For its latest, hour-long TV movie, "A Fairly Odd Movie: Grow Up, Timmy Turner," Nickelodeon has taken its venerable cartoon series "The Fairly OddParents" and blown it up, like a balloon, into three plump dimensions. Godparent fairies Wanda and Cosmo and their baby fairy Poof are rendered rounded in CG animation; real people play the other parts.
The second significant change is that Timmy, the fairy-protected protagonist of the piece, is no longer a 10-year-old fifth-grader. He is now a 23-year-old fifth-grader, living at home and sleeping in horsey pajamas, having contrived not to grow up in order not to lose his fairy pals, to whom he is closer than his own ridiculous — one wants to say, "cartoonish" — parents. This creative decision pays the immediate dividend of letting adult Nickelodeon human resource Drake Bell, of "Drake & Josh" fame, play the lead. Drake Bell as Timmy Turner — that is a crossing of the streams calculated to make viewers of a certain demographic burst into flames.
It might be argued that the whole point of a cartoon is that it isn't three-dimensional, neither visually, spiritually, morally nor intellectually. It is a place we recognize at once as different from the one we have to live in; as rendered in "The Fairly OddParents," it is a world louder, brighter, faster and flatter than our own. Still, this sort of messing with a thing that does not cry to be messed with is not necessarily a recipe for disaster. Cartoon Network did a nice job with a couple of "Scooby-Doo" movies not long ago, and this project would have looked good on paper, having been written by Butch Hartman, who created the cartoon, with Scott Fellows, creator of Nickelodeon's "Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide" and "Big Time Rush," which adapt cartoon values to live-action comedy. Director Savage Steve Holland has worked on both those series and cartoons including "Eek! the Cat," which he co-created, and "Camp Lazlo."
The film, which premieres Saturday, starts out well, as Wanda, Cosmo and Poof give Timmy his birthday present — a pirate battle in his bedroom. But this sequence, which is as manic as its animated original, seems to have eaten up a disproportionate portion of the film's budget and energy, and though it is a mostly painless trip to the end nothing that follows is as well paced or as much fun, while the real-world surroundings are unproductively mundane. The main plot involves saving a city park from an oil baron, but room is made for romance — Daniella Monet ("Victorious") as the mature, experienced, fully-flowered version of Tootie — whose charm Timmy only briefly resists though his falling in love may spell the end of his fairies.
The human cast do generally successful turns on their cartoon counterparts; to note Mark Gibbon as power-fairy Jorgen Von Strangle and David Lewis as Timmy's fairy-obsessed teacher, Mr. Crocker, is only to state my favorites. As to Bell, though Timmy's reluctance to grow up and leave home may be seen as a metaphor of the actor's own Nick-dominated career, the evidence suggests he should give the wider world a try.