Nim’s Island (2008) **1/2
dir. Jennifer Flacket and Mark Levin
Starring: Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Family fantasy adventures based upon bestselling books continue to be cranked out as entertainment-starved parents continue to require motion pictures they can safely take their kids to, but also (presumably) enjoy as much as their progeny. While "Nim’s Island" is far from first-rate, it’s most definitely a solid ride with as much to recommend it to Moms and Dads as the kiddies. However, this recommendation and rating is extended, and I repeat – extended ONLY – to those requiring a family fantasy adventure based upon a book they may (or may not) have already read to their children. All others need not apply.
"Nim’s Island" ambles along pleasantly enough as it spins a yarn involving the cute, perky and (of course) precocious little darling of the title – Nim (Abigail Breslin) – as she and marine biologist Dad (Gerard Butler) live out their idyllic existence on a tiny tropical island in the middle of God-knows-where. Palm trees abound, fresh fruit sprouts from every nook and cranny and Nim’s pals include all the animals of the island including an especially flatulent seal.
When Nim is not gamboling about her island paradise, she reads voraciously. Her literature of choice comes in the form of the seemingly autobiographical adventure tales of the swashbuckling Jack Rover (also Gerard Butler). When her Dad disappears at sea whilst on a mission to survey marine life, Nim – using satellite email – sends cries of help to Rover. Believing the swashbuckler to be real, she suspects he’ll swoop in at some point to answer her pleas.
Unbeknownst to our heroine is the sad fact that Jack is a fictional character who exists – not only exclusively to the written page, but also as an imaginary character in the mind of agoraphobic authoress Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster). Touched by the sincerity of Nim’s emails, the writer with the irrational fear of a world outside her home embarks bravely on a dangerous to take the place of her fictional character in order to rescue both Nim and her Dad.
Two things, and two things only, make this potentially hoary family fantasy palatable.
First of all, the cast is pretty first-rate. Abigail Breslin continues to amaze and delight – she’s an engaging young actress and as she matures and fills out, she’s becoming quite riveting – the camera clearly loves her and she has only one way to go – up, up and up. Gerard Butler, he of the firm buttocked King Leonidas fame in “300”, seems more at home as the Indiana-Jones-styled hero of his dual role duties, but he’s a terrific actor and it’s fun watching him prance about as a Daddy in second fiddle mode to Miss Breslin and her amazing farting seal. Jodie Foster manages to use her annoyingly pinched qualities to exceptional use. This tightly-wound, oh-so-serious actress who is as highly skilled as she is dull seems quite at home in her role as an agoraphobe and even manages to loosen up a tad in order to – you heard it hear first, folks – make us laugh.
The second reason to recommend the picture is its strict belief in family values. While Mr. Butler portrays a single parent, it is not the otherwise usual sort of pathetic baby-boomer characters who've messed up their children’s lives by being selfish and breaking up their families through divorce. No, Mr. Butler’s character is widowed, not divorced. This not only allows us to feel more for him and his child, but rejoice when he and Nim eventually become a full family unit with the appearance of the husband-less Jodie Foster.
If you’re looking for a shred of originality, you won’t find it here, but if you’re looking for a relatively pleasant time to kill time with the child you love, you can do much worse than “Nim’s Island”.
And how about those family values? Family values abound and prosper on “Nim’s Island”, and for that, we can all be just a little bit thankful.
“Nim’s Island” is available on DVD and Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment