Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001)

D: John A. Davis
S: Voices of Debi Derryberry, Patrick Stewart

Charming, witty animated feature from the popular television series. Young James 'Jimmy' Isaac Neutron is, as the title indicates, a boy genius, capable of building his own robot dog, inventing a new means of travel out of bubbles, and wielding an incredible hand-held shrinking ray; but he's still not cool. His classmates are generally far more impressed by the flash Nick Dean, the boy with the skateboard and the attitude. Be that as it may, Jimmy soldiers on quite well with the benefit of a few close friends and his supportive Mom and Dad. Still, he is a kid, and a disagreement with his parents over whether or not he can go to a carnival on a school night leaves him with a guilt complex when he wishes them away and, lo and behold, an alien race swoops down and kidnaps all the adults. Initial delight turns to worry as the kids realise they must get their parents back, so Jimmy is called upon to fashion a space armada and launch a rescue.

From the stylised character drawing to the lovely production designs, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius explodes with infectious creativity. It has a great visual energy which is perfectly matched by the smooth yet chunky textures of the computer animation. The elasticity of the world fits nicely with the theme of invention, and the story and characters support the sense that anything can happen. Though the story is generically familiar, it is told with such verve and resourcefulness that it never seems like a tired re-tread. On the contrary, the film brings a freshness and vitality to the genre that its cheerful mixture of 1950s sensibilities and contemporary postmodern savvyness actually works. The film neither descends into dull pastiche nor loses itself in smug self-referentiality.

The characters are immensely likable, though they are also recognisable and believable within the context of the story. Jimmy is particularly appealing (voiced by Debi Derryberry), fresh with juvenile positivity, yet vulnerable in so many ways. His ably supported by a duo of pals, an overweight asthmatic and a kooky character obsessed with a TV show called 'Ultra-Lords". The villains, gleefully voiced by Patrick Stewart (Star Trek: First Contact) and Martin Short (Mars Attacks!), are gloopy creatures who live in egg-like machines and worship a giant mutant space chicken. In the way of these things, they are as clumsy and comical as they are evil, but they make a credible foil for our pint-sized hero and his pals. The story therefore works well, and the script by director John A. Davis, David N. Weiss, J. David Stem, and Steve Oedekerk (Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) is full of hilarious sight gags, one-liners, and humorous situations drawn from the eccentricities of the characters without forcing them. There are also plenty of movie and TV in-jokes, including a very amusing reference to The Blair Witch Project which demonstrates that the classic campfire yarn has been transformed forever by postmodern technology.

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is the kind of animated film which adults will freely enjoy along with their kids. It doesn't condescend to either audience, and hits on enough triggers in its portrayal of family so that the entire group has much to appreciate together. It may miss the adolescent group that Toy Story 2 managed to pull in, but it is their loss, because this movie is heaps of fun and warmly recommended to anyone who has ever tried to build a space-ship in their bedroom.

Keep an eye out for the ultimate fate of Jimmy's teacher, accidentally reduced to minature size by his shrink ray...

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2002.