***/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
screenplay by John A. Davis and David N. Weiss & J. David Stem and Steve Oedekerk
directed by John A. Davis
by Jarrod Chambers There is a new innocence abroad. You can see it in movies such as Spider-Man and the Academy Award-nominated Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which feel no need to undercut the goodness of their heroes or the morality of the story with black irony. They tell us, in effect, that it is okay to be a nice guy whose heart is in the right place, who uses his abilities in the service of good, who makes mistakes and pays for them without becoming bitter or psychotic. I, for one, think it's a breath of fresh air after the dark, depressing visions of the Tim Burton Batman era.
At heart, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is a simple adventure story: Jimmy Neutron, a little boy with a big brain, is constantly inventing and discovering, and one of his inventions--a satellite toaster broadcasting messages of peace and brotherhood throughout the solar system--leads the evil Yolkians (whose King and lackey Prime Minister are voiced to perfection by Patrick Stewart and Martin Short, respectively) to the planet Earth, where they proceed to kidnap all of the parents in Jimmy's innocent little town of Retroville. The kids are understandably excited at first to have the run of the place, but when reality sets in, Jimmy leads the other children in building rocketships out of Retroland amusement park rides and setting off to tackle the aliens and get back their parents.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is happy being what it is; it revels in its own cartoon nature. The kids live in a town whose architecture and fashions are right out of the 1950s, including Jimmy's own James Dean hairdo, and whose technology is post-nuclear. Space is not a vacuum--the kids ride in open-top spaceships and have a campfire on an asteroid. Aliens speak English. After hijacking an alien spaceship, the children settle right in and start flying it, without a word about the unfamiliar controls, or the fact that they are all still in grade school. This is a wild ride of a movie and it properly does not care about being true to boring reality as long as it is fun.
The most pleasant surprise of the film for me was Jimmy's classmate Cindy Vortex, his chief intellectual rival and most persistent tormentor. She is as brilliant as he: For Show-and-Tell, she presents evidence proving that girl dinosaurs were genetically superior to boy dinosaurs, and then argues with Jimmy over the validity of the archeological literature supporting her claim. She is a match for him in every way, a refreshing change in a female cartoon lead. In some ways, she reminds of Elle from Legally Blonde, who represents what my wife calls "pink feminism," meaning that she fights for her rights as a woman including the right to wear something pink and frilly and paint her toenails if she pleases. Cindy is, I think, a fantastic example to hold up for the young girls watching this movie.
As I have said, innocence permeates Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. There is the odd in-joke or adult reference (I like that his robot dog is named Goddard, not after Jean-Luc, but the American rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard--a name not as popular now as it should be), but for the most part, the film feels no need to be too hip or savvy like Shrek or Scooby-Doo. It shows us a bunch of kids living out the childhood dreams of us all and trusts that we will enjoy it for what it is, without having to wink or laugh behind our hands.
The special features on the Paramount disc are few but decent: a making-of (16 mins.), which has some nice moments with the cast and crew and gives you the idea that this movie was as much fun to make as it is to watch; music videos for Aaron Carter's "Leave It Up To Me" and No Secrets' "Kids in America"; two theatrical trailers, seven TV spots, and a serialized promotional campaign lasting five short episodes; and several DVD-ROM games that, unfortunately, I'm not equipped to play. The film's 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and pan-and-scan transfers (both housed on the same side of the platter) are near-perfect since the source material was digital to start with; the colours are vivid and the blacks are deep. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is well-mixed, with bass and surround information as cartoonishly exaggerated as the images. In all, an excellent DVD presentation of a fine movie.
82 minutes; G; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced), 1.33:1; English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Paramount