Nim’s Island
This picture won’t help Abigail’s case against felony arson charges.

Theatrical Release Date: 04/04/2008
Directors: Jennifer Flackett & Mark Levin
Cast: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, Gerard Butler

Here’s where living in San Diego and being a film critic can be a real drag. You see, “Nim’s Island” had help from Sea World Australia in getting trained animals to be a part of the movie. As such, Sea World San Diego became the host for a screening of the film. So, I just had to spend a whole day at Sea World, admiring penguins, being forced to touch rays and marveling at killer whales as they drift by in their underwater viewing enclosure; all in order to attend the screening. It’s a rough life, I tell you. :)

All kidding aside, I will admit that they were very smart to place the screening there because I probably would have gone to another film instead since neither I, nor my typical reader, are in the demographic (if you are an 8 to 12 year-old girl, I apologize for the potty language used elsewhere on the site). I grew up going to Sea World and jumped at the chance to grab a friend (the one who made me touch the rays) and spend a day in the sun (How do you like Boston now, Audrey?).

In “Nim’s Island”, America’s sweetheart, Abigail Breslin, plays the titular Nim; the precocious daughter of a research scientist (Gerard Butler). She spends her time frolicking with the island animals and reading books about the famed adventurer, Alex Rover. When her dad goes missing, Nim asks for help from the author of her favorite books (Jodie Foster). What follows are the standard family film antics and plot variants we’ve all seen in films of this ilk.

Starting on the positive note, the casting department got it right and each of the main actors do a wonderful job of bringing their stereotypical characters to the right mix of cliché and tone that the film demanded. Breslin seemed a little lost in some of the more emotional scenes, though I think that had more to do with the direction which I’ll get to in a second. However, she’s so endearing and sweet that it’s hard not to root for her character and enjoy her interactions with the animals. Also, it’s her character’s knack for using her imagination to create the world around her that brings the fun, fantasy element into the film.

Foster brings an interesting dynamic to the mix, having been a very famous child actor herself. She clearly had fun playing a neurotic author with a dual case of agoraphobia and germaphobia; making the most out of her over-the-top characteristics. She seemed to revel in the chance to play a character so free of the typical anguish so many of her characters have exhibited over the years.

Though, perhaps the best casting was Gerard Butler. He does a fine job of being the single father research scientist but where his character excels is in the dual role of the character from the Alex Rover books. In that role, Butler is essentially Indiana Jones, ready for any challenge and making Shia LaBeouf look like even more of a pansy in comparison when looking at the trailer for the new Indy film.

Many kudos to the filmmakers for doing their best to make sure that the animals are largely practical, with CGI mostly being used for some of their mouths to make the sound cues match up. Since so much of the film is watching Nim and the animals, it’s a relief to see that this aspect worked so well. Otherwise, the film would have been unbearable.

As for the things that will keep this film in the realm of pre-teen enjoyment, the whole project feels like an attempt to recreate some of the classic family fare a la “Swiss Family Robinson”, though it doesn’t quite live up to its genre’s predecessors. There really is no second level of depth to hook in a more adult audience so if you are pulled into a theater for this one, make sure to keep your brain at defrost and don’t expect to use too many neurons.

I did like the idea of the opening sequence, done like a storybook or diorama – however, considering so much of the film is about imagination and Nim’s point of view, I would have liked a more consistent nature to the look of it all. For all of the fantasy/imagination sequences, there’s a cut to some banal and trite situation, usually involving Foster’s attempt to reach the island to help Nim.

The husband and wife director team of Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin did a nice job of creating a framework for a wonderful family film but the all-too obvious setups, horrendously bad volcano CGI shots and seemingly thrown together ending (perhaps to keep the runtime down) all work against them. Heck, even with the rushed ending I thought the film was about twenty minutes longer than its actual runtime of about a hour and a half.

If they had kept a unified vision for the look and feel of the film, this could easily have passed the ratings Mendoza line but unfortunately, “Nim’s Island” can only muster up a 2 out of 5. I think there will be a number of people under the age of 13 that might enjoy the project overall but if you don’t fit into that category, it’s going to be hard to justify spending the dough to see this on the big screen.