Because this is probably considered a kids movie, this is more for you guys internally rather than the site, but since it had Gerard Butler (and its one of the few screenings we get into in the San Gabriel Valley), I thought I'd give it a shot. Post if you like.
Saturday we had a screening of Nim's Island at the Edwards in La Verne. You had to take a kid to get in, but since it was my weekend with my daughter (and free), I did the whole line thing, etc. I didn't watch the trailer online before I went, but I knew Jodie "Ladykiller" Foster was in it along with Gerard Butler and LIttle Miss Sunshine herself so at least I wasn't going to something with Zac Efron in it. It was definitely a family movie, but you could tell they were influenced by Pan's Labyrinth some. And anytime Pan bleeds into mainstream cinema, I consider it a good thing. Please note I am reviewing this as a kids movie, not one too large percentage of talkbackers who suck off Eli Roth.
Spoilers to follow:
Nim (Little Miss Sunshine) is this girl whose mom died in some sort of accident at sea involving pirates and a blue whale. At least that's the story her dad told her which is told to us in this paper cut-out world -- you kind of have to see it to understand. Present day, Dad (Mr. 300) and Nim live on a secret desert island in the pacific. Nim has animal friends that she plays with, not the talking kind and thank god for that. She also reads a lot and and imagines herself on the same adventures of her favorite adventure hero, Alex Rover (also Mr. 300 but with an accent and long hair), who is kind of like a Scottish Indiana Jones. They have some short action scenes that are okay, nothing spectacular. It's more to set up the motif of imagination and reality vs fiction. All in all, Nim is sort of half Tarzan/half Ofelia.
Anyway, her scientist dad goes on an expedition and gets caught in a storm and stranded at sea. At the same time, a pirate-themed tourist cruise discovers the island and make plans to make it a new tourist destination. The tourists are these grotesque out-there types that make sense only when we see them through Nim's imagination. She thinks they are from the story she heard from her dad about how her mother died. They are of course just normal schmoes but portrayed in this heightened reality. Thus, the first of many Pan's reference. It's kind of complicated and I don't think all the kids in the audience got it, but it was an interesting idea to chew on for the adults.
Nim reaches out to Alex Rover, the author of the adventure books, to help her. Trouble is, Alex Rover is a woman -- Jodie Foster playing ALEXANDRA Rover. And she's an agro or agoraphobic, not sure, and she doesn't ever leave the house. She's a nutcase who only talks to an imaginary friend -- Alex Rover, the hero (yes, Mr. 300). Alex the imaginary character convinces Alexandra the crazy author to go across the world to help the little girl and they set off on this planes, trains, and automobiles trip across the world to get to the island. I have never seen Jodie Foster like this. She's doing slapstick stuff but she makes the character completely believable, and her relationship with Mr. Butler is really fun. You wish she would have quit the woman in peril-kicks ass movies a while ago and played characters with more range. This storyline was my favorite in the movie by far.
As all this is going on, Nim's dad fights off sharks and tries to repair his sinking boat, but he keeps getting setbacks. At the same time, Nim and her animal friends (she has a lizard, a sea lion, and a pelican) come up with all this crazy stuff to scare away the pirates/tourists that my daughter loved but I thought this section was a bit cartoony (she launches lizards from a catapult, sends her farting sea lion out to "gas them out", and makes it seem like a volcano is erupting). It briefly turns into this action movie when the volcano -- surprise -- really does explode. The tourists flee, and Jodie Foster arrives late to save the day and basically almost drowns near the island in the storm.
Nim goes out to save her, and this surreal action scene with a bizzaro imaginary whale takes place. The effects and the art design were incredible. The scene was scary for the kids and really interesting for me. Nim is in reality just saving Jodie Foster, but in her mind she's saving her mom from the belly of a whale, so there is a lot going on, emotionally. When they get to the beach, she's angry that Foster isn't her mother and ditches her. Then when Jodie Foster is about to give up and leave, her imaginary friend and her fight and he "quits" and leaves her on her own.
To completely spoil the rest and to no surprise, Nim and Alex bond on the island. And just when hope seems lost, dad shows up for the happy ending on some rickety wind surf thing he built before his boat sunk. The emotion of the reunion is done really well. Anybody with a kid can't help but feel it. And then when the dad meets Jodie Foster, you have this cool thing where she's meeting the real version of imaginary friend.
I guess the thing I liked most about it is that it's hard to completely explain. I just looked over what I wrote and it even seems confusing to me. There's a lot of allegorical stuff going on in the middle of this goofy kids movie. It's like a live action kind of Pixar thing where there's two movies going on at the same time -- one for adults and one for kids.
With all that said, it's still a kids movie and there's plenty that isn't great. The animals get annoying (although not to the kids, surprise), and the scenes with the dad on the ocean aren't anything you haven't seen 300 times (get it?). But if you have to take your kid to the movies, it's a lot better than Alvin and the Chipmunks.
Thanks if you made it here. If you use this, call me McNutty.