'Nim's Island' is the perfect concept for a Disney movie that Disney never made. Though a Fox production, it has all the elements of a family entertainment that old Walt would have masterminded back in the 1950s, mixing a bit of 'Robinson Crusoe' in with a dash of 'Home Alone,' and topping it off with some 'Romancing the Stone' for the parents. And on the surface, 'Nim's Island' does possess a lot of that Disney magic. It has a charming child star as its lead, a classic kid-flick plot of the orphan who must go on a grand adventure to repair her idealized family unit, and some wonderfully picturesque locations that always makes the film visually appealing. Unfortunately, it is also marred by some poor casting choices and a chaotic narrative, leaving 'Nim's Island' to suffer by comparison to the Disney greats it so obviously aspires to be.
Abigail Breslin stars as Nim, who lives on an island with her scientist father, Jack Rusoe (Gerald Butler). As he often travels on long expeditions at sea, Nim has developed quite the fantasy life, telling us of her whirlwind journeys and interactions with dancing and talking animals. Then one day her dad goes missing, so she turns to her favorite adventure author, Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster) for help. It seems that Alexandra, who has been researching a new novel, has struck up an email conversation with Nim thinking that she is Jack. With nowhere else to turn, Nim begs Alexandra to travel to her island and help her rescue her lost pop.
The gimmick of 'Nim's Island,' however, is that Alexandra is nothing like her literary persona. An agoraphobic, she can't even go out of the house to fetch her mail, let alone live the adventures of her most popular fictional character, "Alex Rover" (also Butler). But somehow, Nim convinces Alexandra to take a risk, and that's when the real fun starts. Playing against type, Foster bumbles her way through a series of calamities as she makes her way to the island, and soon she and Nim are tracking down Jack. See if you can't guess the character arcs and romantic outcomes -- if you don't think Alexandra and Jack will ultimately get together (and Nim finally get the nuclear family she was long ago denied), you obviously haven't seen many Disney movies...
There are many successful elements to 'Nim's Island.' The opening scenes are quite enchanting, with Breslin's sweet narration introducing us to Nim's life, which mixes traditional animation, CGI, and some wonderful location photography to create a lively and imaginative fantasy world. There's also a subplot introduced that involves involving a cruise ship that wants to party on the island, which propels the story into new and unexpected directions. The film's climax also manages to wring a few genuine emotional notes, as we care enough about Breslin by film's end to want to see poor Nim finally reunite with her father, and the uptight Alex to finally loosen up a bit and have some fun.
Unfortunately, there is one big disappointment to be found on 'Nim's Island,' and it is Foster. She overacts terribly, flailing her arms about in such an arch display of self-conscious slapstick that it made me wish a big wave would come and wash her away just so she'd shut up. It's all an even bigger disappointment when you consider that Foster made her name as a child star by appearing in innocuous Disney vehicles just like this one -- to see her play a real grown-up in this type of material could have been a wonderful, full-circle moment, but instead she just appears uncomfortable. This carries over to her scenes with Butler, as they lack any real chemistry, so their pseudo-romantic byplay falls flat when it should have been whimsical and winning. It's a credit to the beguiling Breslin (who's fast becoming Hollywood's go-to child phenom -- sorry, Dakota Fanning) that she manages to upstage her older co-stars and carry the movie all on her narrow little shoulders. Without her, 'Nim's Island' would have teetered on the brink of insufferable.
Despite its unevenness, 'Nim's Island' rates as a very pleasant family entertainment thanks to its interesting mismatch of genres and story elements. The theme of familial bonds restored is hardly original, but the way 'Nim's Island' merges action-adventure, juvenile fantasy, adult romance (even if it is the film's weakest element) and melodrama is refreshing. Breslin also tugs at our emotions enough that we actually care about the film's outcome, and aside from Foster, the characters are memorable. There is even enough action that the film avoids the dreaded "chick flick" tag, and both boys and adults should find plenty to enjoy, too. 'Nim's Island' is hardly a threat to the Disney canon of live-action family classics, but it's certainly a nice enough place to visit.
Fox provides 'Nim's Island' with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1). It's a fine-enough looking transfer, but has a few problems that left me feeling rather underwhelmed overall by the presentation.
I immediately found colors to be oversaturated. Hues appear plugged up, noise is obvious, and fleshtones are rather sickly -- this is not a flattering look for the actors. Contrast is also too hot, which further mucks up detail and any overall sense of realism. Shots with toned-down colors are far more natural and pleasing, particularly the long picturesque shots of the wonderful island locations, but these are few and far between. The transfer is at least sharp throughout, and the source as clean as a whistle with rich, deep blacks. Also a plus is that aside from the aforementioned noise, there are no major compression artifacts or other irritants. Still, 'Nim's Island' doesn't really deliver the kind of high-def I now expect from a Blu-ray new release -- it's merely adequate.
'Nim's Island' features a DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround track (48kHz/24-bit), and it's an active and engaging presentation thanks to the film's sprightly and appealing sound design.
The surrounds are frequently employed with a variety of atmospheric and discrete effects. Directionality is quite sharp during action scenes which creates a very nice "wall of sound" effect, with smooth pans and a consistent bleed. Dialogue sequences are certainly more subdued, but because most of the film takes place on the island this remains a fairly lively mix. Tech specs are certainly as polished as you would expect from a major studio film, with a full-bodied frequency range and deep, low bass. There are also no volume balance issues. A very solid mix that supports the film perfectly.
A well-rounded package of supplements is provided for 'Nim's Island,' with the Blu-ray matching the DVD release extra-for-extra. All video materials are presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only, with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
'Nim's Island' is a charming little adventure film for the pre-teen set, though it fails to really cross the age barrier and engage us adults as equally. It's also marred by a miscalculated performance by Jodie Foster, who comes off as shrill and unlikable. There is little to dislike about this Blu-ray, however, with a decent transfer and stronger audio and supplements. This is no demo disc, but those in need of a perfectly pleasant family film could do worse than visit 'Nim's Island.'