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April 4, 2008

Movie Review – Nim’s Island (2008)


Nim’s Island is a children’s adventure story about an 11 year old girl named Nim who lives with her father on an uncharted island in the Pacific. It is really quite a delightful film. I hesitate to say that it will appeal to all ages, but people either young enough to identify with Nim or old enough to identify with her dad should enjoy it. It’s an excellent choice for parents and grandparents looking for a movie to take the kids to.

The film is based on a book by Wendy Orr and belongs to the genre once known as the “boy’s adventure” story, and now happily open to protagonists of both genders. Nim (Abigail Breslin), motherless since infancy, has lived on the island as long as she can remember. She and her father, marine biologist Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler), are the island’s only human residents. Nim’s friends are found among the island’s fauna: a sea lion, lizard, pelican, and sea turtle. Her favorite books are the stirring tales of the fantastical exploits of globetrotting adventurer Alex Rover. Nim’s own adventure begins when Jack is stranded at sea in a monsoon and the island paradise is threatened with exploitation in his absence.

Author Alex(andra) Rover is played by Jodie Foster. “Alex Rover” is played by Butler, in a dual role (“Jack Rusoe” and “A. Rover”– a nice touch). “Alex Rover” acts out scenes from his adventures in Nim’s imagination and appears to the real Alex when she is struggling with writer’s block. He also shows up to encourage her as she travels to the island to find Nim. The agoraphobic and germaphobic Alex is impelled to make the long, uncomfortable, unsanitary, and sometimes dangerous journey to the South Seas when she learns of Nim’s predicament through an email correspondence with the girl (scientist Jack keeps in touch with the world). The emails are initiated by the desperate writer’s search for information on volcanoes, the locus of “Alex Rover’s” latest brush with death. The island’s volcano will prove a key feature of the local topography on more than one occasion.

Nim’s Island resembles The Swiss Family Robinson in more aspects than just Nim’s uncanny ability to make friends with local animals. Jack and Nim’s house is a variation on the tree house, and while they make use of modern technology (solar panels, satellite communications) they also rely heavily on a resourceful use of local materials. Thankfully, Nim is not called on to repel real pirates, only the crude crew and boorish passengers of a cruise ship with a faux buccaneering theme. However, the conflict is still a clash between irreconcilable ideas of living in harmony with nature versus inharmonious development. Her tools of battle likewise remain the materials at hand, principally lizards and the volcano. Children especially will enjoy these parts of the film and readily identify with the bright and plucky Nim.

Adults will appreciate that Nim’s Island is exceptionally well cast and that the adults have very prominent roles. Breslin is a wonderfully talented child actress and Nim is an adorable little girl. Foster gives a fine comic performance that provides some of the film’s best scenes. Butler is good as Jack and tremendous as “Alex Rover.” The byplay between Alex and “Alex” is rather like a meeting between the Kathleen Turner character from Romancing the Stone and Indiana Jones. It’s a fun idea, and I enjoyed its execution immensely.

3 stars