The Rugrats Movie

on November 20, 1998 by Karen Achenbach
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   The animated comedy "The Rugrats Movie," based on the popular Nickelodeon children's cartoon, chronicles the adventures of four babies: the brave but guileless one-year-old Tommy (voiced by E.G. Daily); his timid, bespectacled, perennially stuffy-nosed best friend, Chuckie (Christine Cavanaugh); and the twins, Phil and Lil (Kath Soucie). These "adventures" are actually usually everyday events which, in their imaginations, become terrifying and hostile. Facing these situations together, the babies learn valuable lessons about friendship, courage and life. But while the TV series is unfailingly funny and soulful, the feature version is far too harrowing for children and not nearly amusing enough for parents.
   After a wonderful opening in which Tommy gets a new baby brother, this Nickelodeon Movies production betrays the original premise by dumping the kids into a fantasy ride of dangers in which escapes are unrealistic and lessons are absent. Being afraid of the playground sandbox and thinking that crossing it is like traversing the Sahara Desert is humorous because that fear is an exaggeration. Being afraid of dying in a truck crash, being eaten by a wolf, torn apart by 200 monkeys, drowning or starving in the woods are not exaggerated fears.
   The editing, mixing, shot design and soundtrack (with major rock artists like Lenny Kravitz, Patti Smith, Beck, Iggy Pop, Jakob Dylan and Lisa Loeb contributing) all keep the pace lively and the surface interesting; the best sequence is the musical number in the hospital nursery. The animation has more texture, depth and shadows that the TV show, making the movie darker and busier. There are a few clever jokes, but "The Rugrats Movie" is not a pleasant experience for adults who know that the situations are too dangerous even for cartoon babies. Someone should have listened to Chuckie's oft-whined refrain: "Maybe this isn't such a good idea". Voices by E.G. Daily, Christine Cavanaugh and Kath Soucie. Directed by Norton Virgien and Igor Kovalyov. Written by David N. Weiss & J. David Stem. Produced by Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo. A Paramount release. Animated comedy. Rated G. Running time: 81 min
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