Nim’s Island

Starring Abigail Breslin, Jodie Foster, and Gerard Butler. Rated G.

The nice thing about likable fantasy adventure Nim’s Island is that it satisfies both parents’ and tweens’ Swiss Family Robinson fantasies and intuitively caters to our deep-seated need for our favourite communication devices. Okay, young heroine Nim Rusoe isn’t text-messaging or plugged into an iPod, but let’s just say that on this uncharted, volcanic South Pacific island there is old-fashioned, plucky-kid derring-do and there is high-speed Internet access for computers.

Four screenwriters adapted Wendy Orr’s imaginative novel about a motherless girl (played by appealing, intelligent Abigail Breslin) who inhabits a rather swank tree house on an idyllic isle with marine-biologist father Jack (Gerard Butler). Nim also cavorts and enjoys one-sided English discourse with a seal, an iguana, and a pelican (all cuted-up with CGI) and devours Indiana Jones–style adventure novels. The books come delightfully to life, starring their author’s eponymous hero, Alex Rover (also played, with humour and dusty fedora, by Butler), right next to Nim’s bed as she reads.

The trouble is, Alex is actually agoraphobic San Francisco writer Alexandra (Jodie Foster). When Jack is lost at sea, home-alone Nim trades e-mails with her favourite author, and basket-case Alexandra—provoked by swaggering, fictional Alex, with whom she converses, crazy-lady–style—is suddenly braving real-life adventure.

Nim’s Australian settings are swoony, yet the vibe isn’t quite magical. Foster is game, if kiddie-flick hammy, but why didn’t the filmmakers have more swashbuckling, witty fun with the perfectly cast Butler as Alexandra’s goading alter-ego, Alex? There’s some unnecessary silliness with unwanted island guests, too. But the film belongs to Breslin, whose resourceful Nim takes Alex’s credo—”Be the hero of your own life story”—and shows young viewers just how it’s done.