Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster, "The Brave One") writes adventure novels attributed to Alex Rover, yet lives reclusively in San Francisco. One of her character's biggest fans is Nim Rusoe (Abigail Breslin, "Little Miss Sunshine") who leads quite a different life on a fantastic island with her scientist dad, Jack (Gerard Butler, "300"). When Nim's dad disappears, she writes to the only person she thinks can help her - Alex Rover (also Butler) - and his creator daringly makes the out of character decision to travel to "Nim's Island."
As adapted from Wendy Orr's book, "Nim's Island" plays like an amalgamation of "Romancing the Stone" (writer leaves safe life to experience adventure), "Cloak & Dagger" (same actor portrays father and literary hero) and "Home Alone" (kid fends off adult home invaders). Despite some rather obnoxious product placement (Purell hand sanitizer and Progresso soup), "Nim's Island" has all the elements of a good kids' story - a heroine who outwits and helps adults, a fleet of cute animal friends and an island paradise ripe for adventure. It's even got a sea lion fart joke that the writers have made a plot point.
The story is told in three strands that don't meet up until the very end, flying against my own expectations for this tale. We first meet Alexandra, an agoraphobic writer fearful of more than open spaces (I do wonder if the film's target audience will understand the concept of agoraphobia, but they will at least understand that Rover is the extreme opposite of what she writes about). She's currently stuck trying to figure out how to get her character out of a live volcano and comes across Jack Rusoe's online National Geographic article about his secret island and its Fire Mountain and so emails him with questions.
On that island, Nim has a grand life with Selky the sea lion, who taught her to swim, Galileo the pelican, who taught her physical science concepts and Fred the lizard (nice touch making clear that Nim's education is being attended to by both her natural surroundings, her dad and her own voracious reading habit). Jack is obsessed with ocean protozoa and is determined to find an new one to name after Nim. When he sets off to witness a drift that will glow in the dark with them, Nim refuses to accompany him to safeguard turtle eggs and, against his better judgement, he agrees. Then a horrible storm comes in. When Nim sees an email to her dad from Alex Rover, she responds and eventually Alexandra susses out that she's conversing with an eleven year old girl who is all alone. With some encouragement from her literary character, Alexandra opens her own front door and heads for the airport.
After that setup the film follows these three main characters individually. Nim spies an ocean liner's advance boat and must figure out how to protect her home. Jack is adrift with a broken mast and leaking boat but has Galileo on his team. Alexandra must face turbulence, non-English speaking taxi drivers, 16 seater planes, boats and a helicopter. Abigail Breslin fares much better here than in her last outing ("Definitely, Maybe"), perhaps as she is allowed to be a kid, albeit one with unusual skills (rock climbing, tree gliding, etc.). She never comes across as precocious or too studied, just a little girl in tune with her surroundings. Former child actress Jodie Foster, cast in her first adult role in a family film, plays her comedy broadly without going over the top (as in, kids will think it's funny) and balances it nicely with the more serious maternal concern her character feels for the unknown Nim. Gerard Butler pulls out a flat American accent as Jack, whom he paints as goofy scientist but serious dad, and uses his own Scottish brogue for the fantastical Rover, an Indiana Jones type of dude who not only inhabits Alexandra's city apartment, but fights in Arabian sand dunes around Nim's bed. Although there are considerable small supporting roles (the villainous cruise ship operators, loud and unattractive tourists, Alexandra's fellow travelers, etc.), only Jay Laga'aia ("Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith") rises above the crowd as the helicopter pilot who retains his good humor in the face of doom.
Production values are moderate. CGI effects range from good to subpar. The filmmakers also cheat their audience with an ending that produces an unfounded miracle after working to explain prior successes, but I doubt eight to twelve year old girls will complain as "Nim's Island" offers enough of the right stuff to overlook its missteps. End credits feature a colorful 'paper cutout' retelling of the story that is typical of the effort that appears to have gone into giving the film some character.
Robin did not see this film.
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