While the various motion picture studios have and always will be competitive, a cinematic arms race of sorts has broken out among several of them regarding animated features. The longstanding superpower, of course, has been Disney, with its long tradition of delivery mostly high quality pictures. They've included hand drawn ones, those also utilizing computer graphics, and the completely computer-generated ones delivered by Pixar such as "Monsters, Inc." and the "Toy Story" films.
While other studios have tried their hand at competing in such regards, it really wasn't until the arrival of DreamWorks and their films including "The Prince of Egypt," "Antz" and "Shrek" that a worthy opponent arrived on the scene.
Now, with each subsequent release, the studios try to outdo each other by delivering incredible graphics, wonderful visuals and increasingly realistic beings via enough computer horsepower to make even a chess-playing supercomputer green with envy.
Thus, it's somewhat refreshing to see that the filmmakers behind "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" haven't tried to compete on the same playing level. While still filled with loads of colorful eye candy, the film isn't trying to wow viewers with photo-realistic backgrounds or millions of individual strands of hair floating around on the back of some character.
Of course, there are several reasons for that decision, with the first and probably most important one involving cost. All of those hairs and other impressive effects cost money, and by going for a simpler look, the studios - Paramount and Nickelodeon - have obviously saved some significant moola. In fact, the filmmakers reportedly used off the shelf computer graphic software, rather than some proprietary program, to create the graphics.
The other reason is that the filmmakers - writer/director John A. Davis (making his feature film debut) and screenwriters Steve Oedekerk ("Patch Adams," "The Nutty Professor") and David N. Weiss & J. David Stem ("The Rugrats Movie," "Anastasia") - have set out to create a 1950s era retro look and feel in the story's otherwise contemporary setting.
With the blocky and purposefully non-realistic looking characters, the goofy Father Knows Best sitcom style parents - living in "Retroville" no less - and the optimistic sci-fi view of the world, the picture has the aura of having been made back in another era when science, nuclear energy and inventions/gadgets were society's future.
The result is a moderately enjoyable outing that might not be anywhere as good as "Shrek" or "Monsters, Inc." on most any level, but should entertain its target audience of young kids. In addition, it should not offend or terribly bore the adult chauffeurs or button pushers looking for some family friendly offerings.
Based on an award winning 40-second video short from 1995 and set to be turned into a series on the Nickelodeon cable channel, the story has parallels to another Nick/Paramount film series, namely that of the Rugrats. While that one involves toddlers and this one has elementary school students, both have plots where a cross demographic of kids operate almost independently in their own environments and ultimately become involved in some sort of grand adventure. Throw in a little "Home Alone," some "Inspector Gadget" and a sprinkling of Bart Simpson, and you'll start to get a feeling for what this picture has to offer.
Whereas most of those stories and characters remain Earthbound, however, this one eventually takes its characters on an intergalactic journey where they must rescue their parents from alien blobs in egg-shaped spaceships who plan to sacrifice the adults to some sort of monstrous, chicken-like being.
Yes, it's about as goofy as it sounds, but it's done in enough of a rapidly-paced, gee-whiz zaniness that you can't help but find yourself enjoying some or all of what's offered. Besides, where else could you see and hear that awful "Chicken Dance" song and actually get a kick out of it?
The vocal work is decent but not as outstanding or fun as in the previously mentioned computer-animated efforts, not necessarily just because of the readings, but also due to the characters themselves that aren't quite as interesting or developed in their own little quirky ways.
Beyond the recognizable voices of Patrick Stewart (the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" TV show and movies) and Martin Short ("Mumford," the "Father of the Bride" movies), there's Debi Derryberry ("Toy Story 2," "A Bug's Life") voicing Jimmy, and she does a fine job capturing the essence of that character.
Aside from Andrea Martin ("The Rugrats Movie," "Anastasia") doing a fun take on a truly bizarre elementary school teacher, the rest of the vocal performances - including that of Carolyn Lawrence ("Little Man Tate," Nickelodeon's "SpongeBob SquarePants"), Rob Paulsen (TV's "Pinky and the Brain," "A Goofy Movie") and Jeff Garcia ("Cursed Part 3," "LiteWeight") - are all okay, but not particularly memorable.
With the marketing prowess and previous success of Nickelodeon's prior kid-targeted efforts, it's a good bet that this moderately enjoyable and rather innocuous little film will be a decent hit. Nothing spectacular but likely to entertain most younger kids, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.