Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius
The pioneers at Pixar Animation Studios demonstrated, in their hit Toy Story films, that animated characters succeed best if they move realistically but look cartoony. Walt Disney learned the same lesson way back on the pen-and-ink Snow White, but other contemporary computer-animators seem to miss the point in their quest to apply technology to the creation of photo-realistic images. Of course, it's possible to go too far in the other direction. Excess realism is not a problem with Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, which was created on the cheap by director-writer John Davis and producer-writer Steve Oedekerk, the team responsible for the hilarious and touching 1997 computer-animated TV Christmas special Santa vs. The Snowman. The title character of Jimmy Neutron is a kid inventor from the small town of Retroville, where his clever but frequently malfunctioning contraptions draw derision from classmates. Then, one of Neutron's messages to deep space receives an answer from a gang of egg-shaped aliens, who kidnap all the parents in Retroville to sacrifice to their chicken god. After a day of candy-fueled debauchery and rejoicing, the children of Retroville turn to Neutron to help bring their parents back, so they'll have someone to soothe their stomachaches. Jimmy Neutron has a diverting plot and a handful of decent gags about the precarious balance between intelligence and maturity in pre-teens. Nickelodeon Movies released the film, which maintains the brightness and kid-focused entertainment value that made Nickelodeon such a reliable brand for youngsters, as well as the thoughtlessly frenetic pace and hyper-aware attitude that at times makes its programming seem cynical and pandering. Jimmy Neutron is also fairly ugly to look at, again in keeping with the brand's inexplicable attraction to off-putting appearances. Limited resources mean that Davis' characters move and look cartoony, which isn't an inherent flaw, so long as they're cute enough to overcome the minimalism, as Santa, the elves, and the Snowman were in Davis and Oedekerk's TV special. But Neutron and his pals and parents are an unappealing mash of lumpy and sharp shapes, with creepy inarticulate mouths and oversized heads. They seem designed to attract the more tolerant children while shutting out the aesthetic-minded adults. That sort of audience division would never occur to the folks at Pixar and Disney.