|Rugrats Movie, The|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 30 March 1999|
Based on the popular Klasky/Csupo animated TV series, ‘Rugrats’ comes to the feature arena with plenty of built-in audience goodwill. The movie will live up to the expectations of the TV show’s fans and likely surpass those of new viewers. It’s one of the rare animated features aimed at very young children that can still be enjoyed utterly by adults.
Writers David N. Weiss & J. David Stem have come up with a big, life-changing event to confuse the Rugrats. Tommy Pickles finds himself with a new baby brother, Dylan (aka "Dil"), and a host of confused feelings. While Tommy is trying to be a good big brother, he and the other Rugrats, along with Dil, wind up accidentally taking a wild ride in the Reptar Wagon, a dragonlike go-cart that carries the toddlers deep into the local woods. The kids’ parents are beside themselves and go in search, with a pesky media in full unhelpful cry behind them. Meanwhile, Tommy and Co. are in search of "the lizard," i.e., a magician who can help them return home.
One of the best aspects of ‘Rugrats’ is that grown-ups can get good, consistent chortles over the young characters’ confident misuse of everyday language, while kids can appreciate the toddlers’ adventures and viewpoints on their own terms. Directors Norton Virgien and Igor Kovalyov have a good satiric eye, so that the mini-parody of ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ in Chapter 1 actually looks like its source material. They also have fun with an arrival board in a maternity ward that looks just like an airport flight announcement board, and avoid being either overly crass or obnoxiously squeaky clean -- at one point, a rainbow sparkles in a stream of infant urine.
The score by Mark Mothersbaugh is lively without being overbearing and a lot of the songs are clever and engaging. A do-it-yourself lullaby sung by fatigued parents in Chapter 7 is especially charming in both lyrics and execution. Only a takeoff on the Blondie song ‘One Way or Another’ in Chapter 15 lingers a bit past the point where it’s funny. Although the animation is not meant to be realistic, there is good use of visual depth, particularly in Chapter 10. One unusual detail here is skin color: in many sequences, Caucasian characters appear to be gray rather than the standard animation pink
Vocal talent is high caliber, with Christine Cavanagh (the voice of Babe the pig) as one of the leads and cameos from the likes of Tim Curry, Whoopi Goldberg and David Spade. The actors and animators both contribute to the unforced appeal of the characters.
‘The Rugrats Movie’ DVD brings up its menu before the film starts. The screen ratio format -- widescreen or full-frame -- is an option that must be addressed before the film will play. A short film based on the ‘Cat Dog’ series (about a two-headed hybrid animal that is feline at one end, canine at the other) accompanies the feature and can be seen before or after.
Parents of very sensitive, very young children should be aware that there is a scary (though ultimately harmless) wolf who menaces our heroes at once point. Everyone else should know that it’s safe to watch this one with the kids -- you’ll probably have as good a time as they will.