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Inventive, clever, brightly made

Review: 'Jimmy Neutron' pure energetic fun

Inventive, clever, brightly made

By Paul Tatara
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- For Jimmy Neutron, the computer-animated star of "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius," the future is now. But the present is also the past in this inventive film based on the Nickelodeon character.

Jimmy's hometown of Retroville, USA, is a candy-colored amalgamation of erroneous 1950s futurism and modern-day technology. In Retroville, personal computers look like they were manufactured by a Philco TV factory, and the local amusement park features thrill rides that combine the best aspects of rocket science and good old-fashioned, vomit-inducing dizziness. Even Jimmy's swooping haircut looks like a simultaneous nod to Howdy Doody and polymer-based industrial design.

Jimmy is just a normal kid, albeit one who's built his own robotic dog, a toaster-satellite, and a device that sucks the "school smell" from his clothing when he gets home in the afternoon. His parents take his Einstein-level I.Q. in relative stride (no pun intended). Though life around the Neutron household is often punctuated by explosions and Jimmy's rocket crash-landing on the roof, Mom only puts her foot down when dim-witted Dad is too awed to step in.

Jimmy Neutron, Boy Geniu

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Jimmy (voiced by Debi Derryberry) is the smartest boy in school, but he's far from the most popular. Cindy Vortex, who's almost as brilliant as he is, leads the loyal opposition, and too-cool Nick is a slacker Fonzie who gets all the girls.

Jimmy's closest friends are quite a bit less with-it. Carl Wheezer, for instance, is a chunky nerd who's forever sucking on an asthma inhaler. During a poorly executed classroom show-and-tell session, he accidentally sprays the medication in his eyes. Not everyone, it seems, can be a boy genius.

No parents, no problem?

One evening, against his parents' orders, Jimmy sneaks out to an amusement park opening. On the way home, he starts to wish that he and his friends didn't have parents to boss them around anymore.

Little do the children know that their wish has already been granted: while they were busy whirling around on the Octopuke ride, a race of gelatinous green aliens known as the Yokians kidnapped their parents, leaving behind suspicious notes saying that everyone has taken a sudden vacation in Florida.

The kids of Retroville, left to their own devices, quickly fall victim to upset tummies various and nicks and scrapes. Soon enough, they realize that they want -- and need -- their mommies. Leave it to Jimmy to gather a posse of outraged children and rocket off to outer space to save the day.

The good citizens of Retroville are the brainchildren of director-screenwriter John A. Davis. Jimmy is now poised for kid-world superstardom on a level with Pokemon and the Power Rangers. His gradual assimilation into popular culture started with quickie appearances on cable TV's Nickelodeon channel, and recently reached its zenith with a balloon at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Inventive vocabulary

The much-welcome wrinkle here is that, for once, the marketing plan is tinged with genuine fun. "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius' " wild invention turns the inevitable onslaught of Jimmy-centric toys and action figures into a sardonic commentary on America's age-old lust for groovy plastic doodads.

"Jimmy Neutron's" look is far more stylized than that of the "Toy Story" movies, or even "Shrek." There's not an ounce of photo-realism on display. Everything in Jimmy's world is gleaming and comically over-pronounced, as if it's just been pulled out of a box on Christmas morning. (One kid even displays a toy at the show-and-tell session that's so collectible, he's never taken it out its package to look at it.)

Jimmy's self-invented vocabulary is also pretty funny. Phrases like "Gotta blast!", "jumpin' Jupiter," and "Holy cow pie!" are tossed around with abandon. The movie's rhythm is zippy enough to entertain MTV-bred children and less-jazzed adults alike. You absolutely won't need to bring a child to enjoy it.

Oddly, the fun slows down a bit once the kids make it to outer space. The Yokians, due to their blob-like structure, aren't suited to elaborate gags. They fly around in little egg-shaped space ships, and they usually just end up in a puddle on the ground when the suit is damaged. Even the voices of Patrick Stewart and Martin Short, as the alien leader and his groveling assistant, don't add much to the characters.

But that's a minor quibble. "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" is the most delightfully original children's film of 2001. Fasten your seatbelts for further installments of a zooming, bumpy ride.

"Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius" is suitable for all ages. The aliens aren't very scary, and gross-out humor is kept to a bare minimum.


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