Rugrats Go Wild
Rated PG, 80 min. Directed by Norton Virgien, John Eng. Voices by Chrissie Hynde, E.G. Daily, Nancy Cartwright, Kath Soucie, Cheryl Chase, Tim Curry, Lacey Chabert, Flea, Bruce Willis.
Let’s hear it for cross-product marketing, shall we? Combining two of their brightest animated kids shows (Rugrats and The Wild Thornberrys), the folks at the Nickelodeon network have come up with a daffy hybrid that artfully makes the most of both shows’ strengths and avoids their weaknesses almost entirely. And while the movie’s not quite as engrossing as 2000’s Rugrats in Paris: The Movie or last year’s The Wild Thornberrys Movie, adults can still play a challenging game of "Dammit, I know that voice! Who the hell is it?" and marvel over the cavalcade of cinematic puns and in-jokes that flow through the film like krill through a baleen whale’s gullet. As befits an ecologically minded program like The Wild Thornberrys, Rugrats Go Wild maroons the two shows’ main characters on an island where they must then fend for themselves (sort of) while the Rugrats toddlers wander off to explore and the Thornberrys shoot a nature documentary. The conceits at work – The Thornberrys are a globe-trotting anthropology brood with Chabert’s Eliza Thornberry, who can speak to the animals, as the focus, while the Rugrats gang are pre-adolescent tykes led by the adventurous Tommy Pickles, whose pint-sized imagination views the big scary world as one giant playscape – mesh well, as do the differing animation styles. But what really makes the film tolerable to those already past their first decade are the constant references to other films that crop up every five minutes or so. I lost track after the first half hour, but Jaws, The Abyss, Gone With the Wind, Gilligan’s Island, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and – willfully obscure and proud of it – Alfred Hitchcock’s Lifeboat all come in for ribbing. (What, no Odessa steps sequence?) The pop sensibilities of justly famed animation house Klasky-Csupo (which produces both shows) are featured more prominently in the Rugrats camp, while the Thornberrys clan (featuring The Rocky Horror Picture Show’s Tim Curry as patriarch Nigel) marks up the ecologically aware end of the animated spectrum. It’s a message movie, as are all kids films these days, but these environmentally-aware messages are sweet and unforced, and well worth hearing. Eng and Virgien’s direction moves quickly and truly, and, in a nifty bit of William Castle/John Waters showmanship, Rugrats Go Wild also arrives with a scratch-’n’-sniff Odorama pedigree. Cool beans indeed, even if you’re too old to have a "diaper full of dreams."
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