Jodie Foster, Abigail Breslin, Gerard Butler
Mark Levin, Jennifer Flackett
Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin, Paula Mazur, Joseph Kwong
20th Century Fox
Be the hero of your own story.
Based upon a rather enchanting novel by Wendy Orr, "Nim's Island" stars Abigail Breslin as Nim, an 11-year-old girl who lives on an uncharted island with her scientist father, Jack (Gerard Butler). Their simple existence is an extraordinary blend of "Robinson Crusoe" and "Pippi Longstocking" with a dash of "Home Alone" and a pinch of "Dr. Dolittle" thrown in for good measure.
When Jack goes missing following a freak storm while out on a research mission, the resourceful Nim is forced to fend for herself against the elements and unexpected visitors. Unexpected help comes in the form of an e-mail from Alex Rover, who just so happens to be the lead character in Nim's favorite series of adventure novels.
In real life, Alex Rover is Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), an incredibly agoraphobic writer who doesn't leave her San Francisco home for weeks at a time. Her character, Alex (Gerard Butler, in a delightful dual role), is everything that Alexandra is not...bold, adventurous, risk-taking and courageous. Alexandra lives ever so vicariously through Alex.
Eventually, Nim can't quite handle everything herself and Alexandra is called upon to face her fears and come to the aid of a little girl on the other side of the world.
Co-directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Lewin(screenwriters, "Madeline" and "Wimbledon") do a nice job of blending both the very real human aspects of "Nim's Island" with the more fantastic elements of the story. "Nim's Island" requires an enormous suspension of belief, a trait far more common in the film's target audience of young children than in the parents and older siblings who will accompany them to the film. While the notion of an insightful iguana, a dancing sea lion and a remarkably resourceful pelican will likely enthrall young ones, it may evoke a groan by film's end for anyone past the teen years.
While there's no faulting the film's central theme of becoming the hero of one's own story, it's quite easy to fault Lewin, Flackett and the film's other two credited screenwriters who collectively feel the need to beat the theme into our heads with regularity. Similarly, all four of the film's lead characters develop this irritating habit explaining their motivations right in the middle of their actions.
I mean, really. Do we need to hear Jack explain that he has to fix the boat so he can get back to Nim?
Do we need to hear it three times?
I'm not kidding.
Modest script quibbles aside, "Nim's Island" is an entertaining venture on the strength of its energetic and enthusiastic cast.
It seems like it has been years since Jodie Foster served up a family film, and while "Nim's Island" isn't quite up to the quality of her early Disney flicks, it's a refreshing change of pace for someone who seems hellbent on revenge and killing in nearly all of her recent films. As the agoraphobic Alexandra, Foster adds multiple layers to the humorously frightened out of her wits Alexandra. Strangely enough, a character such as Alexandra required someone the calibre of Foster who could simultaneously laugh at her numerous predicaments while sympathizing and buying into the complete and utter selflessness involved in even undertaking such a venture. Even when the writing occasionally betrays her, Foster's a joy to behold.
Likewise, Abigail Breslin continues to become one of this generation's best young actresses with yet another performance that calls on her to be a vulnerable child, a courageous young girl and a mini-action hero all in one.
As the imaginary adventurer, Gerard Butler is a hoot and serves as the film's comic relief with quite a few zingy one-liners. Butler, who has proven to be quite the adventurous actor with roles ranging from "Phantom of the Opera" to "300" to "Dear Frankie," again proves he's got as much acting muscle as he does brawn. While Jack proves to be the most groan-inducing of all the characters, Butler manages to still infuse him with a wealth of humanity that nicely complements the more swashbuckling spirit of Alex Rover.
While the film's animals are delightful and the special effects surrounding them quite awesome, there are times when the special effects feel a tad underwhelming. Most notably, Jack's shots at sea often seem quite obviously fake, while the occasional special effect scene transition distracts from the story's very real human elements and the occasionally awesome CGI effects.
By the end of "Nim's Island," children are likely to be talking about the animals while most adults are likely thinking to themselves "It was a cute film, but it could have been so much more." Much of the film evolves around Nim trying to survive, Alexandra trying to get to Nim to help her out and Jack trying to get back to Nim. While it's modestly entertaining watching everyone's journey trying to get to "Nim's Island," it's hard not to wonder by film's end if it was really worth all the trouble to get there.
Had the film centered more on Nim's adventures or, perhaps, even given more time to the Nim/Alex relationship, "Nim's Island" would have been a far more entertaining adventure. As it is, "Nim's Island" merits a modest recommendation for its strong performances, blending of fantasy/reality and its positive portrayal of the strength of young girls.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic