I will be eternally grateful to Nim’s Island as it meant an afternoon not watching my children’s current fave, “Home Alone 4”, a movie which does for family franchises what Hannibal Lector did for Chianti sales.
Set on a remote South Pacific island, Gerard Butler plays Jack Rusoe (Ja… Crusoe, geddit? No? Oh well), a widowed marine scientist with the world’s shiniest, whitest teeth. His 11 year old daughter Nim (Abigail Breslin) believes her dead mother was swallowed by a Blue whale (I’m not exactly sure what kind of marine scientist Jack is – maybe a Creationist one).
Although she doesn’t have other children to play with, Nim has several animals on the island that help her – a pelican called Galileo, a sea turtle called Chico, a sea lion called Selkie and a bearded dragon called Fred (sorry but those names do not go together. Like calling your children LukeSkywalker and Bob). Nim loves to while away the hours reading books about a male explorer called Alex Rover, written by a woman called Alexandra Rover (perfect for the resulting confusion and mix-ups – see also any Shakespeare play involving twins). Sections of the Alex Rover books are dramatised for us as Nim reads them to herself, so we see Alex Rover (also played by Gerard Butler) doing his impression of a slightly manky yet irrepressibly lovable Scottish Indiana Jones.
Dad has to go off on his catermaran for a couple of days to find some special plankton that he’s named after his daughter (don’t worry, it does get more exciting). He wants to take Nim with him but she asks to stay as her pet sea turtle’s eggs are about to hatch (see, I told you it got more exciting). As she’s got her helpful animals and, more usefully, a satellite phone, her dad decides to let her do just that (as a child of the ’70s I’m very much in favour of letting kids have time on their own outdoors without parents, until I actually have to let mine out on their own without parents, at which point I say “Hey let’s watch Nim’s Island! Indoors! Away from murderers and shit!”)
Once Jack has gone Nim receives an email meant for him from Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) the author, asking about volcanos for her book, though Nim of course thinks it’s from the fictional Alex Rover.
Meanwhile Nim’s dad’s catermaran is caught in a very suddenly appearing hurricane which means Butler gets all wet, over and over again. (Oh. My. Lord.) Oh and his satellite phone is broken.
This being a fantasy (the film! I wouldn’t bother with talking sea turtles and special plankton in a fantasy of mine, I’m far too time-pressed) Jack is assisted in fixing his catamaran by Galileo the pelican who flies out to help. Why he doesn’t write a note to Nim for Galileo to take back in his beak is anyone’s guess. Like the prince in Rapunzel bringing her strong thread to make her own ladder over several months, boring us all to tears, and giving us far too much time to write feminist tracts about towers as phallic representations of the patriarchy and the oppression of women, rather than getting her a ready-made ladder from B&Q.
But things are going from bad to worse – first a shark appears, then more storms cause bits of his boat to literally fly off, and I meant literally literally there. But we don’t care as he keeps getting soaked while wearing an immaculate white shirt. Luckily he manages to keep hold of his jar of special plankton throughout all this mayhem and destruction, like me clutching the last jar of discounted anti-wrinkle cream in the Space NK sale. At one point he rather brilliantly ends up in the water and emits that scream that I hadn’t heard since the heady Spartan delights of “300”.
But fear not! Even more brilliantly Jack manages to windsurf home on some surviving bits of his catamaran. Probably after hearing there was an actual real live adult woman on his island. Because yes, Alexandra has made it there! There’s no sight of Alex though, he’s probably goes off for a bath and a hair wash.
Nim’s Island is a bit of a mishmash but it has a joyous craziness that propels it along. The young heroine is encouragingly resourceful, and the relationship between her and her father is very touching even if she could do with a science lesson.
There’s a real mix of styles: animation at the beginning showing Nim’s mum being swallowed by the whale; over the top god-no moments where sexily scruffy superhero explorer Alex Rover is tied to a long pole and thrown into a volcano; stylised storms raging over the island; helpful animals; and live action.
It’s not that easy to follow if you’re little – my six year old’s usual facial expression of utter bemusement at life in general was replaced by one of utter, utter bemusement at two characters played by one Butler, plus the America / island bits.
The stars are very engaging. Butler is always watchable and not just because of his wet shirts. He evidently relishes playing free-spirited, over the top adventurer Alex Rover, complete with endless scrapes. Abigail Breslin is bright and self-reliant. Of course there’s a ton of over-egging but that’s hardly unexpected. With bits of “Castaway”, “Dr Dolittle”, and “Tarzan” and absolutely no “Lord of the Flies”, Nim’s Island is a fun family film, ideal for whiling away a long afternoon. You may even want to let your kids watch it.