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Paramount Studios presents
"You know, there's still no reply to our satellite message. Jeez, it's been a whole day! You think we would have heard from an alien civilization by now."
DVD ReviewI don't want to sound like someone's uncool parent, but these darn kids today just don't realize how good they've got it. Well, at least when it comes to animated movies, that is. Growing up in the 1960s, I sat through some really God-awful animated (re: cheap) cartoons, but like my fellow television addicts, I didn't know any better. Most of it was flat, dimensionless crap, devoid of any depth of field and emotion whatsoever.
Like Peabody and Sherman (if you're old, you'll know what I'm talking about), let's hop in the Way Back Machine and take a quick, admittedly glossed-over history lesson, shall we? The historically significant heyday of Tex Avery at Warner Bros and of course the Disney machine in the 1940s and 1950s ended with a huge dry spell that spanned well into the 1960s. Big time commercial animation, the costly art form that it is, continued to stagnate during the 1970s and early 1980s, with the only real standouts being geared toward older and hipper (re: stoned) audiences, courtesy primarily of the likes of Ralph Bakshi (Fritz The Cat, Wizards, American Pop). Disney raised the bar in 1988 with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and brought classic, mass appeal animation back to the forefront; films like The Little Mermaid and The Lion King helped usher in a new era of brilliant pen and ink work. Everything changed, once again, in the mid-1990s with Pixar's stellar CG work on Toy Story and A Bug's Life, and when DreamWork's practically lifelike Shrek burst on the scene, the complexion of the ball game changed forever. Again.
That brings us, in an indirect way, to director John A. Davis' Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2001) from Paramount and Nickelodeon. This is the kind of gorgeous three-dimensional CG animation that has almost become second nature to most of the under 7 set, and one that at the same time provides a completely new level of eye-popping visuals for anyone who sat through one too many Rankin-Bass "specials" as a kid. The whole film has beautiful 1950s retro look to it (in fact the story is set in a town called Retroville), and while youngsters may just go along for the ride and enjoy it, older viewers will likely catch themselves drooling slightly out of the corner of their mouths.
Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is the story of grade-schooler James Isaac Neutron (voiced by Debi Derryberry), a kid with a head shaped like a chocolate-dipped soft serve cone, who just happens to be a scientific genius. Jimmy is the kind of kid who has an underground lab, builds working satellites out of toasters and pop cans, and has a high-tech robotic pooch named Goddard. When one of Jimmy's outer space projects is intercepted by a nasty race of aliens, it inadvertently results in all of the parents in Retroville being abducted en masse as part of an intended sacrifice. It then becomes Jimmy's responsibility to lead his friends on a dangerous journey to a distant planet to rescue their moms and dads before they become food for a giant chicken god.
A film like this is like visual heroin, in that I just kept wanting more and more. It is rendered with such a bright palette of colors and kinetic energy that it I found it hard to blink my eyes because I was afraid I was going to miss something. At one point, Jimmy and his gang of reluctant orphans, assemble a fleet of space ships using various rides from the RetroLand amusement park, and the shot of them lifting off is just a thing of beauty.
The John Davis and Steve Oedekerk screenplay peppers things with a few good jokes that play well to the older crowd (like the sequence featuring the alien version of Entertainment Tonight), but I was surprised at how the bulk of the humor seemed anchored in traditional, light-hearted cartoon antics. That is not a backhanded compliment, either. This is G-rated film, which in and of itself is almost unheard of these days, and the writing reflects the gee-whiz 1950s innocence the film projects.
Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: As is almost the norm on a lot of kid-oriented DVDs, Paramount has included both a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen and a 1.33:1 full-frame transfer here. Of course, I suggest the 1.85:1 version, but whatever your poison you will be treated to a crisp, detail-rich, blemish-free transfer that is easily on the level of any of the recent Pixar titles. Color rendering appears to be practically perfect, and black levels are equally as deep. Character shading and depth of field in the animation is remarkable, too.
This one looks beautiful.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Like the video transfer, the audio options here are just as terrific. The preferred 5.1 Dolby Digital mix is a doozy, and is one of those incredibly well-mixed tracks that makes full use of all six channels. Directional imaging is strong, with action zooming across the fronts, or from left rear to right front with the speed of a ricocheting bullet. Dialogue is crisp, and the music (hey, was that a Ramones song I heard?) sounds particularly big and robust. The 2.0 English surround lacks a lot of the pizzazz and directionality of the 5.1 mix, and a film like this is greatly enhanced by the use of all six channels.
A French 2.0 surround track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasAnimated menu with music
Scene Access with 14 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 TV Spots/Teasers
The Making of Jimmy Neutron (06m:04s)
Sure, it sounds like it's going to be a behind-the-scenes segment, but it's really a quickie Nickelodeon puff piece designed for those with short attention spans. Most of the principal production and voice talent (except, suspiciously, for Jimmy's Debi Derryberry) get some screen time and chit-chat about how fun it was to make. A lot of this is just rehashing the plot of the movie, but the section on foley artists was easily the most interesting.
This section is split into two areas: Interstitials and Cliffhangers, all of which ran on Nick during the theatrical run of Jimmy Neutron as a promotional tool, in between regular programming.
These consist of seven short, self-contained vignettes, running just under two minutes each, and basically center on some wacky invention of Jimmy's and some goofy scenario. These are quickies, but they do feature roughly the same caliber of animation that is found in the film. The seven vignettes are:
Pain, Pain Go Away
UltraLord vs The Squirrels
New Dog, Old Tricks
There are five short segments, which together (entitled Calling All Aliens) form a sort of prologue to the opening scene in Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. Each section runs a little over a minute, and culminates in a cliffhanger ending that is resolved in the following installment. The five sections are:
Leave a Message After the Beam
The Night the Lights Went Out in Retroville
Sound Wave Hello
Arithmetic to Ride
Two full-frame music videos are included for the soundtrack bubblegum of:
Aaron Carter: Leave It Up To Me (03m:30s)
He's big with 4th and 5th grade chicks, so it's no surprise he shows up here. The Backstreet Boy little brother contributes a dull, homogenized "rap" that ends with a weirdly animated Carter that my daughter Sammy (a fan, by the way) found to be "creepy."
No Secrets: Kids in America (03m:12s)
I had to convince Sammy that Kids in America was a remake, and I'm still not convinced she believed me. Regardless, this electro-poppy confection is performed energetically by a group of five really cute teenaged girls that look far older than their supposed actual ages. I felt lecherous for a moment....
Kim Wilde, I remember ya, honey!
Here's an extra category that is woefully over hyped on most discs, and the seven "interactive" games provided here are actually better than much of what's out there, but that's not saying much. Designed for the Nickelodeon demographic, they're colorful and noisy and offer little in terms of long-term play.
Also included are English subtitles, and a theatrical trailer and teaser (both non-anamorphic, but in 5.1).
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsFrom a visual standpoint, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is another notch in the belt of numbingly impressive CG animation.
More importantly, it's a lot of fun...
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