No one captured the feeling of being brilliant in a dull world better than James Isaac Neutron. Fifteen years ago today (December 21), Nickelodeon Movies released its first CGI film: Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. The movie was supposed to be a TV series first, but the network loved John A. Davis’s pitch about a child genius so much that they also wanted to make a feature film. [Note: Nickelodeon and MTV News are both owned by Viacom.]
It was Davis — who directed and wrote the film, as well as penned several episodes of the TV series — who suggested Nickelodeon start the franchise with the movie, which later received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.
Since Davis originally pitched the idea as a series, he used the unaired pilot as the basis of the movie. In the beginning of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, Jimmy rides around on his self-made rocket and crashes onto the roof of his house. Naturally, his parents aren’t pleased, comically ignoring the fact that their 8-year-old son built a rocket that actually worked.
Consequently, the unaired pilot consisted of a kid genius “who gets grounded for testing his rocket engines without permission,” Davis told MTV News. Upset, he flies away in his rocket and encounters the Yolkians — the alien race we later meet in the movie — and realizes he loves being on Earth with his family, returning home right before his parents discover he was ever missing.
“The reason I created Jimmy in the first place was I’ve always been a huge fan of science and technology and space,” Davis confessed, “but I was never smart enough to actually become an astronaut or become a scientist — my math skills aren’t strong enough.” So Davis studied film and crafted Jimmy as his alter ego, a character who could actually live out his childhood fantasies, like traveling to school via jet pack.
But Jimmy Neutron wasn’t always “Jimmy Neutron.” The pint-size scientist was first called Johnny Quasar, a name pulled straight from Davis’s childhood. During high school and college, Davis worked for his dad’s company and was given good-natured hell as the boss’s kid. “I was always into geeky nerdy stuff, and so they started calling [me] Johnny Quasar, ’cause my name is John and my dad called me Johnny, and they’d go, ‘Johnny Quasar, space cadet!’” Davis recalled. Davis liked the name and eventually transferred it to his cartoon creation.
The name didn’t stick, however, because Davis ran into legal issues, thanks to two other characters with similar names: Captain Quasar and Jonny Quest. So he was asked to tweak the name — and only had 24 hours to come up with a new moniker for his future franchise. (No pressure or anything.) Davis and his wife, Kim, took their dog (who was not named Goddard) for a walk and started toying with different names. “Proton” was tossed around, but eventually the duo came up with “Jimmy Neutron.”
Like Jimmy, his best friend Sheen also underwent a major change during development. Davis originally envisioned Ultra Lord’s biggest fanboy as a Japanese character. In fact, he’s named after a Japanese man who worked for Davis. They had a hard time finding a Japanese actor who fit all the criteria, however, so they opened up the role and ended up with Jeff Garcia, who went on to voice Sheen, now Aztecan, all throughout the series, as well as on the spin-off series Planet Sheen.
Speaking of spin-offs, Davis admitted he has a new Jimmy Neutron story he’d be interested in trying, if the opportunity ever arose. Time travel would be involved, so fans could get a sense of who Jimmy and his pals would eventually become — similar to that “ All Growed Up” episode of Rugrats.
In a time when the network is reviving other beloved animated series like Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life, it seems only appropriate to give Jimmy the reboot treatment as well. Jimmy Neutron’s been around for 15 years now. Let’s give him 15 more, Nickelodeon. Gotta blast!