Craig Eleven-year-old Nim Rusoe (Abigail Breslin) lives an amazing life; she and her father, Jack (Gerard Butler), reside on an uncharted island amid the South Pacific.
Their dwelling is absolute paradise, with plenty of sea life for marine biologist Jack to study and animals with which Nim can frolic.
They get by on frequent drop-offs of materials from the mainland, which include adventure books starring Nim's favorite hero, intrepid explorer Alex Rover (also Butler). When Jack makes a routine trip to take some samples from the ocean, Nim happens upon an inquiry e-mail from Rover himself, much to her delight. After a huge storm hits the island and Jack cannot be reached, Nim reaches out to Rover for help.
Little does she know that Alex Rover actuall is Alexandra Rover (Jodie Foster), a paranoid San Francisco native who has not even left her apartment in four months. Alexandra feels compelled to help Nim in her time of need, but first she must conquer one thing: her own crippling fear of going outside.
Breslin is as able as ever as Nim, who is unusually independent for a girl her age.
She is capable of rappelling down the side of a volcano and reassembling a damaged array of solar panels on their domicile, yet is a normal overly imaginative kid just the same. Foster is OK, if oddly cast, as aggressively timid Alexandra, who is agoraphobic, germaphobic, obsessive-compulsive (the list keeps going).
Butler's dual role is nicely played as dedicated dad Jack and Alexandra's audacious alter ego, a manifestation of both Nim's and Alexandra's psyches.
The overall design of the movie is almost overwhelmingly vibrant, specifically in the recurring animated interstitials that play out as Nim narrates.
This is offset well by the brainy nature of all the major characters. However, some drawbacks still surface, chiefly the rather implausible method in which Alexandra manages to get over her fear of, well, everything.
One minute, she is a total recluse living off of Purell hand sanitizer and Progresso canned soup, the next she is gustily living out the life of her own creation. Nim's bond with her animal pals, including Selkie the sea lion, Galileo the pelican and Fred the lizard, is cute even if the bird and the reptile look completely computer generated, although naming the sea lion after the creatures of Irish folk lore is a bright move.
When they unite to defend the island against an invading group of tourists, the tactics reek of "Home Alone" and the like. Even so, it is all in good fun.
"Nim's Island" is a fine family film because even if the story seems all too familiar, the cast, human and animal alike, make it refreshing. When the protagonist has a surname that makes a reference to "Robinson Crusoe," you know the story will be founded on an intellectual basis.