Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on laptop.
I have kids, so I also remember when The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron was a current show on Nickelodeon. What I didn’t realize was that unlike most Nickelodeon shows that start with the show and build up to a movie, the theatrical release of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius predated the television show. It was originally intended as a pilot, but was so well received that a theatrical release happened instead, which then led to the show running for three seasons.
There’s a distinctive visual style to Jimmy Neutron. It’s three-dimensional, but strangely bulbous. There’s an intentional retro vibe to things (the hometown of the characters is called Retroville, after all), sort of a modern paisley. Our hero is the title character, Jimmy Neutron (voiced by the awesomely named Debi Derryberry), identified by his creators as one-third Albert Einstein, one-third Bart Simpson, one-third Jim Carrey. However, since Jimmy is also an inventor, it would seem he’s one-third Nikola Tesla, too. Yes, that’s four thirds. Jimmy’s head and soft-serve ice cream-style hairdo are big enough to handle that.
Aside from the fact that he has a secret laboratory and is a scientific genius, Jimmy is a pretty typical kid. He has a dog named Goddard (Frank Welker), although Goddard is a robotic dog with a number of unique functions. His best friends are the hyperactive Sheen Estevez (Jeffrey Garcia) and the llama-obsessed, asthmatic and overweight Carl Wheezer (Rob Paulson). His mortal enemy is the former smartest kid in school, Cindy Vortex (Carolyn Lawrence). The evident sparks between these two are only angry on the surface.
Jimmy, always looking to push scientific boundaries, steals the family toaster and turns it into a satellite, which he launches into orbit. With this, he contacts an alien civilization, not knowing that the aliens are looking not for peace and friendship but a race to conquer and sacrifice to their god. Meanwhile, a new amusement park opens in town and Jimmy and his friends are prevented from going. They sneak out and have a good time, and on the way home muse how nice it would be if they didn’t have parents. Naturally, the aliens have chosen this same night to kidnap the parents and transport them to their home world. After a day of kid-style debauchery, it’s up to Jimmy and the other kids in the town to fly across the reaches of space and rescue their parents from the evil egg-like Yokians (voiced in part by Martin Short and Patrick Stewart).
Naturally, all sorts of insanity ensues, Jimmy and his friends learn the value of having parents after all, and following a confrontation with the Yokians and their alien chicken deity, everyone returns home safe and sound. This is a family-friendly movie, after all.
There are a number of interesting things at play here, both positive and negative. One thing I very much liked about the film is how problems get solved. As a character, Jimmy is obviously not intended to be realistic, but he’s smart, as his is main rival Cindy. A number of Jimmy’s inventions don’t work correctly, but some of them do, and he always gets out of the problems he creates by thinking his way out of them. It’s always refreshing to me to see characters in movies intended for kids that show brains as something worth having. The dumb characters (Sheen, Carl) are comic relief; it’s the smart characters we’re supposed to root for.
On a similar note, Jimmy’s parents—in fact all of the parents we encounter—seem to be different from many of those in family entertainment. They’re not perfect and they’re weird. Jimmy’s father Hugh (Mark DeCarlo) is obsessed with ducks, for example. But they seem to be good parents who really care about their kids. They may not understand their kids and may do things the kids don’t like, but there’s no way to suggest that they are negligent or abusive, or even overly dumb. They’re just weird, and that makes sense. Parents are weird in the eyes of their kids.
On the other hand, it’s oddly violent. Oh, there’s no guts or anything like that, but to rescue all of the parents and throw off pursuit, Jimmy does (spoiler alert) cause a vast number of alien ships to fly directly into their own sun, killing off a number of sentient creatures. And there’s not a moment’s hesitation or remorse. I suppose given the plot that no remorse is called for, but it does seem odd in a family film to have the main character committing gleeful xenocide.
That said, this is pretty harmless entertainment. It’s also pretty forgettable. The television show picks up where the film leaves off, which is also a nice thing. But Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius isn’t going to be a film that sticks long in your memory. It has some excellent moments (Sheen’s shower activities with no parents is an excellent scatological joke), but it’s not the kind of film that does more than harmlessly entertain for its short running time.
Why to watch Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius: It’s better than you’d probably believe.
Why not to watch: There are much better options out there.