Sometimes I just can’t help measuring a film I’m watching against other pictures in the same genre. In the case of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, the genre is that of the computer-animated feature. Now, I know what you’re thinking: this isn’t a genre, but a medium (computer animation), applied to feature length narratives. Technically, you’re right. But this new medium has, so far, pretty much set its generic parameters as “kids’ fare.” So far, computer animation has been applied to fairy tales involving toys, bugs, ogres, and the like. With the exception of last summer’s Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, full-length computer-animated features have, thus far, fallen into the realm of children’s fantasy.
And within this realm, Pixar and Dreamworks have compiled an impressive roster of films. Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug’s Life, Monsters Inc., Antz, and Shrek are all, in my opinion, quality pictures. The animation in each is colorful and detailed, and the stories are clever and witty. Most importantly, they’re children’s fantasy films that can be enjoyed by adults as well. And I think the mark of a good children’s film is a film that isn’t dumbed down, but rather captures the magic of child-related things (toys, monsters, bugs, and so on) in a way that is widely appealing. As I sat in the theater waiting for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius to begin, I found myself wondering how the film would “stack up” against the few, but particularly accomplished, other computer animated films that have been released in the seven years since Toy Story broke that new ground in 1995.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is a fantasy about a whiz kid inventor who, with the help of his friends, must rescue all the parents of his neighborhood from the clutches of malevolent space aliens. While there’s nothing new here story-wise, producer/writer/director John A. Davis, producer/writer Steve Oedekirk, and animation director Keith Alcorn, load the film with a lot of cool inventions (a shrink ray, a robot dog, a soda that guarantees one burp per sip) and some funny moments involving Jimmy (voiced by Debi Derryberry) and his classmates. Primary among them is the asthmatic Carl Wheezer (Rob Paulsen) and the smart-alecky Cindy Vortex (Carolyn Lawrence). Together, the kids connive to rocket off to another planet and turn their egg-shaped foes to slime: one method involves slapping a pair of headphones on an alien and blaring The Go-Gos at full volume (could anyone avoid internal combustion listening to Belinda Carlisle at full volume?).
But as a whole, the film lacks the quality of story, character, humor, and animation that we’ve come to expect in the seven short years of computer-animated film history. Davis and Oedekirk try to inject some warmth into the tale by having Jimmy overcome his diminutive size, realizing that his mind is what really counts (pay attention kids: there’s a message there), but the character development feels contrived and takes a backseat to the rapidly paced plot. This plot does its best to entertain with a constant barrage of wacky antics concerning kid empowerment (they’re saving their parents, after all) and peppered with slapstick humor that is often of the gross-out variety (boogers, burps, slime, and flatulence).
But hey, it’s for kids, right? And kids don’t care about things like character development, as long as the story is fun to watch. For a more illuminating look at this aspect of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, I’ll turn to my 12-year-old sister Rachel, a PopMatters veteran (see her review of Recess, and please stop sending her so much fan mail, as it’s beginning to go to her head), who will give her opinion on the film:
Jimmy Neutron was a cute movie and it was pretty funny, but I think it’s more of a movie for kids aged 3 to 10. I would recommend it, though, because it has a good storyline. Monsters Inc. is kind of similar to Jimmy Neutron, because both deal with funny characters on a wild adventure, but Monsters Inc. is better because of its characters.
And there you have it.