What lessons will children glean from "Nim's Island"? The movie is a slapdash amalgam of competing visual and storytelling styles, bizarre acting, egregious product placement (particularly for National Geographic) and negative stereotypes.
Nim (Abigail Breslin) is a young girl who lives on a remote South Pacific island with her widowed scientist father (Gerard Butler) and her animal friends -- an iguana, a sea lion and a pelican. Dad's boat is caught in a storm, leaving Nim to defend herself against tourists, volcanoes and another monsoon, all in the course of a few days.
Nim's favorite books are a series of adventures starring Alex Rider (Butler again), an Indiana Jones type who is always in peril. Like the Spielberg movies they're aping, these tales (and consequently, this film) feature the usual hidebound villains -- snarling Arabs or half-naked natives eager to sacrifice our hero.
Alone and worried, Nim sends an e-mail to Alexandra Rider (Jodie Foster), the series' reclusive author, who flies out to save the girl despite suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder and agoraphobia. Foster has an eagerness that borders on mania, acting like someone uncomfortable with children, but who is forced to entertain them for an afternoon. As in "300," Butler roars or grins maniacally, at times oozing what is supposed to be charm but comes closer to menace.
"Nim's Island" begins with the promise of some educational dialogue with interesting people, but quickly devolves into pseudoscience and stereotype. Her pets are at once beloved and then casually used as weapons; hurling her iguana across the treetops and into the faces of the evil tourists can't be healthy for the poor beast.
The film also suggests that white scientists and their self-absorbed children are the best stewards of these remote islands, not the Micronesians who live nearby (and who are themselves stereotyped). And the overweight cruise-ship tourists who visit Nim's home are horrible caricatures.
Ultimately, "Nim's Island," with its myriad nonprofit tie-ins (which include National Wildlife Federation and Marine Sanctuaries, among many others), is nothing more than a bunch of poor ideas tossed together to create the illusion of imagination and environmental concern, but possessing precious little of both.