslin. These pairings make for a nice match; while the former focuses a bit more on production detail, such as the volcano matte paintings and details of the movie’s Australian production, Foster and Breslin are left to chat about books, animals and the environment, and how those elements all intersect the narrative.
Next up are a collection deleted scenes, which run in total around 15 minutes. Some illuminate Alexandra’s Stateside life a bit more, and three sketch out some of the imaginary literary characters (Huck Finn, Alice in Wonderland and Longjohn Silver) that are Nim’s imaginary friends — a plot strand entirely deleted from the final theatrical cut. Finally, there are three separate six-minute featurettes, with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. One looks at the animals in the movie, another at its water work (anything with the sea lion on the beach was composited, for instance, since there was a fear the animal would make a break for the ocean), and the last one focuses more exclusively on Breslin, and her on-set routines, including time with her tutor. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. B (Movie) A- (Disc)