A pair of heroines on opposite sides of the world team up in an eye-filling and heart-warming story from Walden Media, the latest in its series of fine films based on popular children’s literature.
Eleven year old Nim (Abigail Breslin of “Little Miss Sunshine”) and her marine biologist father, Jack (Gerard Butler), are the only human residents of a remote but idyllic South Pacific island. While Jack studies nanoplankton, Nim makes the entire island her school, with the animals as her teachers and her friends. Every few months, a supply boat brings another book by her favorite author, Alex Rover, an international man of adventure.
But Alex is really Alexandra (Jodie Foster), a writer so terrified of just about everything that she lives on canned soup, constantly sanitizes her hands, and cannot get far enough outside her front door to retrieve the mail. Alexandra has created a hero who is everything she is not – fearless and always eager to go where he has never been and try what he has never tried.
To get information for her new book, Alexandra emails Jack for details about a volcano he described in an article for National Geographic. But he is away for two days obtaining plankton samples, so Nim answers, thinking she is corresponding with the dashing Alex (also played by Butler , as envisioned by both Alexandra and Nim). By the time Alexandra realizes she is writing to an eleven-year-old, Jack is missing and Nim is alone on the island. And the woman who was terrified to walk four feet to the mailbox must go halfway around the world to help her new friend.
Husband and wife directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, seamlessly combine adventure, drama, comedy, and fantasy as Jack, Nim, and Alexandra have to confront their separate but often parallel fears and challenges. As Nim tightens the rope around her waist so that she can climb the volcano, Alexandra is tightening the belt of her robe and gathering her resolve to walk out the front door. All three of them find their determination tested and creativity challenged. And all find assistance from unexpected friends.
Nim is an enormously appealing heroine and it is especially welcome to have a story about a resourceful and courageous young girl. The film wisely makes her the center of the story in a way that young audiences will find empowering and Breslin’s unaffected interactions with the creatures and natural screen presence are a pleasure to watch.
Of the three characters, Nim is closest to the imaginary Alex Rover, confident and capable. She navigates the island by gliding on zip wires like a modern-day Tarzan. She not only swims with the sea lion; she teaches it to play soccer and boogie. She can fix the solar panels on the roof to get the electricity and satellite uplink back in working order, protect the newborn baby turtles from predators, rappel down the side of a volcano, and make a dinner out of mung beans and meal worms. When the island is invaded by a pirate-themed cruise ship bearing pina coladas, beach chairs, port-a-potties, and chubby Australian tourists, Nim and her animal friends set up a “Home Alone”-style series of booby-traps to scare them away.
Butler is fine as Nim’s fond, if distracted father and as the heroic Alex. And it is a treat to see Foster enjoying a comic turn in her first film for families since her Disney days, when she was Nim’s age, and shared the screen with an Oscar-winning star, Helen Hayes in “Candleshoe.” Here’s hoping when it is time for Breslin to pass on the torch to a young actress 30 years from now it will be in a movie as good as this one.
Parents should know that this film features a child and adults in peril, a brief image of a wound, some gross-out humor, and a reference to loss of a parent. There is also some intrusive product placement.
Families who see this movie should discuss why Alexandra created such a brave hero when she was so afraid of everything? Would you like to live like Nim? What would be the best part? What would you miss?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy Shipwrecked and the book that inspired this movie. They will also enjoy seeing Foster and Helen Hayes in Candleshoe.