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Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (August 5/02)

Though it's not exactly Toy Story, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is nonetheless a surprisingly entertaining and intelligent flick aimed at kids but enjoyable for adults. The film is peppered with references and jokes that are designed to appeal to grown-ups without alienating the core audience. And after that dreadful trailer which made the flick look incredibly childish and juvenile, that it's actually decent is the biggest surprise of all.

Jimmy Neutron is a genius, there's no doubt about that. The film opens with Jimmy travelling through space in a ship he built, and along with his dimwitted best buddy, he's planning to orbit a makeshift satellite (it's made out of a toaster) that'll greet passing aliens. When he's not busy inventing wacky gadgets and installing secret passageways throughout his house, he's contending with his loopy but well-meaning parents and trying to cope with life in grammar school (though why a kid who's clearly a genius is still stuck in grammar school is never explained). But wouldn't you know it, that satellite has attracted the attention of a race of aliens known as the Yokians - an apt name since they're essentially egg yolks suspended in an oval glass container. The Yokians have to appease their god by offering up a sacrifice, so after spotting Jimmy's parents in his welcoming message, decide to abduct all the parents in town. Though the kids are initially thrilled about being to do whatever they want, they soon realize that they miss their parents. It's up to Jimmy and the other kids to travel into space and save their folks.

With the exception of Ice Age, computer animated films released thus far have been aiming for a photo-realistic look rather than a cartoonish one. Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is easily the most colorful and exaggeratedly animated flick to be produced using computers, and the style of animation is certainly much different than its predecessors. Part of the film's charm comes from the over-the-top nature of Jimmy's neighborhood and surroundings, not to mention the suitably outrageous appearance of the aliens.

The movie also has a wide range of likable characters, lead by (of course) Jimmy himself. He's the sort of kid most of us knew at one point, though it's doubtful any of our friends would have been able to invent a shrinking ray. He's extremely enthusiastic and his never-say-die attitude is certainly a key element in his charm. Parents been kidnapped by aliens? Not a problem, says Jimmy. And he's been surrounded by equally amiable kids, particularly his two best friends.

The movie falters only in its last act, with the rescue of the parents from the evil Poultra - the Yokians' gigantic chicken-like deity. Like A Bug's Life, the last 15 minutes are filled with wall-to-wall action and special effects, and it just becomes overwhelming after a while. But this a minor complaint for an otherwise engaging and entertaining animated feature. While Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius never quite reaches the level of Toy Story 1 or 2, it's still worth checking out (if only for the stunning animation).

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© David Nusair