People have a tendency to react badly whenever Hollywood remakes something from their childhood for the sole purpose of appeasing the dead-eyed gods of late-stage capitalism. And that’s probably why, upon seeing the trailer for the new CGI Paramount+ remake of beloved 1990s cartoon Rugrats, people generally acted as if they were watching a family member being firebombed.

Not to be rude, but you could sort of see why. The issue was the CGI animation of the new version. Back when it was traditionally animated, Rugrats had an endearingly amateurish aesthetic, all bright colours and wobbly lines. Seeing that aesthetic translated into modern computer animation causes quite the jolt. Especially the look of its one-year-old protagonist Tommy Pickles. In the original show his enlarged, misshapen head looked like quirky design. In the reboot – and this is really the kindest thing I can say about it – he is basically the pulsating nightmarish tree-brain from Twin Peaks. The second most kind thing I could say, as if you needed telling, is that he looks like an infected testicle.

So, it’s fair to say that Rugrats has a way to go to if it wants to win people over. Whether it does or not depends solely on your expectations. For my money, though, it just about pulls it off.

And this is because the 2021 version of Rugrats is less a reboot and more a direct continuation of the original series. Visuals aside – you’ll get used to them within five minutes; your children won’t even notice – the updates to the Rugrats template are feather-light. The adults all have iPhones now, for instance, and Betty DeVille (as featured in the 2017 BuzzFeed listicle 8 TV Cartoon Moms Who Were Definitely Secretly Lesbians) is now openly out.

Aside from that, you may as well be watching a regular 25-year-old episode of Rugrats. The music is the same. The pacing – never quite as giddy as it should have been – is intact. Best of all, the childrens’ voices are entirely unchanged. Like the original series, EG Daily still does the voice of Tommy Pickles, Nancy Cartwright still does the voice of Chuckie and Kath Soucie is still both Phil and Lil DeVille. They sound exactly the same as they always did, right down to Chuckie’s snot-soaked inferiority complex, and it provides quite an unexpected jolt of nostalgia. Some newer names have rounded out the cast – Anna Chlumsky, Timothy Simons, Tony Hale, Nicole Byer and Michael McKean among them – and they all acquit themselves perfectly well.

Nevertheless, I’m going to predict a backlash to the new Rugrats. Grown-up fans of the original will complain about the animation, and whine that it isn’t faithful enough to the show that once kept them company in the lonely after-school hours. But here’s the thing. Rugrats isn’t for you anymore. It’s a cartoon about babies, made for children. You’re a 38-year-old recruitment consultant who’s just starting to realise that life isn’t panning out exactly the way you wanted it to. Why are you complaining about Rugrats? Literally every single other piece of entertainment in the world is made for you. Please, let the kids have this.

The Rugrats babies.
Photograph: Best Possible Screengrab/Nickelodeon

In fact, my one gripe about the new Rugrats is that it’s probably a bit too faithful for its own good. The current trend for cartoon remakes is to go fast and self-aware. Look at Teen Titans Go, for example. That took a show that was often earnest to the point of outright angst, and stripped it for parts. Now it’s a blissful full-throttle joyride propelled by the constant sound of cracked whips, that carries its premise so lightly that it memorably once devoted an entire episode to explaining the intricacies of the property rental market. It’s deliberately, galloping stupid, but this is the world that Rugrats has been airdropped into.

The new version of Rugrats opens with a slightly belaboured Jurassic Park parody. And a 30-year-old kid’s cartoon mocking a 28-year-old film during a reboot designed for seven-year-olds is exactly as creaky as it sounds. I’m not saying that it should have gone all out Teen Titans – I’m not sure anyone has the stomach to watch a sentient testicle sing an R&B song about poo – but a little more acknowledgement of the current children’s terrain might have been nice.

Then again, you know what? Rugrats isn’t for me either. It’s still a children’s cartoon, and its audience is still children. What they’ll make of this weird little throwback – longer and more ponderous than anything they’ve been brought up watching – is anyone’s guess. But if it can win them over, there’s every reason that Rugrats could run for another decade. And then if that happens, the children of today can complain about that when it’s brought back yet again in 2050. It’s the circle of life.

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