First, the bad news about Nickelodeon's new animated star vehicle: Jimmy
Neutron: Boy Genius is no Invader
ZIM. The good news? Jimmy Neutron is no Rugrats, either.
Those outside of Dallas, Texas may be excused for not knowing about Jimmy
Neutron: Jimmy is the creation of DNA Productions, a Dallas-based
animation studio that wanted to prove that an animation company didn't have
to be located in Los Angeles to accomplish fine work. Previously best known
for the "Nana and Little Puss-Puss" shorts seen in the Spike and
Mike's Sick and Twisted Animation Festival series, as well as the Christmas
special Olive, The Other Reindeer, DNA presented a short CGI production
featuring Jimmy Quasar to Nickelodeon in 1995. Nickelodeon was so impressed
that after a few changes, especially in the title character's name, its execs
commissioned not only a regular ongoing half-hour series for Nick but a feature
film as well. Until now, the only real symposium for Jimmy Neutron was
at the annual Dallas Video Festival (http://www.videofest.org),
where Jimmy Neutron shorts understandably received accolades in the Video
Festival's "The Texas Show". It's safe to say that Jimmy Neutron has
now hit prime time.
(Now is about the time to point out that absolutely no similarities exist between
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius and Judd Winick's deranged comic series Barry
Ween, Boy Genius, other than the title predicate and an equal fascination
with high-tech hardware. The world admittedly needs an animated production with
the range and determination of Barry Ween, but not necessarily for kids.
Most adults couldn't handle it, either, come to think of it.)
The storyline is relatively linear. Jimmy Neutron is a reasonably typical kid
hailing from the town of Retroville: two loving parents, a nice suburban house,
and a loyal and playful dog. Let us never mind that both parents are exasperated
with Jimmy's constant science experiments, the house hides any number of secrets,
and the dog, Goddard, is mechanical. As with everyone else, Jimmy's schoolmates
take his constant inventing and experimenting in stride: his best friend, Carl
Wheezer, helps Jimmy with launching satellites into orbit, while his seeming
archnemesis, Cindy Vortex, spends her time overcompensating in hier achievements
in order to show up Jimmy's efforts. Life is good until the opening of the new
Retroland Amusement Park, which is the place to go for "anyone who's anyone"...
except Jimmy, whose mother bans him from attending on opening night "because
it's a school night". Naturally, like any rational child, he sneaks out
anyway, having a blast at Retroland while his parents, along with every other
adult in Retroville are abducted and enslaved by the battle fleet of the Yokians.
Life without parents is good, until the Retroville kids realize that life isn't
all that fun without them, and they beseech Jimmy to help them get back some
Okay, typical sitcom material, or so you'd think. What makes this so much fun
is the undercurrent of serious humor running the whole way through. Goddard
the robot dog alone is a compendium of gags and japes, ranging from bathroom
humor (Goddard accidentally drops a line of bolts and screws in front of Jimmy's
parents, making them exclain "Not on the porch!") to Microsoft-bashing
(Goddard's response to the command "Play dead" is to explode and then
reassemble; after playing dead allows Jimmy and his classmates to escape from
a Yokian prison, Jimmy's response is "I guess I'll have to make that bug
a feature"), combined with the sense of what any ten-year-old with a massive
brain would want in Man's Best Friend. Unlike far too many animated films, Jimmy
Neutron not only isn't just for kids, but the nonstop patter requires viewers
to stop and pay attention. Laugh too long, and miss out on a good dozen little
cracks and sight gags.
The only real serious complaint about the film? Well, it's all about the pacing.
Nickelodeon management is notorious about tampering with a sure thing, as evidenced
by the constant interference with both Ren and Stimpy and Invader
ZIM, and parts of Jimmy Neutron move as if they were last-minute
additions. The really annoying aspect of Jimmy Neutron, though, is the
soundtrack, apparently focus-grouped to death in order to come up with the perfect
mix to help sell the soundtrack album. Where a straight instrumental score would
have worked very well, we get everything from the Go-Gos to the Ramones, with
entirely too much *Nsync and Britney Spears, and a few too many of the scenes
seem molded around the songs instead of the songs helping to influence the mood
of the scenes. Thankfully, these are relatively short, being the usual five-second
clips intended to justify promoting the songs on the radio as "From the
new soundtrack album!"
Even with that warning, pay it no mind. Considering that movie theaters are
about the only venue open on Christmas Day in most areas, make plans for a double
feature. Start out with a matinee of Jimmy Neutron in order to strop
the sense of wonder in preparation for viewing Fellowship
of the Ring. You'll thank yourself for it later. The crew at Pixar had
best be careful, because DNA is definitely going to offer a challenge in the
computer-generated animation market.