Published April 10, 2008
“Be the hero of your own life story.” That’s the advice that leads both of the heroines into danger and the motto that gives them courage to face their fears in the new Walt Disney film, “Nim’s Island.”
Based on the book by Wendy Orr and directed by Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, “Nim’s Island” is an entertaining fantasy that promotes empowering messages of bravery, hope and imagination.
Young Nim lives on a remote and deserted Pacific island with her father, Jack, a marine biologist, and her friends—a motley crew of animals. Her father has raised her to be independent and imaginative, and Nim’s favorite stories are the ones Jack tells her about her mother, who died when the little girl was 3 years old. In the film, these stories are distinguished by vivid illustrations.
Nim also loves the stories she reads—most notably, the novels about adventure hero Alex Rover. Rover is an intrepid traveler whose trademark is escaping from impossibly dangerous situations. This character is a far cry from his creator, Alex(andra) Rover, an agoraphobic writer living in San Francisco.
Nim’s path crosses that of Alexandra when Jack takes off to search for a new species of protozoa. He reluctantly agrees to Nim’s pleas that she be allowed to stay alone on the island. While he is gone, a surprise storm incapacitates his boat and strands him in the middle of the ocean.
A frightened Nim’s only contact with the outside world is e-mail—and she unexpectedly receives a message from her hero, Alex Rover, who is writing to ask Jack about an article he once wrote for National Geographic. In their correspondence, Nim confuses Alex-the-writer with Alex-the-adventurer and asks for her hero’s help. Touched by the little girl’s plight, Alexandra packs up her hand sanitizer and braves the great wide world to help Nim find her father.
The film rises above several clichés to be a truly enjoyable and empowering story about learning to face one’s fears with courage and grace. Nim must survive without any human contact and must face down an influx of tourists that she has built up in her mind as a threat to her home. Alexandra must conquer her horror of germs, travel and even other people to help the little girl in distress.
As their situations progress, the characters of Nim and Alexandra are often juxtaposed, which reinforces the idea that they are both facing extraordinary, if very different, challenges. This demonstrates that each person has his or her own demons to face. Both characters show a remarkable amount of courage, however, and great fortitude in the face of setbacks. “Nim’s Island” also celebrates the power of imagination, as much of Nim’s happiness depends on the stories she has learned and on the friendships she has formed with the island’s animal inhabitants. Nim also shows great imagination as she faces down the buccaneer tourists set to invade her island.
The writing is sweet and funny without being cloying, and the situations, though fantastic, never become ludicrous. Somehow, it is even believable when Nim’s friend, a sea bird, helps Jack to try to repair his boat.
“Nim’s Island” is helped immeasurably by its cast. Abigail Breslin is very natural as young Nim, and Jodie Foster gives her usual fine performance as Alex-the-writer. It is interesting to see Foster in the adult role here, given that she began her career as a child actor, and her early resume included some Disney roles. The top trio is rounded out by Gerard Butler, who solidly plays the dual role of Jack and Alex-the-adventurer, who encourages Alex-the-writer to take chances and do the right thing.
Of course, another star of the film is the scenery. Sandy beaches, palm trees, hidden beach houses, crystal blue water … these elements all add up to a gorgeous setting that makes movie-goers want to pack up for a voyage of their own. Although the tourist scenes are a bit of a cautionary tale, “Nim’s Island” will encourage viewers to find their own adventures.
Jane Wilson, a local writer and movie enthusiast, holds a doctorate in English from the University of Georgia. She is a parishioner at St. Pius X Church, Conyers.