THE RUGRATS MOVIE (1998)
Directors: Igor Kovalyov and Norton Virgien
Screenplay: David N. Weiss and J. David Stem
Main Cast: E.G. Daily, Tara Charendoff, Christine Cavanaugh, Kathie Soucie, Cheryl Caser, Cree Summer, Busta Rhymes, David Spade, Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Curry, Margaret Cho, Edie McClurg, Lenny Kravitz, Lisa Loeb, Lou Rawls, Iggy Pop, Beck
Some notes before the movie in general:
Geoffrey: I did not see this movie in 1998. While I did watch the show at my grandmother’s, and she was going to take me…something internally told me not to watch it. One day, I’ll remember to listen to that internal something-or-other. Recently, I tried to re-watch the series (which I did love as a kid) and found it pretty unwatchable…but having never seen the movie, I wondered if it was something better.
Claudia: I probably saw Rugrats the Movie in the summer of 1999. In those days, on the hottest summer days, mom would take my siblings and me to the local $1 movie theatre so we could cool down while watching a G-rated movie. Whichever G-rated movie was playing, regardless of personal interest and film quality. The films we saw ran the quality gamut from Babe to The Pebble & the Penguin. Rugrats the Movie fell somewhere between those two. Since that summer, I had not seen this movie. Not being a fan of the Rugrats TV series, I remember feeling that it was a decent enough way to pass a hot summer afternoon, but I would not go out of my way to watch it again. Would I change my opinion after a second viewing?
At the beginning of the film, Chuckie Finster provides the voiceover for an Indiana Jones [aka Okie-Dokie Jones] parody, which also serves as a short introduction of the Rugrats main characters. There’s timid Chuckie, twins Phil and Lil, and protagonist Tommy Pickles. Given that it’s an Indy parody, there’s also a giant rock… which transitions into a giant pregnant stomach.
Geoffrey: First off, how lazy was it that they used the opening credits to the TV show? Were they worried that the audience wouldn’t get who they were watching? My next thought is, that while it’s predictable, I do kinda like the opening sequence, but I am confused as to why Phil is wearing a Union soldier costume…
Claudia: I didn’t even recognize them as the TV show’s opening credits. That *was* lazy.
In the real world, Tommy, his friends, and their parents are all attending Didi Pickles’ backyard baby shower. This bit briefly introduces the audience to the adult characters, little Susie Carmichael, and devilish preschooler Angelica.
Geoffrey: Hey, look, it’s Cree Summer! The go-to voice actress for anyone black and female.
Claudia: And white and female. I can never look at her resume without thinking, “Holy crap, she really is in everything.”
Angelica’s father, Drew, and Tommy’s father, Stu (who are brothers), bicker in Stu’s workshop as Stu exposits about his Reptar toy invention attempts.
Geoffrey: What exactly does DiDi do that allows Stu to not work? And if he can create a fireball shooting wagon, why doesn’t have have a legit job?
Claudia: Stu really should have had a job. Peter Szalinski from Honey I Shrunk the Kids did, in the same pre-recession era.
Geoffrey: And Szalinski had better/more interesting inventions.
While their mothers are engaged in typical baby shower chatter outside the house, the babies are inside, excited about the impending arrival of Tommy’s baby sister. Angelica takes the opportunity to burst the babies’ bubble, telling Tommy that once the baby arrives, his parents will no longer care about him. As Angelica hijacks Susie’s baby shower-themed solo (“A Baby is a Gift From a Bob”), Didi goes into labor.
Geoffrey: That song was awful. And some of those lyrics made absolutely no sense. “A baby is a cuddly chicken?” What does that even mean? Also, is it me, or does DiDi look like an adult Pepper Ann?
The babies and their parents accompany Didi to the Lipschitz Birthing Center, which naturally features scuba diving and barn mucking-themed birthing rooms.
Geoffrey: This seems like a very 1990s joke for the adults, given the craze for all the weird birthing centers…
Off on their own, the babies also discover the newborn ward (“The Baby Store”). Didi’s baby is born–a boy named Dylan. Baby Dil and Tommy get off on the wrong foot, as Dil grabs Tommy’s nose, causing Tommy to cry, causing Dil to cry.
Geoffrey: I liked Claudia’s title for the awful song better. This was a truly bizarre song, and what was with two penis jokes? I think most kids probably got the second one, but how many in the target audience got the circumcision joke? And why are the babies making a rainbow with pee? That seems…disgusting.
Claudia: The pee rainbow is one of two things I distinctly recall from my first viewing, years ago. This isn’t boding well…
Geoffrey: Well at least something was memorable?
Four weeks later, Dil is still crying incessantly, wearing out his parents and irritating Tommy’s friends.
Meanwhile, monkeys belonging to Russian circus performers hijack their train and crash it into the forest.
Claudia: *As Yakov Smirnoff* In America, we watch circus monkeys, in Soviet Russia, the monkeys watch you.
Geoffrey: hyuk, hyuk, hyuk.
