Just what more can you do with Rugrats?
This was the first statement that came to mind when it was announced that a new animated revival of Nickelodeon’s staple animated series Rugratswas first announced.
Over the years we have seen an endless array of beloved series return to our screens. We have seen the great, the mediocre and the downright depressing returns of series that fill us with nostalgia. Did it come as a shock that Rugrats is another title added to the rooster-no, not in the slightest.
But it raises some questions: just direction could they take with this? And perhaps more trying, just who is this for? The now adults who grew-up watching the original, or their (personable) kids?
After viewing this I’m actually conflicted about the latter.
The series kicks off with a forty-four-minute opener titled that of “Second Time Around” that doesn’t waste time with pleasantries with introductions of the characters, their world or the like- it simply assumes you know this and jumps in feet first.
In typical Rugrats fashion we are greeted with one of the babies famous and larger than life adventures, this time involving them adventuring and speeding away from a dinosaur. It feels like the classic core of the series in all it’s zaniness. And bar for the course ends with Angelica being reviled to be the dinosaur in question from their adventure, and the inspiration only existing as a large statue in the center of the park.
Even knowing it isn’t real, the feelings of discomfort don’t depart Chuckie. Noticing this his father, Chaz does offer his own attempt at comfort as he reassures his son of his bravery. Despite being a bundle of anxiety, it’s enough to help Chuckie find the resolve to try and be brave. One that resolves following eating a heap of mud with a worm lodged inside.
A detail that mistakenly gets mentioned later to Angelica admits playing doctor. Time may have changed, but our blond twin-tailed bully hasn’t. Taking full advantage of the babies’ naïve nature and naturally her own twisted kicks, diagnoses him with Wormy-Oliosis; an ailment that will result in Chuckie being transformed into a worm.
As expected, Chuckie becomes distraught by said news and Tommy and the rest of the crew, thanks to Suzie’s medical book, become convinced they need to locate a dino’s tooth to cure their friend. This leads into the babies going rouge and setting course for the park and the dinosaur statue from the start of the episode.
The b-plot line is slightly more messy and heavily focused on the adult ensemble to the point it almost feels out of place in a Rugrats episode. The adults head to a concert of their favorite 2000s band and grandpa ends up with a mishap with a dating app. And, you know, loses track of the babies.
With Instagram worthy café, she-sheds, honesty cleanse, smartphones and senior dating apps this is where the series firmly places itself in the present.
And because of the time shift we do see changes not only in the narrative, but largely the adult cast. Because Stu and company grew-up in the 90s-00s their lives where different than their previous incarnations. Because of that and the world they currently live in they aren’t the same people. They can’t be. Didi now has an online Esty grade store in her she-shed, Betty now owns a café and Charlotte is no longer a high-powered corporate woman but city councilperson.
Yet no one is more starkly different than Grandpa Lou. The former war veteran known for remising about ‘the old days’ with a habit of falling asleep in a recliner is replaced with a yoga loving hippy sporting a braid. The complete one-sixty of depiction is the equivalent of seeing Reptar with his head off.
Thankfully, the kids remain much of the same. Bar ever so slight Suzie who is present from the start. The original series depicted her being the same age as Angelia and often clashing against Angelia and her actions towards the babies. Here it seems she is in fact younger and is more easily swayed like her friends by their senior’s words. It also seems notable that her large, bustling family has possibly been reduced as well.
In addition to the opener, four additional twenty-two-minute episodes containing two stories have been released on the streamer as well. With plots centering around the de-cluttering movement, robotic dogs and life like talking doll; we continue to see how wild these kids’ adventures can be.
The classic hand-drawn animation fans fondly recall has been replaced with 3D animation. That both look jarring and bring out the creepy layer of the character designs. But also, clearly helps define the series as a new chapter of the Rugrats’ saga.
After spending as many years as I have reviewing and writing about so many series and reboots, never have I felt so purely confused about something as I do with Rugrats. I have no idea who this is supposed to be for.
I’m twenty-six, the tail end of the millennium spectrum and someone who watched the original as a kid- but doesn’t have any of her own. I review and write on animation from years prologue to the present. By no means does this feel like content directed towards someone like myself. But it definitely feels like it takes enjoyment at taking stabs at the stereo-typical lifestyle my generation is painted to have in a subtle meanspirited way that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
Even though Rugrats does play off larger than life elements, the attempt to feel grounded and relevant of modern life is cringe worthy. Even downplayed it’s attempts to make fun of their old fans doesn’t sit well. What adult would want to come home after a long day at work to watch this and feel insulted?
Even with much of the kids’ story-lines retaining the same beat as before, does it work for today’s kids? Rugrats is very much so a product of it’s time. Back when series only had stand-alone episodes with no seasonal arcs, focus of character development and defined lore. Now all of those things are the norm.
Western animation is thriving with such outstanding series like Owl House, Amphibia, Big City Greens and more does something as simple as babies going on adventures even stand a chance?