Reviewed by C.J. Darlington
"...one of those delightful film concoctions of adventure, fantasy and family everyone from your grandma to your kid sister will enjoy."
Walden Media and 20th Century Fox look like they have a hit on their hands. Nim’s Island is one of those delightful film concoctions of adventure, fantasy and family everyone from your grandma to your kid sister will enjoy. Based on a children’s novel by Wendy Orr, it’s always intriguing to hear the author’s reaction to an adaptation of their own book. After watching a screening of Nim’s Island, Orr had this to say in a recent interview, “...the overwhelming feeling was relief and joy—I really like it, and I truly believe it’s good.” High praise indeed.
Nim Rusoe (Abigail Breslin) is a young girl who along with her scientist father (Gerard Butler) lives on an island paradise. He makes his living researching plankton, algae and other tiny creatures of the sea. But not even in his National Geographic cover story bio does he reveal where he lives. He and Nim have worked long and hard to keep their location a secret from the outside world. They don’t need strangers interfering. They have each other, the ocean, the animals, and Nim has her favorite novels—the Alex Rover adventure series. What more do they need? (Okay, so it’s a tad bit unbelievable the supply ship wouldn’t have spilled the beans, but this is a fantasy movie after all. We can cut them some slack.)
One day Nim’s father hurriedly sets off on a two-day boat trip to capture a rare form of glowing algae. He tries to talk Nim into coming with him, but she insists she’s old enough to take care of herself. Which is an understatement. This little girl is more like the Indiana Jones esque Alex Rover of her books than she realizes. She can fix solar panels, shinny up palm trees, build fires and cook up delectable delights like mealworm stew with the best of them. But when a storm hits and Nim loses contact with her father she’s put to her biggest test of all. In desperation, she reaches out to the other hero in her life—Alex Rover. What she doesn’t know is that Alex Rover isn’t a “he” but a “she”, an author who’s penned the best-selling novels all without leaving her apartment.
Played brilliantly by Jodie Foster, Alexandra Rover is an agoraphobic writer obsessed with Purell hand sanitizer and Progressive soup who can barely gather up the courage to retrieve her mail each day (and some days puts it off until tomorrow). How could she possibly hop on a plane to help a young girl who lives half-way around the world?
There might be a reason Nim’s last name is Rusoe. Her character could draw comparisons to the Robinson Crusoe of literature, only she’s alone for four days not twenty-eight years. She’s resourceful and adventurous. Her schooling is the best kind, coming from actual experiences and reading books rather than some boring classroom. Her best friends are a tame seal and lizard (is he real or CGI?) who are her inseparable companions throughout the movie. There’s even a Pelican-like bird who rather unbelievably helps Nim’s father out of a few scrapes, but hey. That’s what we want, right?
Abigail Breslin has already proved herself a worthy member of any cast from her performances in the likes of Little Miss Sunshine and The Ultimate Gift. Here in Nim’s Island she’s once again blipping on our radar screens as a young actress to watch.
But as cute and talented as Abigail is in this film, Jodie Foster really steals the show. It was hilarious to see the reclusive author stereotype played out on screen, like when Alexandra talks to her character Alex Rover (also played by Gerard Butler) as if he really does exist. The fun part here is that the character actually does pop up in her scenes in some humorous ways, even dragging Alexandra out the door to help Nim. At one point when Alex Rover is handing Alexandra a line from her book about being the hero of your own life story, Alexandra turns on him and says, “Don’t hand me that line. I wrote that line!” It’s all in Alexandra’s imagination, of course, but we almost begin to wonder at times.
One of the many great things about Nim’s Island is the way it portrays the adventure of reading. Books aren’t just words on a page. When you read a book you’re transported to different worlds and different times. A scene early in the movie has Nim lying in her bed reading the latest Alex Rover novel at a point in the book when the character is battling his captors in the desert. But instead of just switching to Alex, the film makers chose to put Nim right in the scene, bed and all. So she’s reading away completely oblivious even as Alex throws punches and literally tosses men across her during his escape. A beautiful portrayal of literature’s power.
It’s a pet peeve of mine when movies don’t include scenes that are in the trailer. I’d expected some sort of swashbuckling confrontation with a pirate or nefarious villain in Nim’s Island (as was implied in the trailer), but neither materialized. They certainly weren’t necessary to create a compelling story, but I like to get what I’ve been promised.
I went into Nim’s Island with high expectations. Jodie Foster simply has “it” as an actress, and I couldn’t wait to see her portrayal of a tortured writer. Could she really nail a comedy/almost slapstick role after so many dramas? Would Abigail Breslin come off too cutesy? How would the adventure unfold?
I wasn’t disappointed. I laughed so much that a few times I found myself glancing sheepishly around the theater hoping I hadn’t disturbed someone. Though it probably won’t be as huge a blockbuster as say the upcoming Prince Caspian, Nim’s Island is still one of the best family films of the year.
MPAA Rating: PG (for mild adventure action and brief language)
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C.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.