That night, Didi tries to read a bedtime story to Tommy, but Dil’s wailing distracts her. Didi and Stu, sing an impromptu lullaby to Dil, as Tommy sings the last two lines sadly (“Dil-a-Bye”).
The next morning, Dil has swiped Tommy’s blankie. Phil and Lil, trying to be helpful, demonstrate a sibling tug-of-war for Tommy to emulate, however Dil is still victorious. Stu takes Tommy to his workshop and gives him an heirloom pocketwatch, as Tommy is now the older brother and now has responsibility.
Geoffrey: Why is Stu giving a heirloom to a 1 year old? This seems like a bad idea.
Claudia: Tommy’s apparently not even old enough to wear regular pants or shirts. I wonder which pocket his watch is supposed to be kept in. No, Stu, “His diaper is his pocket” is not an option!
Geoffrey: Maybe the diapie has a pocket in it?
Phil and Lil decide that the Dil experiment is not working out, so they tell Tommy that he should be shipped back to the baby store. They put him into Stu’s invention, the Reptar Wagon. Dil swipes Angelica’s doll, Cynthia, and the Reptar Wagon rolls out the open door. A delivery man arrives to pick up Stu’s invention crate, as Grandpa Pickles sleeps throughout all of the commotion. Dog Spike and Angelica-as-Shirleylock Holmes takes off after Cynthia, wearing detective costume and rollerblades. Once they realize the babies are missing, Stu and Grandpa go chasing after them (“The Big Ride”). The babies eventually end up in a cargo van, which crashes in the woods.
Geoffrey: This song was better than the last two before it. But that’s kinda like picking between sauerkraut and spinach at dinner. Also, why was one of the kids holding a cockroach? What world allows that to be an acceptable play toy?
Claudia: The cockroach is a more natural toy than that pocketwatch. Just saying.
Being unharmed and after changing Dil’s diapie, Tommy uses his Sponsitility just like Okie-Dokie Jones does–as a compass. Unfortunately, he does not realize that the Sponsitility says that it is 12 o’clock. The babies haul the Reptar Wagon to the top of a hill and realize they can’t see any houses at all. Back at the house, news crews arrive. After Chuckie’s father announces that he has a lead, the adults, police, and media head for the cliff where the cargo van had gone over. The head investigator asks Didi if she can ID this “binkie” (pacifier)…causing much fear and panic in the adults.
As they survey the layout of the woods from their higher vantage point, the babies see chimney smoke in the distance. They are convinced that it is the Lizard’s house, who could get them home. In actuality, the
Wizard’s Lizard’s house is the ranger station, where David Spade and Whoopi Goldberg are in charge. They also note imposing footprints that look like reptar tracks to them, they ride the Reptar Wagon downhill, and almost fall down a cliff. Just as they breathe a sigh of relief that they did not fall over the cliff, Dil messes with the Reptar Wagon’s controls, and they are propelled forward into a river. Fortunately, the Reptar Wagon is outfitted with an aqua mode. The babies treat the downriver trip as if they are adventuring on a pirate ship (“Yo Ho Ho”).
Geoffrey: I continue to be confused by Stu. He’s built a wagon that shoots fire balls, has some sort of mechanical engine, has arms that can extend and retract, can talk and convert into a raft…why does he not have a steady job? Also, what exactly is a bottle of “yum?” Were the writers just going “Hey, let’s adapt this song to babies. Babies can’t have rum…but they can have yum!”
Claudia: See, I am convinced that TPTB began with the “Yo ho ho and a bottle of yum” pun, and built an entire song and scene around it, instead of vice versa. The line appears with such frequency that it seems like it was meant to be the centerpiece of the scene. And it is a horrible pun.
Geoffrey: You know, that would make sense. It’s still not good writing, but at least it makes sense. And worse things have been built around a similar idea.
Once ashore, the babies discover the limitations of Tommy’s Sponsitility, as it just leads them in a circle. As they contemplate their situation, the Russian circus monkeys ambush the babies (“Witch Doctor”). Dil gets hungry, so Tommy opens a can of “nanner” baby food. The monkeys smell it and turn their attentions to Dil and the diapie bag as Chuckie loses his glasses and steps on them.
Angelica and Spike, alone in the woods, get chased by a wolf.
Back at home, Stu takes out one of his inventions: A Reptar-themed glider to use in the search.
Tommy retrieves the diapie bag, while the other babies put a monkey under Tommy’s blankie so that he would not realize Dil had been kidnapped. Upon discovering the deception, Tommy wants to go after Dil, but the other babies don’t like Dil and don’t like how Tommy has been choosing Dil’s wants and needs over theirs. The other babies want to go find the Lizard instead. So they tell Tommy that Dil has been turned into a monkey, which makes Tommy decide to use their only wish to save Dil…further upsetting them and forcing them to confess what happened.
Geoffrey: I actually kinda get in the groove right here with the film. Tommy is doing the admirable thing, and the right thing…he’s watching out for his younger siblings. The other kids are being super obnoxious. That said, these are all children under the age of 3, so we really should not be surprised by their actions. Tommy is also the moral compass (or Sponsatility) of the film.
