directed by John A. Davis with Patrick Stewart and Martin Short opens Dec. 21 at Metro, Pacific Place, and others
TAKE STOCK IN what Nickelodeon has given society and you'll forgive the 18-89 demographic's anticipatory dread of Jimmy Neutron. The delightfully randy You Can't Do That on Television series spawned the still inexplicable Alanis Morissette phenomenon. And for every Ren & Stimpy, Nick has churned out five diaper-staining Rugrats clones.
So it's not so much a delight as it is a relief to report that co-writer/producer Steve Oedekerk, the mastermind behind Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, has spiked Neutron with a Pixar-worthy cocktail of imagination and parent-satiating maturity. Of course, every breathtaking "future retro" CGI visual has to be accompanied by never-worse teen pop dreck, but ars gratis artis has never been Nick's top priority.
Our stout, eponymous protagonist devotes his existence in suburban Retroville to perfecting a variety of clever inventions that malfunction at the most inopportune moments. Ten-year-old Jimmy develops a loyal robo-dog companion, Goddard (who defecates nuts and bolts on the Neutrons' porch); a shrink/enlarge ray; a gelatinous, bouncing transportation bubble; and a toaster designed for extraterrestrial communication.
His scientific reach rivals da Vinci, but that fails to impress his classmates, particularly derisive brain Cindy Vortex or token James Dean-knockoff Nick. The intersection of starry-eyed reverie and solitude in Jimmy's life quietly recalls Calvin and Hobbes—sans the incisive cynicism, naturally.
Oedekerk and director John A. Davis often let their influences get the better of them. The toaster is detected by evil, levitating, egg-shaped aliens (The Simpsons), who abduct Retroville's parents, leaving their kids to orgiastic ice-cream celebrations (Home Alone). Conscience and helplessness soon prevail, and the children rocket across the galaxy, giddily blowing the "Yokians" to green goo inside their glass helmets (Mars Attacks!).
These are small grievances, though, as Neutron frequently counters with images of jarring originality. Jimmy's smarts allows the Retroville kids to outfit traditional amusement park rides for their interstellar snatch-and-grab mission. The resulting launch sequence—in which a roller coaster, Octopus, bumper cars, and Ferris wheel stagger through Earth's atmosphere—is tremendous.
Plenty of the less-flooring stuff works, too. Davis and Oedekerk minimize Jimmy's lame catchphrases ("Gotta blast!"), while measured celebrity voice work from Patrick Stewart and Martin Short never diverts our attention to Captain Picard or Jiminy Glick. Neutron should have a hell of a run despite Lord of the Rings. Given Nickelodeon's track record, it's surprisingly worthy of mom and dad's coin.