- Rated PG
- Buy the DVD
All photos © Fox Walden
Reviewed by David Medsker
hildren’s movies are third rails for movie critics. Dare to give one the lashing it deserves, and you may as well tell people your hobbies include drowning kittens. “Aw, come on, it’s just a kid’s movie” is the usual response, but like every other genre, there are good children’s movies (“Monsters Inc.,” “Finding Nemo,” “Fly Away Home”), and there are movies like “Nim’s Island,” which are the reason why W.C. Fields advised people never to work with animals or children.
Abigail Breslin stars as the title character, a young girl who lives on a remote island in the South Pacific with her father, scientist Jack Rusoe (Gerard Butler). Mainland supplies arrive from a cargo ship, and Nim’s favorite part of the package is the latest adventure novel from Alex Rover, unaware that Alex Rover is actually Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), an agoraphobic who hasn’t left her house in four months. Even worse, Alexandra is now having regular conversations with the fictional Alex Rover (also played by Butler) about her latest novel; she needs some assistance involving volcanoes, and when she sees a piece written by Jack about their island’s volcano, she emails him for advice. Jack is away doing research on marine botany, but Nim answers on his behalf, striking up an odd friendship with her hero. When Jack is lost at sea in a freak storm, Nim asks Alex for help, forcing Alex to brave the very things her fictional alter ego deals with on a daily basis.
I’m not sure what kind of wireless network the Rusoes have, but I want it. They’re on an uncharted island in the middle of nowhere, but have web access via the solar panels on their bungalow? Sweet. I can barely get reception on the second floor. There are several ‘WTF’ moments like this throughout “Nim’s Island,” like the part where Nim accidentally causes the ash volcano on the island to erupt. That’s instant death for anyone living at the base of said volcano, but here, it’s a small case of ash flurries. Oh, and there is also the part where a father leaves his 11-year-old daughter alone on an island. I’m supposed to let that pass, of course, because it’s a kid’s movie. And that’s true, it is a kid’s movie. A dumb, dumb kid’s movie.
It actually didn’t start off that bad. In fact, the beginning was fun in how completely unhinged it was. Alexandra talking with Alex? Butler playing both himself and his daughter’s fictional hero? Most children’s movies do not deal with issues like agoraphobia – and the mental instability it can apparently cause – so while there are times when the movie tries to go deeper than the usual kid fluff, the movie spends most of the time in the shallow end of the pool. Must Alexandra and Nim read out loud every email they both send and receive? Is Jack Rusoe a real-life MacGyver, or is Galileo the pelican just an awesomely talented bird?
The top three actors in this movie know what they’re doing, but they do not seem at all prepared for this. Foster is the most painful to watch, clearly forgetting whatever screwball chops she learned while shooting the original “Freaky Friday” back in the day. Butler’s American accent, well, stinks, which might explain why they allowed the fictional Alex Rover to have Butler’s native Scottish brogue. As for Breslin, one can only assume she did this movie for the same reason that Elijah Wood did “Flipper”: she got to spend six months swimming with sea lions. What kid wouldn’t want to do that?
“Nim’s Island” is a movie out of time, a live-action Disney movie from the ‘70s (again, see “Freaky Friday”) with updated production values. Escapism on a kid’s level, if you will, and there is nothing wrong with that if handled properly. However, when your movie is less grounded in reality than one about three singing chipmunks, you’re in big trouble.