Angelica and Spike continue searching for Cynthia in the forest (“One Way or Another”).
Geoffrey: Well that’s stuck in my head now.
Claudia: This scene is the second of two things I remembered distinctly from my first viewing. To this day, I can’t hear the Blondie version without thinking of Angelica’s.
The parents recruit the help of David Spade and Whoopi Goldberg.
Claudia: Because they are exactly the right people to help people search for missing children. It’s totally obvious!
Tommy locates Dil, and as they huddle under a hollow tree trunk, Dil drinks all of the remaining bottled milk and hogs Tommy’s blankie. After a tug-of-war rips the blankie, Tommy gets fed up and throws the Sponsatility away. As the monkeys surround the brothers, Tommy almost dumps the can of nanners onto Dil. However, he has a change of heart and he and Dil make peace. Dil generously shares the blankie with Tommy (“Dil-a-Bye (Reprise)”).
Geoffrey: This was another one of the more effective scenes…Tommy’s performance (such as it is) is highly effective, even given the ridiculous idea that he will kill Dil. Over the top? Maybe, but still quite effective.
Claudia: Well, this scene is briefly tense, I’ll give it that.
Geoffrey: That’s about all we *can* give it.
As Chuckie, Phil, and Lil express their frustration with their adventure, the forest ranger’s jeep gets stuck in the mud, and the Reptar glider gets hit by birds.
The monkeys once again ambush Tommy and Dil’s tree trunk, but are warded off by Phil and Lil, who had decided to go back for Tommy. Chuckie, driving the Reptar Wagon, scares them off further. Chuckie runs into Angelica, and all are chased by monkeys. Chuckie tries to throw the jar of nanners off a cliff, but an ill-timed wind blows the jar’s contents back onto Chuckie’s body. The monkeys lick the nanners off of Chuckie, but the other babies and Spike rescue him before they can cause him further harm.
Geoffrey: I’m not sure they would have done further harm, thus rendering Tommy’s decision to not cover his brother in nanners less effective.
Claudia: I know, right? It completely undermines any tension from the previous nanners-dumping scene!
The Reptar Wagon ends up on a train track and broken bridge. The monkeys are scared away from the bridge by the appearance of the wolf. Spike tackles the wolf, and after a tussle they both fall off the bridge. Stu’s Reptar glider crashes at the end of the bridge. Mistaking Stu inside the Reptar glider for the ‘Lizard,’ Phil changes his wish from going home to “get[ting] our doggie back.” The weight of the Reptar glider breaks a board on the bridge, which reveals that Spike is safely just below the bridge. The remaining parents arrive, Stu and Drew reconcile, the Russian circus men locate their monkeys, and tearful reunions abound.
Geoffrey: The end to a ridiculous movie. I still cried.
Claudia: The Spike vs. wolf fight’s staging reminded me of the Scar/Simba fight in The Lion King. I don’t know if it was intentional, or if it was just me.
Geoffrey: I also saw a bit of that movie where the dog fights the bear…and it’s animated…I don’t remember much beyond that. Or maybe it wasn’t a bear…
The film is bookended by another Okie-Dokie Jones parody. Chuckie narrates that after their adventure, their life was better for having Dil around. The Okie-Dokie adventurers use Dil (stacked on top of the other babies) to reach the Macguffin, which, in the RL world, was a banana split sitting on the counter.
The end credits roll over still “photographs” of movie scenes” (“Rugrats pop remix,” “Take It to the Maximum,” “I’ll Throw My Toys Around”).
The post-credits epilogue feature Grandpa snoozing in the Reptar Wagon. His pet goat headbutts the Reptar Wagon and it speeds downhill.
Geoffrey: Ya know, I really could have done without this film. I totally agree with 1998 Geoffrey in not seeing it, and frankly my grandmother owes me a thank you. To be fair, it’s not an inherently bad film. It has some very good moments, but they are few and far between. It suffers, like many of these types of films do, from being bigger because it’s a movie. The more successful cartoon-to-film adaptations/translations open the world up without being super obvious about it. The tone was frequently at odds, leaving me wondering just who the target audience was. There were also a shockingly large amount of negative stereotyping (mainly against old people, although the black kids who had the Sambo look bothered me, too) and the disparaging ideas about marriage and parenting. Overall, I’d give it a B-. Not the worst offender I’ve ever seen, but certainly not one I’d ever watch again.
Claudia: Again, I only saw a few Rugrats episodes in the 90s, and 0 episodes since the 90s. Rewatching this movie in the ’10s, I don’t think that it was all that bad compared to some other animated films released around the same time. Its themes (bond of family, “sponsatility,” doing the right thing) were coherent and consistent, and are universal enough to resound with kindergarteners or their grandparents. That said, even after a second viewing, I just haven’t connected to the characters in any fashion. I’ll give it a C, a decent-quality TV-to-film adaptation, but not stellar.