Dir: John A Davis. US. 2001. 92 mins.Viacom has loaded a lot of responsibility onto the computer-animated shoulders of Jimmy Neutron. Intended as the basis for a "multi-platform franchise", the character has been popping up for the past 10 months on Viacom's Nickelodeon channel in preparation for a feature debut that will be followed next September by a fully-fledged TV series. This first big-screen instalment of the planned franchise offers some stylish animation and a script with a good deal of cheeky charm. While it certainly does not have the emotional pull or broad family appeal of a Shrek or Toy Story, it could still provide Viacom with a film-TV crossover success comparable to that achieved by the conglomerate's Rugrats franchise.

Jimmy (voiced by Derryberry) is a peppy school kid with a giant quiff and a big brain that he puts to use in the invention of any number of weird and often malfunctioning gadgets, like robot dog Godard. Jimmy's inventiveness sometimes tests the patience of his parents (Cavanagh and Decarlo) and geeky school friends (Paulsen and Garcia) and fails to impress most of his bigger and cooler classmates. But when an army of aliens (whose leaders are voiced by Short and Stewart) abducts all the town's parents, the kids turn to Jimmy to lead them across the universe in a fleet of improvised space ships to liberate the grown-ups.

The film's CG animation work was reportedly done relatively quickly (two years) and relatively inexpensively ($30m) by Texas animator John A Davis and his DNA Productions company. The results are still effective, however, with some nicely detailed backgrounds and expressive faces. Echoing the title, the film's visual style has a retro 1950s feel extending from Jimmy's elaborate hair style to the green-blob aliens.

The script, by Davis, Steve Oedekerk (Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls) and Rugrats veterans David N Weiss and J David Stem, gives Jimmy an endearingly mischievous personality and makes some attempt at least to flesh out the other characters. Writer-director Oedekerk's influence seems particularly strong: there are definite traces - besides the quiff - of Jim Carrey's Ace Ventura in Jimmy Neutron's puckish character.

Although it never labours its points, the story offers some parent-friendly morals in the victory of brains over brawn and in the kids' ultimate realisation that a world without parents is not such a great thing after all. What the script lacks is enough of a story to produce real emotional involvement. If the Jimmy Neutron franchise lives up to Viacom's expectations, future big-screen instalments will need to find some more substantial challenges for their diminutive hero.

Prod cosNickelodeon Movies, O Entertainment

US distParamount Pictures

Int'l distUIP

ProdsSteve Oedekerk, John A Davis, Albie Hecht

Exec prodsJulia Pistor, Keith Alcorn

ScrJohn A Davis, David N Weiss, J David Stem, Steve Oedekerk

Prod desFred Cline, Shannon Denton

EdJon Michael Price, Gregory Perler.

MusicJohn Debney

Main cast (voices)Debi Derryberry, Megan Cavanagh, Mark Decarlo, Rob Paulsen, Jeff Garcia, Martin Short, Patrick Stewart.