The Rugrats Movie
1998, G, 85 min. Directed by Igor Kovalyov, Norton Virgien. Voices by Elizabeth Daily, Christine Cavanaugh, Cheryl Chase, David Spade, Whoopi Goldberg.
REVIEWED By Hollis Chacona, Fri., Nov. 27, 1998
No one appreciates a clever and charming children's cartoon more than a parent who feels she will go totally, irrevocably berserk if she hears Scooby Doo say “Ruh-roh” one more time. The Rugrats can count among its ardent fans many grateful parents and a surprising number of channel-surfing adults who are caught and held by the Nickelodeon show's sweet, sly wit. Each half-hour show features two short segments that are bright, quick, and snappy, driven by silly flights of fancy and engaging characterizations. With the same cast at their beck and draw and a truly brilliant TV Passover special under their belts, it seemed as though the cartoon's producers (husband and wife team Gabor Csupo and Arlene Klasky) were ready for the big screen. Or maybe not. Despite a few funny moments, and some richly colored and fluid animation, The Rugrats Movie simply cannot sustain the frenetic charm and imagination of the shorter TV segments. Particularly ill-advised are the musical numbers that seem artificial and de rigueur despite some pretty heavy musical artillery (Elvis Costello, No Doubt, Laurie Anderson, and Iggy Pop to name but a few). The movie simply has too much contrived narrative to be much fun. The Rugrats' charm lay in the babies' whimsical, rug-level perspective and fanciful misperceptions. On TV, an overstuffed garbage can becomes a UFO, but in the movie a snarling wolf is a snarling wolf and though there is suspense in that, it's not the wildly freeform adventure we've come to expect from the rugrats. The Rugrats Movie has traded in imagination for storytelling. The destination has become more important than the ride. On the bright side, we still have Tommy Pickles, the ebullient one-year-old with an appetite for adventure; Chuckie, his nasally pessimistic sidekick; Phil and Lil, the intrepid fraternal twins; and the queen of mean, Angelica, a truly terrible two-year-old who uses her superior height and verbal capacity to manipulate babies and parents alike. (We don't get nearly enough of Angelica, who is on a quest to retrieve her precious Cynthia fashion doll which has fallen into Dil's iron grasp. It's not clear whether this is the Hot Tub Cynthia or the Camaro Cynthia or any one of the many Cynthia dolls which are Angelica's most prized possessions.) The babies' adventure in the movie is spawned by the arrival of another Pickles baby, newborn Dil, whose presence upsets the balance of attention and causes the babies to try to return him to Bob. (A baby is a gift from a Bob, they heard their grandparents say.) The ensuing adventure has a few giggles and a warm, sweet ending, but The Rugrats Movie is more like a pleasant Sunday drive in a big smooth sedan than the TV show's riotous joyrides in a fast, shiny convertible.