There's just no way around the fact that Walden Media's latest family-friendly flick, Nim's Island, is a mess of needless plot threads masquerading as a modern Swiss Family Robinson. It is, however, redeemed by the film's earnest tone and refreshing message of self-reliance for children in an era when even kids on tricycles are told to wear helmets.
The story (rated PG for mild adventure action and brief language) centers on Nim, a precocious 11-year-old who frolics with her many animal friends on the beach by day and retreats to her favorite adventure novels at night, while her marine biologist father goes about the work of studying plankton and protozoa. When her father leaves Nim alone on the island for two days while he collects samples, he promptly gets caught in a storm that cripples his ship and disables his satellite phone.
Meanwhile, Nim just happens to get an email from Alex Rover, the author of her favorite series of adventure novels. With her father missing and a rogue band of low-rent cruise ship officers threatening to defile her family's private island, Nim gets scared and reaches out to Rover.
Little does she know that Rover isn't the rough-hewn protagonist of her books, but rather Alexandra Rover is an agoraphobic writer from San Francisco who can't do anything without being egged on by hallucinations that take the form of the character she writes about in her novels (who for unexplained reasons looks exactly like Nim's father).
Rover conquers her fear of leaving the house to travel halfway around the world to rescue Nim. Hijinks ensue when Nim fights off the cruise ship hordes, and her father struggles to get back to the island.
As usual, young Abigail Breslin turns in the best performance as Nim in a film full of better-known adult actors. Jodie Foster hams it up as Rover, and as the father, 300 star Gerard Butler's attempt to Americanize his thick Scottish brogue is much like Thermopolyae-a losing battle. Still, the artistic sins of Nim's Island are counterbalanced by plenty of escapism and a positive message.