We are now halfway through 2023, and Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves remains one of the biggest surprises of the year so far, a delightful action-fantasy film with plenty of modern flavors that makes one of the most enduring genre institutions of our time accessible to pretty much everyone. It's a joy to watch, particularly because it's also the kind of movie that rewards copious rewatching.
But what if you've already burned through Honor Among Thieves so many times that you know it by heart? Where do you go from there? There are certainly plenty of other fantasy films out there, but they're not all packing the same mix of humor, heart, and modern dialogue style that we found in the D&D film, so you might not get exactly what you're looking for out of those options. Thankfully, a new fantasy film dropping on Netflix this week will give you everything you got from the D&D movie and then some, delivering a thoroughly contemporary genre adventure while peppering in loads of memorable comedy and a story that reminds parents and kids alike that no one else gets to tell them who they are.
Nimona, based on the celebrated graphic novel of the same name by N.D. Stevenson is perhaps best known right now in pop culture circles for its long production process, which included a change in studios after Disney canceled the project and Annapurna Pictures and Netflix picked up the ball and ran with it. Long story short, it took a long time for this one to get made. But, now that the movie is here, it’s clear the movie was worth the wait. For kids seven and up, this is a fantastic fantasy adventure, perfect for watching as a family.
The story follows the title character (Chloë Grace Moretz), a shapeshifting troublemaker in a future-tech-laden city that also carries the classical trappings of knighthood and fantasy battle, and her budding friendship with Ballister (Riz Ahmed), a disgraced knight who's now a fugitive.
Ballister, you see, was all set to be the first commoner ever selected to the kingdom's elite group of knights, an order that's stood for a thousand years to protect the city from monsters lurking outside. He's a groundbreaker, a trailblazer, but someone clearly wants him out. To Nimona, that means he's someone just like her, an outsider labeled a problem by the establishment and therefore a budding "villain" who can help her upset the city's balance of power. Together, they set out to discover what exactly went wrong, and dig deep into a vast web of secrets in the process.
Right away, you can see certain familiar ingredients that longtime viewers of family films will know quite well. This is a story of two people who've been labeled as problems, as misfits, even as "monsters" by the powerful, and as they go through their journey of sword-fighting, daring escapes, and slapstick fun they both come to terms with that reality and what they can do to overcome. Nimona, in particular, has innate ties to the whole history of monsters surrounding the kingdom, and a chip on her shoulder because of it, so it's no wonder she wants to chip away at the balance of power. Through thoughtful and humorous fantasy storytelling, the film manages to examine structural prejudices without ever overwhelming young or old viewers.
Then, Nimona goes even deeper. Like Honor Among Thieves, it's the kind of film that seamlessly blends modern ideas with well-established fantasy tropes, and one of those core ideas is the trans metaphor of Nimona herself. She can, the film shows us, be anything she wants to be, but what she wants most is to be herself without judgment or hatred from the people around her. Stevenson himself is a trans creator, so it makes sense that these ideas are baked into the story, but it's particularly impressive how much the film adaptation is able to articulate that sense of a search for Nimona's true self in a way that even young kids can understand.
In terms of tricky stuff parents should watch for, there is one onscreen fatality early in the film that, while not graphic, may be somewhat jarring for very young children, and Nimona's impish love of being a "villain" might require a bigger discussion for some younger kids. Obviously, she’s not a literal villain, but it’s still something parents may want to unpack a bit.
But, overall, if you have a kid with a sense of humor, and who loves Dungeons & Dragons, they’ll likely eat this film up. This is contemporary fantasy fun, and you can watch that doesn’t require a trip to the movie theater.