The folks at the Nickolodeon Network probably have a new franchise on tap with “Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius,” a child’s wish-fulfillment fantasy that’s awfully prefabricated but is nicely made and will probably please its pre-teen target audience.
The titular hero of the 3D computer-animated flick is a precocious young boy with a distinctly odd hairdo who expresses his genius IQ by fashioning all manner of fantastic inventions, including a home-made rocket ship, a robotic dog, a satellite made out of a toaster and a bubble-gum transportation device that works rather like the wheels hamsters run around in. Jimmy’s Ozzie-and-Harriet parents are sometimes exasperated by his efforts, but they still love and support him, and it’s for his own good–it’s a school night, you see–that they forbid him to go to the grand opening of a new amusement park. He and his buddies, however, sneak out against their parents’ orders and have a great time. Unfortunately, during their absence all the grown-ups are abducted as a food source by a race of outer-space villains called Yokians (they look like glass eggs filled with green slime, so should probably be spelled the Yolkians), whom Jimmy had been trying to communicate with. At first the kids aren’t terribly disturbed by the adults’ absence, but soon they find they need them. Jimmy comes to the rescue by transforming the amusement park rides into spaceships which the youngsters can use to track the Yokians back to their home planet and save their parents. There are difficulties along the way, but it will probably come as no surprise that they succeed.
Narratively “Jimmy Neutron” breaks no new ground. There’s a lot of a pint-sized “Inspector Gadget” here, and large dollops of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “Home Alone.” The crew that surrounds Jimmy is terribly familiar, too (just think of “Rugrats”): there’s a nasty girl who’s Jimmy’s main intellectual rival, the asthmatic best friend named Wheezer, a kid who’s obsessed with a cartoon action hero after whom he patterns himself, the “cool” class bully who proves less confident than he claims, and so forth. The adults are, predictably, all dolts (including Andrea Martin’s teacher, Miss Fowl, who talks like a chicken and winds up miniaturized and fighting a worm). On the other hand, Patrick Stewart and Martin Short are sometimes quite funny providing the voices of the nasty Yokian king and his sniveling sidekick, even if the dialogue they’re given is–if you’ll pardon the expression–mostly undercooked.
What saves “Jimmy Neutron” and should make it palatable to the younger set is its high level of energy and its colorful action. Adults who accompany the target viewers to it, on the other hand, will probably be most taken with its appearance. The animation is really first-rate, a very stylized updating of the old claymation format, and it occasionally provides quite enchanting moments (the shots of the amusement-park ride convoy gliding across space, for instance, are oddly lovely). The picture is no “Shrek,” and not even a “Monsters, Inc.,” but it’s a genial kidflick that should amuse the younger set. It’s very well realized given its provincial roots (it was made at Dallas-based DNA Productions), and will probably have a long shelf-life on video; the television series and line of toys that will derive from it should do nicely, too. It seems that Nickolodeon has struck paydirt again.