When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that it was creating a new category for Best Animated Feature-Length Film, I joined my fellow film buffs in the excitement of wondering which 2001 release would be the one to take home the first Oscar for long-form animation. Would it be "Shrek", dearly beloved by the hip Hollywood community? Would it be "Monsters Inc.", the latest triumph from Pixar ("Toy Story", "Toy Story 2", "A Bug's Life")? Maybe the Academy would be a bit adventurous and salute "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within" for pushing the envelope of computer-generated photorealism?
"Shrek" and "Monsters Inc." received nominations that were foregone conclusions. Imagine my shock when, out of nowhere, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" (a Nickelodeon creation), captured the third nomination. "Shrek" got a nomination because it displayed a playfully subversive wit. "Monsters Inc." deserved a ticket to Oscar night because it understood universal emotional needs. However, "Jimmy Neutron" clearly did not belong in the company of animation greats.
In "Jimmy Neutron", James Isaac Neutron goes to grade school during the day and invents crazy gadgets at night. In fact, he has even designed a rocket that propels him high enough beyond the earth's atmosphere, permitting him to launch a communications satellite made from...a toaster. When aliens from outer space (creatures resembling raw eggs that worship a chicken god) abduct the world's adults, Jimmy and other children build spaceships in order to pursue the aliens and rescue their parents. Along the way, Jimmy begins to realize that girls don't have cooties and develops a friendship of sorts with Cindy, the smartest girl at school.
With its facile story and even simpler approach to thematics ("aliens bad, humans good"; "we miss our parents"), "Jimmy Neutron" is little more than a half-hour Saturday morning cartoon stretched to 82 minutes. Sure, the characters run around doing a lot of things, but the enterprise feels curiously inert, as if there's a lack of overall momentum. The dialogue lacks wit, and the story lacks heart, even if it is about children and families.
The filmmakers intended for the movie to look cartoon-y rather than "real" like "Final Fantasy" or "artistic" like "Shrek", and there's nothing wrong with an explosion of color or heads proportionally too large for bodies. However, despite the fact that Jimmy's world offers an impressive 3-D depth, the film's visuals reveal rather pedestrian artistry. Save for the use of amusement park rides as spaceships, the "Jimmy Neutron" landscape looks "ordinary" and unimaginative.
Am I sore about the fact that "Jimmy Neutron" stole a nomination from "Final Fantasy"? Yes. Would I have considered "Jimmy Neutron" to be a noteworthy achievement had "Final Fantasy" not been made? No. "Jimmy Neutron" may look like a digital rainbow riot, but it doesn't do anything that is groundbreaking or cinematically satisfying.
The DVD includes both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and a 1.33:1 Pan&Scan (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) transfer. Since it was designed to look "cartoonish", the movie looks colorfully vibrant on DVD. The DVD format also retains the remarkable depth of the video image. Shots of Jimmy's neighborhood look like real playsets for kids. Like other computer-animated movies, "Jimmy Neutron" has a squeaky-clean, crisp-and-clear, glossy look characteristic of its high-tech origins. The video would rate a "10" were it not for the fact that a couple of small black spots and digital specks appear during the film's first few minutes. Either the compressionist failed to control properly the encoding process or the film's digital elements simply lost a few bits when being sent from a hard drive to DVD.
Despite the fact that it sounds mostly front-heavy, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English track offers plenty of zips and zooms courtesy of Jimmy's flying inventions. A healthy amount of bass swamps the room when appropriate, and dialogue always sounds clear no matter how high music or sound effects levels are. However, what the DVD has in aggressiveness it also lacks in subtlety or speaker "discreteness", so the audio isn't as "gee-whiz" cool as the best sound designs.
The DVD also has DD 2.0 surround English and DD 2.0 surround French tracks. English subtitles and English closed captions support the audio.
The "Jimmy Neutron" DVD is a little light on bonus materials, but given the film's primary audience, it's probably just as well that there aren't a lot of time-consuming extras detailing the creative process.
The most substantive extra on the DVD is the "The Making of ‘Jimmy Neutron'" featurette. Running around 16 minutes, the mini-doc offers mostly interviews with the principal filmmakers as well as key members of the voice cast. The best part of the featurette begins towards the end of the piece--we get a chance to see "foley artists" create some of the film's sound effects.
There are two music videos--Aaron Carter's "Leave It Up to Me" and No Secrets's "Kids in America". The DVD also includes a couple of items used to promote the movie, including 12 Promotional Spots (7 "Interstitials" and 5 "Cliffhangers") first shown on TV's Nickelodeon cable channel as well as a teaser trailer and a theatrical trailer.
Those of you with DVD-ROM access (and computers running Windows OS) will be able to play 7 computer games.
A glossy insert provides chapter listings.
Unlike "Shrek" or "Monsters Inc.", which both can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages due to their multi-layered scripts, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" feels like it is targeted directly and only at children. The screenplay's simplistic structure and vision-less visuals combine for an underwhelming experience. Viewers under the age of 10 might be inclined to play the DVD over and over again, but any child with a sense of sophistication or wonderment will find more enjoyment watching any of the Pixar movies, "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within", "Chicken Run", or bona-fide classics such as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" or "Beauty and the Beast".