One thing that impresses me about children (now that I am an adult) is how creative they can be, whether it's the games they come up with, the toys they crave, or they paintings they paint in art class. One thing, however, that doesn't impress me: adults getting in the way of a child's creative ways. If there's one thing to learn from Nim's Island, it's that there are occasions where a young child's voice should be more important than that of the adult.
Nim's Island is a well-intentioned, creative, and imaginative, colorful children's adventure filled with exotic animals and locations, sincere and well-developed characters, and a lot of heart. Well, at least the first 45 minutes or so of the film is like that, because the other 45 is unimaginative, mildly depressing, ridiculous, borderline pyshotic, and mind-numbingly dull.
At the heart of the story, there is 11-year-old Nim (Abigail Breslin) who lives on an uninhabited island with her scientist father, Jack Ruscoe (Gerard Butler) - her mother died years earlier. They are the only ones on the island and spend their time making discoveries, cooking dinner, playing with animals, and e-mailing people. Nim seems like a happy girl, loves living with her father on the gorgeous island, reading her adventure novels written by "famed explorer" Alex Rover, and talking to her best friends - a bearded dragon and a sea lion (they don't talk back, but they do make the occasional odd noise and nod their head in agreement).
Things change for Nim when she is left alone on the island as Jack goes on a two-day boat trip to explore plankton. They have all the devices to communicate with one another until Jack's boat is practically destroyed during a monsoon-like storm, leaving Nim all alone with no word on the whereabouts of her father. This is when she gets in contact with author Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), who is a reclusive, agoraphobic nutcase living in San Francisco. Rover contacts Jack about volcanoes for her next adventure novel and Nim starts a correspondence. Rover, who disguises her identity for her novels by shortening her name, letting people believe she is really a male adventurer when she's really just a loon, eventually learns of Nim's situation and discovers new things about herself. (It's all right, I was confused, too, especially when Rover started talking to herself - which is really her talking to Butler dressed as Alex Rover. I know, I'm not helping.)
The film starts with colorful, vibrant scenes where Nim's bedroom comes apart and turns into scenes from the Alex Rover novels she reads while lying in bed. Yet, these types of dream-like scenes quickly disappear once we're introduced to Foster's character, who seems to suck all of the creativity out of this otherwise imaginative children's film. Don't get me wrong, Foster and the rest of the cast give stellar performances, it's just that Foster's character belongs in a mental asylum banging her head against a wall. Not only is she afraid to leave the confines of her apartment, she talks to her inner voice who happens to be the male adventurer she created for her novels, who is able to do the very things she is afraid to do herself, like go outside and experience life. After 45 minutes, this flick turns from Nim's Island into Alex's Adventure, as we wait to see if Alexandra will stop talking and fighting with herself so she can leave her apartment and find Nim. Directors Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett, along with writers Joseph Kwong and Paula Mazur did one thing to ruin this movie: put a kid's story in the hands of an adult.
While Breslin is adorable and gives the perfect performance in her role, I can't help but feel Nim's story is a bit depressing. Here's an 11-year-old girl who spends her days climbing volcanoes, swinging from trees on ziplines like she's junior Tarzan, and talking to a bearded dragon and sea lion. Sure, it's cute, but it's sad. A little girl with no friends? I know Nim doesn't seem to mind, but when she sees a little boy on the island later in the movie, it's kind of like Elliot meeting E.T. - you almost expect her to scream. There is also an unmistakeable bond between Nim and Jack, but they're on screen together for all of 15 to 20 minutes. Child fantasy tale or not, it seems a bit sad to me to have a pre-teen fend for herself on a desolate island.
I am not saying Nim's Island is a bad movie, it's really not. There are just parts of the movie that are mind-boggling. The film has great morals about being dependent on yourself while believing your family will always be there for you, but it's such a long and twisted journey to get to that point. What kind of parent gives in to their 11-year-old's wishes when she begs to be left alone on a deserted island? Great, she's self-sufficient, cute, and smart, but she's on an island, climbing volcanoes and talking to animals. Is that normal? I truly hope parents do not use Nim's Island as a lesson for their children in social graces either, because it won't be too long that they're poking people with sticks to see if they actually exist, or wanting to sleep with their pet turtles. Since kid's are impressionable, I wouldn't leave them alone too often after watching Nim's Island because chances are they will think you're dead when you don't return after an hour. That, or they'll try to swing from the roof of your house to your neighbors. Hey, if kids thought they could fly after watching Superman, just imagine how friggin' insane they'll be after watching a well-intentioned, semi-creative kid's movie.
More reasons why adults ruin everything - there are actually special features included on the disc for Nim's Island. Why? Do kids really care about the process of a filmmaking, or care what Jodie Foster's motivation was to film a scene where she was scared to set foot outsider her door? I doubt it. Where are the games? Where are the fun things? Kids want to see animals, crayons, and poop. Well, that is, of course, the kid's parents are uptight snobs who believe the museum and the symphony are the only forms of entertainment and their poop smells like roses. Sorry, I just don't think kids will take a dive into the deep sea of special features.
The top two features are audio commentaries to go along with the film - the first two featuring the insights of Abigail Breslin and Jodie Foster, while the second has director/writers Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett speaking their piece. Pick your poison, but either way you're stuck watching the movie again with people talking over it.
When watching "Nim's Friends," one may realize how truly sad the story of Nim's Island can be for a child, despite the fact that Breslin sounds extremely upbeat about her friends. In place of all the children running around throwing baseballs, jumping rope, playing hopscotch or just sitting around talking to one another, there are a series of animals - the sea lion, the bearded dragon and a pelican. I'm sorry, but a child should have friends with more humanly attributes and less feathers and scales. "Abigail's Journey" may interest some children, largely because it is the child actor talking about her experience on Nim's Island. But, then again, all the adults need to throw their two cents in and take the spotlight away from Breslin - even if they're talking about her.
In "Working on Water," there is a great deal of behind-the-scenes footage of the actors and actress training in the water - certain dives, strokes and breathing techniques. The cool thing to see is that a good portion of the scenes were shot on a sound stage set up to make large waves. The feature also has interviews with the directors, actors and actresses, and stunt coordinators.
The remaining features include a series of deleted scenes, none of which are all that impressive (hence why they were left out of the movie), trailers for other movies, and two public service announcements - one from National Wildlife Federation, and the other from the NOAA called Sanctuary Sam: "Be Wildlife Wise." It's good that they had these PSA's, because I needed to know that I shouldn't start forest fires. Maybe they should have told me that it's weird to talk to animals and expect a repsonse, too.