Screen Time: 80%
Role: Nim Rusoe
Age: 11 years old
Directed: Jennifer Flackett, Mark Levin
Anything can happen on Nim's Island, a magical place ruled by a young girl's imagination. It is an existence that mirrors that of her favorite literary character, Alex Rover - the world's greatest adventurer. But Alexandra, the author of the Rover books, leads a reclusive life in the big city. When Nim's father goes missing from their island, a twist of fate brings her together with Alexandra. Now they must draw courage from their fictional hero, Alex Rover, and find strength in one another to conquer Nim's Island.
This movie's endearing qualities are enhanced by a cast raring to go: Abigail Breslin, whose athletic shape as Nim may surprise "Little Miss Sunshine" fans; Jodie Foster as Alexandra Rover, the author of Nim's favorite adventure books; and Gerard Butler, doing double duty as Nim's loving dad, Jack, and Alex Rover, the adventure hero Miss Rover created.
Hollywood seems to be using Butler as a kind of utility player, which is perfect for someone who's proved he can play anything, from a he-man to a lover boy to a singing phantom.
The best family fare inevitably is adapted from a book in which creativity is given space to breathe, and "Nim's Island" is no exception. Novelist Wendy Orr gave her imagination free rein in creating a safe harbor for Nim and her scientist dad.
Orr's descriptions served as a blueprint for the set designers. They bring to life the deserted tropical island where Jack takes Nim after her mother's horrendous death at the bottom of the ocean. Hidden behind deadly coral reefs, she and her dad prove that two's company. But Nim has other friends: a doting 500-pound sea lion, a playful iguana, a bearded dragon and a pelican.
They come in handy when Jack leaves one day to search the waters for a strain of plankton that interests him. When Nim decides not to go, her dad doesn't push. From then on, it's one disaster after another. Jack's boat is damaged in a storm. He loses his satellite connection and can no longer communicate with his daughter, who hangs on to the day he said he'd return like a talisman. Nim fights off a cruise ship of avid tourists by making the island appear dangerous.
Until this, Nim has seemed capable of managing everything herself. The mood of the movie shifts when she seeks outside help, and we are reminded she's only 12 years old.
The directing team of Mark Levin and Jennifer Flackett handle this transition very well, making it a subtle shift the audience may not get at first. Breslin does a personality makeover on Nim as she suddenly is made to understand her limitations.
As she has grown up in a fantasy world, Nim first tries to locate a fictional hero, Alex Rover, to see if he can find her father. Instead she reaches the author Alexandra Rover. At first, the writer seems to be of no help. Suffering from agoraphobia, Alexandra is afraid to even step outside her San Francisco Victorian.
Foster is hilarious as the frightened writer, giving herself pep talks to boost her bravery. Her desire to help this ardent fan finally allows her to fly in helicopters, swim with a giant whale and ride a zip wire through treetops in the jungle. There's a lesson here for kids, and maybe adults, but the filmmakers don't pound it in.
"Nim's Island" mixes magic with reality when the adventurer Alex turns up at key points. Butler plays him differently from Jack, more cocky and convinced of his unlimited physical prowess.
This lovely movie is about people testing themselves and finding they are more capable than they thought. That's a good thing to learn at any age.