Nim and her dad, semi-famous marine biologist Jack Rusoe, sailed around the world twice by her fourth birthday and landed on a wonderful island paradise. There they live a 21st century Swiss Family Robinson kind of life—with solar powered lights and satellite Internet connections.
Life is good.
Jack can spend his time focusing on an ocean full of nannoplankton. And 11-year-old Nim can commune with her sea lion and bearded dragon buddies, making tasty stews out of vegetables, tree roots and squirmy little mealworms. If that isn’t entertainment enough, every few months a supply boat brings another exciting book by her favorite author, Alex Rover, an Indiana Jones-type man of adventure. A man who, in Nim’s imagination, looks very much like her dad.
But in reality Alex Rover is really Alexandra Rover, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobic who’s addicted to hand sanitizer and hasn’t left her house in sixteen weeks.
The three become connected when Alexandra e-mails Jack while doing research for her latest book. But it’s Nim who excitedly receives the message. Jack is off on an overnight expedition and, unbeknownst to Nim, is lost at sea in a storm-battered boat.
After a few e-mails, Alexandra realizes that Nim isn’t Jack’s research assistant but his daughter stranded alone on an isolated island. The author, goaded on by her own imaginary version of the adventuresome Alex Rover—who surprisingly also looks a lot like Nim’s dad—decides that she must go help the little girl.
From there, the three reach for strength and courage. Jack: to make a way back to his daughter through roiling and shark-infested waters. Nim: to protect her precious island from encroaching tourists. And Alexandra: to somehow step through her front door.
Though Jack is consumed by his work and makes a bad choice when he leaves Nim alone, he still embodies the very definition of a devoted father. Separated from Nim, his sole mission in life becomes getting back to her. Nim is equally dedicated to her dad. When she sees a weathered boat sinking in a storm, thinking it’s her father she leaps into the stormy surf to rescue the boat’s occupant.
Thus, finding courage in the face of both external and internal adversity is the central theme here. Jack tells his daughter, “Courage is something we have to learn every day. It’s not just in you—it’s in every choice we make.” And all of the characters demonstrate that fact, especially Alexandra. She must overcome a world filled with everything she fears in order to help an innocent she hardly knows.
[Spoiler Warning] When Alexandra reaches Nim she embraces her and promises to care for her. “You will not be alone,” she murmurs in the child’s ear.
A positive side note involves the movie’s assertion that reading books can transport you to places you’d never be able to go without them.
During a flight in a tiny plane, Alexandra prays that God won’t “take” her. Jack thinks a whale swimming by his sinking boat might be driven by the spirit of his deceased wife (who was swallowed by just such a creature). He calls out to her, telling her that he’ll make it back to Nim. When Alexandra’s helicopter lands safely in a storm, she yells out “thank you” skyward.
Dancing the hula for the tourists, women wear grass skirts and flowery bikini tops. A rather large woman wears a low-cut top, revealing a rather large amount of cleavage. Alexandra steps out of the ocean in a wet (though not terribly immodest) camisole top. Her skirt is torn high up on her leg.
Violent lightning storms throw debris around Nim’s house and hit Jack’s little boat with large waves. In one case he’s washed overboard and we’re left to wonder if he drowned. In another stormy scene, Alexandra is knocked unconscious and sent sinking to the ocean floor.
Nim falls down the side of a volcano and gashes her leg. She wraps the bloody cut with a cloth. In an imaginary scene, Alex is tossed into a flaming volcano. Tourists on the beach fall over each other screaming as the volcano blows white ash. Nim wields a big machete to cut ropes and coconuts. Alexandra is frightened by a lizard and smacks her head on a tree. Nim’s lizard somewhat maliciously attaches itself to at least two people’s faces.
In Nim’s imagination, Alex Rover fights off several kidnappers while blindfolded. The movie begins with Nim telling the story of her oceanographer mother who was swallowed by a whale. The scene is illustrated with colorful children’s book animations.
“Darned” and “jeez” are each used once. The British swear word “bloody” pops up twice. There are two or three interjections of “oh my god,” one of “good lord.” Twice, exclamations of “what the … !” trail off before they’re finished.
It’s implied that Alexandra takes extra motion sickness pills so that she’ll fall asleep during a turbulent plane ride. Tourists are seen with mixed drinks.
Did I mention already that Dad decides to leave Nim all alone on the island for two nights? Also, Nim does some pretty risky things to scare away the tourists. Among them, rolling huge boulders down a mountainside and catapulting reptiles high into the air so that they’ll rain down on the beach.
She also tells her pet sea lion to pass gas underwater to sicken the crowd. The pet obediently does so. Alexandra throws up twice (offscreen). A man is forcibly ejected from a porta-potty when it tips over.
Nim’s Island, based on a children’s book by Canadian author Wendy Orr, is a tough movie for a fully grown movie critic to really love. It’s predictable. A bit forced. And heavy-handed enough to insure that even its youngest viewers stay with the story.
Speaking of those youngest viewers, though, it’s pretty easy for me to put aside professional stuffiness. Because I’m positive they’ll eagerly root for Nim. They’ll wish that they could join her in protecting her pristine island from those candy wrapper-dropping tourists—maybe even learning along the way that they themselves should stop dropping candy wrappers at that park near their home. And there is no question that they’ll be head-over-heels for the bearded dragon … named Fred. In fact, they’ll probably be nagging their own dads to go out and buy them their own cute-and-not-so-cuddly lizard as they’re leaving the mall.
But above all that, it’s a sure thing that they’ll get the main point loud and clear. After crashing waves, cracking thunder, erupting volcanoes and even the moments of peaceful tropical splendor, kids will walk out with the message that courage and sacrificial love have important places in our lives. They’re a part of every choice we make, and you can “be the hero of your own life story” if you make the right ones. That’s a better take-away than a stuffy movie reviewer’s thumbs up any day.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.