Saturday, January 16, 2021

Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius

Like other films we’ve reviewed, I have some personal history with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. I have distinct memories of watching it in the theater when it originally came out, as well as the Nicktoon that spun off from it, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. I actually liked Jimmy Neutron enough that years later, I would get the DVD of the film signed by Debi Derryberry, the voice of Jimmy Neutron, at San Diego Comic-Con. However, my memories of the actual film had faded away with time. When I learned that it was nearly 19 years old, however, I decided to give it another look with a completely fresh perspective. While it isn’t perfect, I did remember why I liked it so long ago.

Jimmy Neutron (Debi Derryberry) is a boy genius capable of inventing anything he wants, including a communications satellite for contacting alien life forms. This satellite, made out of a toaster, is intercepted by the Yolkians, who abduct the human adults of Retroville for malicious purposes. When Jimmy discovers that all the adults have gone missing, and the full gravity of the situation settles in, he leads the other children of Retroville on an intergalactic quest to save their parents.

The Yolkians abduct every parent in Retroville.

After all this time, the story has held up surprisingly well. It does a good job in capturing what it’s like to be a kid, since Jimmy and his friends, Carl Weezer (Rob Paulsen) and Sheen Estivez (Jeffrey Garcia), make decisions that seem natural to a child, like sneaking out on a school night to enjoy the grand opening of a theme park. I also liked that the plot is based around a relatable childhood thought, wanting to be independent from parents, while also dealing with the reality that at their age they’re simply ill-equipped to take care of themselves.

The film's story arc is strong and has a satisfying conclusion, but I have to admit that the exact plot requires a couple leaps in logic. For instance, it takes a little too long for Jimmy of all people to figure out that the letters supposedly left behind by everyone's parents were, in fact, form letters left behind by the Yolkians. There's also the fact that Jimmy's robot dog, Goddard (Frank Welker), can do basically anything Jimmy needs him to do at any given moment. Thankfully it's done in a way that fits the cartoony atmosphere while also not destroying any tension, but I found myself wondering through casual observation if there was anything he couldn't do.

While the story is enjoyable on its own, you can also view it as the pilot for The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, since that was its true purpose. It does a good job in establishing the setting, Retroville, Jimmy’s friendships and some of the other recurring characters and relationships. In that regard, it still does a good job  giving the viewer some familiarity with the world, even if some things changed between the film and show.

Watching this film again as an adult, I still laughed at a lot of the jokes, especially the character interactions. Sheen’s obsession with Ultra Lord, for example, still gets a chuckle out of me, but he’s really only funny in doses. I also noticed just how much toilet humor the film had, which I’m normally not a fan of. As I watched, I recognized that these jokes made some amount of sense in context, since the core cast is children, but they still felt generally unnecessary.

Sheen (Jeffrey Garcia) is funny in doses.

Compared to its contemporaries, including Monsters, Inc. and Shrek, Jimmy Neutron’s animation feels less polished, likely due to its distinction as the first CG animated film made entirely with commercial software, as opposed to proprietary software. The animators did most of the work with Lightwave and Messiah, with texture painting done in Photoshop and compositing in Maya. They even kept costs down by cleverly recycling animation and going with a sculpted look to avoid worrying about cloth and hair physics.

With that said, some aspects of the animation held up better than others. The sculpted art style stands out from other features and it grew on me after a while. I also appreciated that for the Yolkians, they committed to the egg theme of their designs, as the feel of their world suited this direction. However, liquid and foam physics in particular look amateurish compared to what the bigger studios could accomplish at that time. Additionally, the animation itself looked better in low lighting, since broad daylight highlighted the generally unpolished feeling.

The voice acting was on point and contributed greatly to the chemistry and humor. Debi Derryberry is a standout as the title character, but Rob Paulsen and Jeffrey Garcia also gave good performances as Carl and Sheen respectively. Surprisingly, Patrick Stewart is also in the cast as King Goobot V. While he’s best known for playing characters like Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, he manages to fit the role of a hammy villain pretty well.

The voice acting is on point; L-R: Carl Wheezer (Rob Paulsen),
Jimmy Neutron (Debi Derryberry), Sheen Estivez

As for the music, there are so many licensed tracks that it acts as more or less a time capsule of the early 2000s, including no less than three original songs from Aaron Carter; “Leave It Up to Me”, “A.C.’s Alien Nation” and “Go Jimmy Jimmy”. Among other tracks like “Blitzkrieg Bop” by The Ramones and “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Gos, there are also covers for three songs; DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince's "Parents Just Don't Understand" (Covered by Lil’ Romeo, Nick Cannon and 3LW), Thomas Dolby's "She Blinded Me With Science" (Covered by Melissa Lefton), and Kim Wilde's "Kids In America" (Covered by No Secrets). Additionally, a version of the Jimmy Neutron theme by Bowling for Soup is worked into the film at least once.

Perhaps the most notable achievement for Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius was its nomination for the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature alongside Monsters, Inc. and Shrek. It would ultimately lose to Shrek, though considering its development, it’s an accomplishment to be nominated in the first place.

While the animation may not have stood the test of time, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is worth watching for its surprisingly well-written story and technical achievement for the time. Even if you don’t have any nostalgia going in, its easy to enjoy the film, so long as you can look past some of the more lowbrow humor that comes with it.

No comments:

Post a Comment