The celebrated American writer/director John A. Davis made lasting contributions to the animated feature resurgence of the '90s and '00s -- contributions formally recognized, for the first time, when Davis'Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius (2002) received an Academy Award nomination in the new Oscar category of Best Animated Feature. This effort (Davis' first turn on the big screen) reeled in the nom alongside rivals Shrek and Monsters, Inc. It lost to the green ogre, but from that point on, Davis held a secure place on the landscape of American animation.
Davis graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1984, where he earned a BFA in Film Production and became the first senior film major to win the coveted Nash Clay Parsley award. Three years later, Davis and Keith Alcorn founded DNA productions, a full-service animation house headquartered in Dallas that serves film and television clients with 3-D animations. In 1995, Davis first created the character of Jimmy Neutron, a preteen superhero of preternatural intelligence, in a short animated film.
Two years down the road, Davis took his first television bow (and made history in the process) when DNA produced the first 3-D animated special for a primetime slot. Santa vs. the Snowman -- which aired as an ABC Christmas special -- drew an overwhelming response from viewers nationwide, picked up Gold and Lone Star Awards at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, and continues to run in IMAX 3-D theaters, as a perennial feature at Christmastime. The effort had two immediate consequences for Davis' career: it led to his assignment on Fox's 1999 Christmas special Olive, the Other Reindeer, for Simpsons godfather Matt Groening, and paved the way for a big-screen animated effort.
That endeavor, Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, debuted in American theaters on December 21, 2001. Despite the lack of schtick for adults and the A-list Hollywood vocal talent that usually decorate such work (principal voices are provided by unknowns Megan Cavanagh, Mark de Carlo, Debi Derryberry, and others), Neutron became a blockbuster hit and drew generally (if not unanimously) favorable reactions from critics. Typical of the response is Roger Ebert, who surmised, "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius is a Nickelodeon production, frankly aimed at grade-schoolers. It doesn't have the little in-jokes that make Shrek and Monsters, Inc. fun for grown-ups. But adults who appreciate the art of animation may enjoy the look of the picture, which is a kind of downsized Toy Story, with a lot of originality in the visual ideas."
That opus spun off a DNA-produced 2002 cable series, The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron (which Davis co-created with Nothing to Lose and Bruce Almighty director Steve Oedekerk); in the mean time, Davis and Alcorn set to work on a feature-length follow-up to Neutron. Referred to by Film Monthly as "a richer, more layered and complex feature cartoon [than Jimmy]," 2006's The Ant Bully began when no less than Tom Hanks saw Neutron, loved it, and thought of having Davis produce one of his all-time favorite children's books, Ant Bully, as an animated feature. Hanks' involvement (and the high profile of Neutron) brought to Bully an astonishing array of vocal talent; the cast features Meryl Streep, Nicolas Cage, Julia Roberts, Paul Giamatti, and others. The Ant Bully arrived in American cinemas during the summer of 2006; Davis followed it up with plans to do an animation/live-action combo feature, The Star Beast, adapted from a sci-fi novel by Robert Heinlein, and a third 3-D animated feature (sans live action), entitled Neopets.