Nim's Island

Reviewed by Gary D

Walden Medias latest family-friendly fantasy adventure, Nims Island, puts an agreeable digital-age spin on Johann David Wyss nearly 200-year-old novel, The Swiss Family Robinson. Charming Abigail Breslin plays Nim, the precocious tween-age daughter of a widowed oceanographer, Jack (Gerard Butler), whose quest for knowledge has led him to take up residence on an uncharted speck of volcanic rock in the South Pacific.

And, yes, with the exception of Nims pet sea lion, sea turtle, pelican and iguana, the island is deserted blissfully so. Keeping it that way becomes Nims primary mission in life.

As removed from civilization as the island is, Nim and Jack Rusoe are linked directly to friends, teachers, fellow scientists and research facilities via the Internet, satellite phones and dish antennae. Solar panels provide the electricity needed to power their computers and appliances, and keep the specimens in Jacks laboratory thriving. The less time viewers spend analyzing the technology required to maintain such a household, the more fun theyll have watching Nins Island.

Despite her dexterity at the computer keyboard, Nim keeps her fertile imagination well nourished by reading actual books. Shes obsessed with the dashing fictional adventurer who would give Indiana Jones a run for his money. Unbeknownst to fans of the Alex Rover series, her hero is the creation of a slightly built and decidedly unadventurous Bay Area agoraphobe, Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster). Their disparate worlds collide after Nim intercepts an e-mail the fantasist sent to the scientist , asking his help in concocting a way for Alex Rover to avoid being tossed into a volcano by hostile tribesmen.

The query arrives moments after Jack sails off on a two-day trip to study a previously unknown species of luminescent protozoa. Nims gotten Jacks reluctant permission to stay behind on the island, where she can observe the imminent emergence of sea turtles from eggs buried in the sand. At first, Alexandra is unaware that her e-mails are being answered by a 12-year-old girl, just as Nim is convinced shes corresponding with the actual Alex Rover.

Its at this precise point in the story that co-writer/directors Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin working off the blueprint laid by novelist Wendy Orr elected to throw a bucket load of guano into the narrative fan. By comparison, the biblical plagues were mere dust-ups.

Jacks mission is interrupted by not one, but two, savage typhoons. Giant waves destroy his boats communications devices, leaving Nim distraught at the prospect of losing her dad to the same malevolent sea that claimed her mother. Naturally, she seeks the counsel of the lion-hearted Alex Rover. Most days, however, his alter ego lacks the courage to leave the house long enough to pick up her mail.

If the loss of her father werent a sufficiently depressing prospect, Nim also is forced to protect the island from a shipload of grotesquely drawn Aussie tourists and a captain looking for a pristine beach to defile for fun and profit. The increasing urgency of the girls e-mails, combined with the constant badgering of her creations corporeal presence (also played by Butler), demands that Alexandra suck it up and rush to Nims rescue. Along the way, the multi-phobic writer is required to endure a nausea-inducing taxi ride to the airport, an excruciatingly long trip to the South Pacific in the middle seat of a jetliner, a shorter hop in an overcrowded puddle-jumper, an aborted helicopter shuttle and emergency landing on a storm-wreaked ship, and a near-death experience when her lifeboat capsizes.

To visit this much catastrophe on three innocent and extremely likable characters would easily qualify as cruel and unusual, if the films PG rating didnt already assure an ending that would be more or less uplifting. Blessedly, the mayhem is balanced by Alexandras hilarious struggle with her phobias, the anthropomorphic hi-jinks of Nims pets and the buffoonish behavior of the passengers and crew of the tourist ship.

Breslin and Foster are convincing in roles that require much strenuous physicality and slapstick humor. While the handsome Scotsman and Mel Gibson look-alike, Butler, is appropriately studly in the twin roles of dad and adventurer, his primary responsibility is to provide moms in the audience with eye candy. Alas, the actor who portrayed King Leonidas, in 300, is required to keep his manly physique under wraps.

The other essential players in the story are the Rusoes imaginatively designed and accessorized tree house a comfy abode that would put most land-tethered homes to shame — and the island itself. The location chosen to stand in for Jack and Nims more secluded paradise was Queenslands Hinchinbrook Island National Park, albeit in a size diminished by CGI artists.

You wont find any plugs for Australian tourism in Nims Island, even if visitors have long been invited to overnight in a treetop bungalow. Queenslands Gold Coast is tricked out to look more Micronesian than Aussie.

Sadly, though, its impossible to ignore the blatant pimping for Progresso soup and Purell hand sanitizer, products whose recurring presence practically warranted screen credits. The National Geographic website receives quite a bit of exposure, as well, but its placement is far more organic.

Absent the theme park and cruise-line businesses, the synergistic linkage between Waldens movies and related products is downright Disney-esque. Links to the source material are easy to find, as are related educational materials, scrapbooks, activity books, toys, posters, software, music CDs and audio books.

After entering the movie racket in 2002, with Pulse: A Stomp Odyssey, Walden has been able to establish an identifiable and reliable brand, with such all-ages entertainments as The Chronicles of Narnia, Bridge to Terabithia, Amazing Grace, The Water Horse, Ghosts of the Abyss, Charlottes Web, Hoot, Mr. Magoriums Wonder Emporium and this summers Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D. They feature popular stars, and, with the notable exception of Narnia, have been moderately budgeted.

Nims Island demonstrates how anyone can become the hero of their own story, and the pursuit of knowledge can be an adventure in itself. Thats not a bad message to send to a generation of kids whose idea of a good time arrives processed, pre-packaged and with batteries included.