Your typical feel-good family cartoon? Yes — and no. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is the charming story of a boy and his homemade robo-dog who blast across interstellar space with Jimmy’s (the voice of Debi Derryberry) schoolmates in amusement park rides that he rigs with nuclear propulsion on a mission to save the world — or at least their parents.
Jimmy Neutron seems to sample tales of boyhood adventure that have lit up both the small and big screens for more than 50 years. Jimmy’s parents are the kind found in kid pictures from the Rugrats movies to the American Pie series, especially his dad (the voice of Mark DeCarlo), a four-eyed, bumbling, all-but-clueless nerd.
Jimmy’s classmates could also be ordered from central casting. Cindy Vortex (the voice of Carolyn Lawrence) is Neutron’s closest competitor in the intellectual arena. She could form a brainy junior sorority with Gretchen Grundler of the “Recess” cartoons and Harry Potter’s gal pal Hermione Granger. She calls Jimmy “Nerdtron” as much for the company he keeps — Carl Wheezer (the voice of Rob Paulsen), a dim, asthma-inhaler-clutching fat kid and Sheen, a true believer of comic book superhero Ultraman — as his own geeky ways. But then there’s his buddy Nick Dean (the voice of Candi Milo), a chip off James Dean’s too-cool-for-school block, a rebel without a care. You could think of him as a pint-sized Fonzie to Jimmy’s scaled-down and IQ-inflated Richie Cunningham.
The not-quite genius of Jimmy Neutron is that it tinkers with the DNA of some of these types while Frankensteining bits of Old Yeller’s (1957) boy-and-dog story into a band-of-little-buddies situation that can trace its pedigree through TV’s “The Little Rascals” to the Our Gang movies that go back to the silent age. Then it launches the whole thing into a Star Wars-lite space adventure.
Visually, this cartoon feature is “B” quality at best, coming nowhere near the grade-A work of Pixar’s Monster’s, Inc. or Dream Works SKG’s Shrek. Jimmy Neutron’s animated computer graphics look as if they were designed to accommodate the kid’s-meal toys sure to follow.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius does take you for a few thrilling rides; it has some laughs, and — like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — it assures us that if you scratch a nerd deeply enough, you’ll find a hero within. But don’t look for the sharp, adult-aimed satirical humor or pop-culture allusions of the Pixar or Dream Works ’toons. This is pure kid stuff. That may not be genius, but it’s not half bad.
E-mail James Keith La Croix at [email protected].