‘Nimona’ Arrives on Netflix Amid Controversy

Debates over queerness aside, it’s a well-made, entertaining animated adaptation

The production history behind Nimona, the latest animated offering from Netflix, is long, tortured, and generally baffling. The adaptation of the graphic novel of the same title was originally conceived in the late teens by Blue Sky, best known for the Ice Age franchise, as a hip and relevant means to stay competitive with the increasingly brand-obsessed Walt Disney corporation. Then Disney bought out Fox, Blue Sky’s parent company, and Disney just decided not to bother finishing despite Nimona almost being close to completion, for reasons many LGBT employees interpreted, not altogether unreasonably, as being a strike against the animated film’s explicitly gay major characters.

In actuality, Disney was probably motivated less by Nimona’s actual content as they were the opportunity for tax write-offs. DC canceled Batgirl even though it had already finished production. Paramount+ is just taking stuff finished stuff people have already seen off of its service. It’s more of the same farcical story of modern media content distribution. Disney couldn’t just say to its employees that it was dumpstering their hard work for tax reasons, since that’s just as bad as if not worse than saying they had to can Nimona lest it offend homophobes.

Subsequently, Disney responded to the ire of its LGBT-friendly employees over Nimona’s cancelation through increasingly half-assed and insulting pandering, that seems to have sparked considerably more reactionary outrage than Nimona itself ever could have. My source for this is, ironically enough of all things, the now-finished Netflix version of Nimona. One would think that an animated film clearly intended for children, with two gay men in leading roles, where that relationship informs much of the emotional conflict, would be setting off alarms all over the political divide. We’re living in a social environment where more people talked about a blink-and-miss kiss in a montage in Lightyear than they did anything in the actual movie.

Why isn’t Nimona making anyone mad? Well, the first most obvious reason is just the marketing. Watch the trailer for Nimona. Yes, the gay characters are in it, and are clearly gay, but that’s not the draw. Netflix thinks you should watch Nimona, not because Netflix is a good woke corporate citizen, but because it’s a genuinely fun movie with a lot of action, a maniacal yet charming lead character, and the highly appealing backdrop of a cyberstyle medieval kingdom.

Nimona doesn’t spotlight characters as gay, but it also doesn’t hide their identities. It’s in the trailer, it’s just not the main selling point. This is a really important part of the reactionary mindset regarding these controversies that liberal circles underappreciate. The entire ethos of the Easter egg style of LGBT representation is that it uses subliminal messaging to encourage children to see gay people as people.

Liberals get hung up on the latter part of that sentence without ever really appreciating that subliminal messaging is actually really creepy and terrible! It was bad when 80s cartoons used it to sell toys and it’s not any less manipulative and pernicious just because they’re now using it for an allegedly good cause. The strategy is also, incidentally, obviously not working given that homophobic backlash is considerably worse now than it was before this whole stupid trend started.

In this way Nimona is almost like a view into an alternate reality. Conceptually, it predates woke trends. And thematically, the story is really queer. ND Stevenson has somewhat famously acknowledged only realizing he was trans after writing Nimona…which is about a shapeshifter. While not an explicit part of the story’s arc, in retrospect, the relation is obvious.

The film version of Nimona moves a lot of parts around in this regard. Probably the most noteworthy change is that they actually divide the character of Ambrosious Goldenloin into two roles. The film version of the character focuses on his emotionally intense relationship with Balister Boldheart, spinning off his more buffoonish qualities spun off into Sir Thoddeus Sureblade. Boldheart himself, Blackheart in the graphic novel, is less self-assured in the film, and more reluctant to lean into a villainous role, which Nimona exploits quite well for humor.

But Nimona herself is the more prescient queer metaphor than either of the actually gay leads. As a shapeshifter, she avoids conforming- quite literally, she constantly transforms into animals at the slightest excuse. The sheer effort in the animation is remarkable, and I feel for the Blue Sky animators who thought their hard work would never see the light of day. The credits for Nimona go on for a full 20 minutes even though the movie is, in fact, only 90 minutes long. You can see the same care in the script, with silly and visually charming gags such as distinguishing between salt water and fresh water otters and a hilarious callback to a seemingly irrelevant cereal commercial.

While none of this is explicitly queer, it all maps excellently to the queer experience, and indeed, the entire meaning of the word queer. Just as she transforms into animals, Nimona’s emotional state jumps between manic excitement, destructive impulse, and self-destructive impulse in a way that feels logical paradoxically because it defies clear categorization. Yet this highly fluid characterization lends itself well to a very humanistic arc. Nimona’s mental problems aren’t an irrelevant thing that exist separately from her identity.  They inform her identity. Boldheart and Blackheart alike come to terms with that because both versions of the story ultimately hinge on them understanding Nimona.

Despite being the most literal fantasy of any recent animated film featuring queer characters, Nimona is anything but that in practice. Nimona imagines a world where being different sucks, where the exact kind of difference that sucks isn’t really important, because a lack of empathy creates these social distortions. Simply whitelisting specific subcategories as “good” only insures that others will suffer. Indeed, the world of Nimona is not, in any way that we can see, homophobic. Boldheart and Goldenloin are explicitly, publicly a couple. Yet it’s still a police state that uses the threat of monsters as the founding myth of its legitimacy.

But, let’s face it, Nimona’s a movie for kids. It can’t and shouldn’t be any kind of thesis statement on the topic of queer representation So it’s honestly kind of depressing thinking about how Nimona’s the first movie I’ve seen in years, for adults or kids, with any kind of appreciation for these nuances. Still it’s a good movie, and you should see it, especially if you have kids.

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William Schwartz

William Schwartz is a reporter and film critic based in Seoul, South Korea. He writes primarily for HanCinema, the world's largest and most popular English language database for South Korean television dramas and films.

4 thoughts on “‘Nimona’ Arrives on Netflix Amid Controversy

  • June 30, 2023 at 12:39 pm

    Normalizing homosexualism for children is like giving them the plague to normalize having the plague. It’s a social contagion of the lowest order. Groomers like the people who peddle this trash should be locked away from society.

    • July 9, 2023 at 10:39 pm

      Already, we’re now seeing homophobic backlash in the comment above me. How is this movie hurting you or your children (if you have any?)

    • July 26, 2023 at 9:41 am

      I just saw that your username is “Heteronormative” and it made me want to say this: A norm is an usual condition, consistent with majority of cases. The key word being “majority” there’s a minority of queer people and that’s normal. It SHOULD by normalize, otherwise kids will grow up not knowing that there is the possibility of not being hetero and they’re are going to be completely lost later in their lives and maybe discriminate the others for being different.

      That’s one of the point of the show, kids are growing up copying the behaviour of their parents. The parents are scared of Nimona because she is something that they don’t understand, and seing the animosity of their parents towards her, the kids are copying them: they choose to eliminate and discard people because they are different.

      Someone said one day: “you can identify to a fucking carrot, I don’t care it doesn’t hurt/concern me”
      I don’t know why you are so obsessed by people sexuality or identity, it doesn’t concern you, it’s not your life. And for the show if you don’t like it, don’t watch it. It’s not that hard.

    • August 19, 2023 at 6:15 pm

      Nimona was the best movie I have ever seen, respectfully. I sat in jaw-dropped AWE as the credits played and cried once I was over my shock.
      Overdramatic? Of course! The movie had LGBTQ representation, an expert storyline, and was beautifully created. I am so glad we are pushing a new era of acceptance (and also weird, indie films that experiment with new animation styles)! Easily an 11/10 movie.


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