Whether or not it turns into a box-office smash, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" should offer inspiration to aspiring animators. The computer-generated comic adventure -- built around the star of a forthcoming Nickelodeon TV series -- was created outside of the studio system, at DNA Productions in Dallas. There, director John A. Davis (who introduced the title character in a 40-second 1995 short) led his team of 150 animators to work cinematic magic with the sort of software one might pick up at an electronics superstore.
Despite its budgetary restrictions, "Jimmy Neutron" doesn't suffer in the least. Davis' stylized universe, from retro-futuristic suburbs (the future, as imagined by '50s kids) to outer space, is as appealing as any animated environment seen in recent months. There's no "Shrek"-like photo-realism here, and the visuals are far simpler than those in "Monsters, Inc." But "Jimmy Neutron" definitely has its own boyish charms.
In keeping with the process that brought him to the screen, Jimmy (the voice of Debi Derryberry) is the definition of can-do spirit. A precocious, undersized kid with a nice mom (Megan Cavanagh) and a nerdy dad (Mark DeCarlo), Jimmy has a cranium topped with a brown pompadour and crammed to overflowing with brilliant and not-so-brilliant plans for sundry gadgets, which he creates in his secret laboratory.
His open-air rocket crashes into the family home during a test flight, toppling the brick fireplace onto Dad's car. Jimmy's bouncing, air-bubble vehicle works fine -- until it's popped by a tree branch. His miniaturizing machine misfires during show and tell, inadvertently causing a crisis for his teacher (Andrea Martin). Another device, though -- a communications satellite rigged from a toaster, a spatula and a video camera -- works far better than expected.
Jimmy is a genius, which irks sassy Cindy Vortex (Carolyn Lawrence), previously the smartest student in school. But he still must contend with the usual kid hassles, including parents who forbid him to go to the school-night grand opening of Retroland Amusement Park. He sneaks out anyway, and upon his return wishes for a parent-free existence. Thanks to the success of the aforementioned satellite, Jimmy and his friends are suddenly, joyously home alone.
Jimmy's first big-screen adventure doesn't require him to save the planet. He is obligated to save home and hearth, though -- both his own and those of the neighborhood kids. That's where his real ingenuity comes in, as he utilizes Retroland attractions like the Octapuke ride and the Bat Outta Heck rollercoaster as homemade space vehicles in an intergalactic battle with the evil but gooey Egg People (including Patrick Stewart and Martin Short). It all makes for a fun ride, bolstered by an energetic soundtrack that alternates teen-pop hits with gems from the Ramones and the Go-Gos.