On DVD: Nim's Island
Category: Nim's Island Reviews | Posted by: stagewomanjen
Article Date: August 6, 2008 | Publication: film.com | Author: Dawn Taylor
I am not a 10-year-old girl. You probably already guessed that, but I figure it's worth pointing out that I am, indeed, a grownup when I start to nitpick a movie that, like Nim's Island, is designed for ten-year-olds.
Or, at least, it might be designed for 10-year-olds. In all honesty, I'm not sure whom Nim's Island is meant for. On the one hand, it's a blatant young girl fantasy about living on an island, talking to animals, and having your daddy all to yourself (I'll leave the Freudian implications for others to explore). On the other hand, it's an adult comedy about a woman with a personality disorder. I'm sure the marketing execs at Fox were similarly confused, although they obviously went for the kid angle for their advertising.
So. The fantasy: Nim (Abigail Breslin) shares the titular land mass with her hunky marine-biologist father (Gerard Butler), who leaves her behind in their fabulously appointed tree-house home when he goes out on a two-day expedition to look for glowing microorganisms at sea. A huge storm disables his boat, and Nim becomes increasingly afraid as time passes and he doesn't return -- and then the uncharted island is invaded by Australian tourists, who Nim thinks are pirates.
Which all sounds like a great kid-centric adventure. But then the film does a 180 into its other plot, about an agoraphobic writer named Alex Rover (Jodie Foster), whose fictional alter-ego is also played by Butler and, um, talks to her. Yes, Jodie-Alex has conversations with Gerard-Alex, who's very butch and adventurous and Indiana Jones-ish. When Nim contacts Alex for help (thinking, of course, that Jodie-Alex is actually Gerard-Alex), Jodie-Alex has to battle her fear of, well, everything, and in a blatant rip-off of Romancing the Stone, she takes off for the South Pacific inappropriately dressed and carrying too much luggage. Ha ha! It's funny to watch women slog in the mud because they don't know what shoes to wear.
Back on the island, Nim gets assistance from a lizard (a bearded dragon, actually), a sea lion and a pelican that, while not exactly anthropomorphic, understand everything that she says and do her bidding like well-trained poodles. They're mostly CGI, and very well done -- but their sentience is a little bit unnerving. They're rendered quite realistically, but they're way too smart, which is supposed to make them charming but is actually a little scary. I mean, I don't know about you, but I don't want lizards and pelicans to be as smart as people. Anarchy would reign.
Of course, this all makes a lot more sense if Nim's back-story is that she's actually crazy. Heck, maybe she doesn't even really live on an island, and it's just an elaborate delusion brought on by her inability to deal with the death of her mother. This isn't that far-fetched when you notice that the connecting theme between the two halves of the story is that both characters have complex relationships with non-humans: Jodie-Alex, besides being germ- and agora-phobic, holds conversations with her imaginary second personality, and Nim's only friends are her creepy-smart animal pals. In fact, the only way Nim's Island really works for an adult viewer is to assume that both of them are suffering from some sort of mental illness. Maybe they'll address this in the sequel, Nim's Island 2: Escape from the Psych Ward.
Of course, I could just be making up another, more interesting movie for my own enjoyment again, since that's something I tend to do. As I mentioned already, this movie isn't really made for adults. Except that, if it's for kids, then why is half of it devoted to Jodie Foster's slapstick journey to get to the island -- which, by the way, she doesn't do until the very, very end of the film? It would probably be a lot more satisfying for children if Nim were allowed to handle the entire adventure without cutting back to Foster every five minutes, while adults can always rent Romancing the Stone for a better take on that same material.
20th Century Fox's DVD release offers a couple of commentary tracks -- one with Jodie Foster and Abigail Breslin (who is the more entertaining of the two) and another with writer-directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett. There are also three featurettes: "Nim's Friends" which takes a look at the animal actors, "Abigail's Journey" on Breslin's casting and process, and "Working on Water" about the difficulties of shooting on location. There are also 15 minutes of deleted scenes, which give a nice illustration of how the film was engineered from its original conception.