Rugrats Go Wild! (2003)

Directed by John Eng and Norton Virgien. Voices: E. G. Daily, Christine Cavanaugh, Cheryl Chase, Kath Soucie, Michael Bell, Lacey Chabet, Tom Kane, Danielle Harris, Tim Curry, Jodi Carslisle, Flea, Bruce Willis. Nickelodeon/Paramount.

Decent Films Ratings

Overall
Recommendability
?B
Artistic/
Entertainment Value
?
Moral/Spiritual
Value (+4/-4)
? +0
Age
Appropriateness
?Kids & Up*

External Ratings

MPAA ?PG USCCB ?NR

Content advisory: Mild crude humor mostly involving babies and animals (e.g., babies eating bugs; a couple of bird poop sight gags); cartoon action scenes and menace that might frighten very small children.

Note: This review was written by a guest critic.

By Jimmy Akin

When Cartoons Collide!!!

That’s what they could have used as a tag-line for Rugrats Go Wild. It’s a crossover movie between two animation franchises — kind of like The Flintstones Meet The Jetsons, only the two franchises aren’t set so far apart in time. In fact, they’re both set in the modern day.

The first is Nickelodeon’s long-running, cute-tyke franchise, "Rugrats," and the second is its almost-as-successful, girl-talks-to-animals franchise, "The Wild Thornberrys." Both have been to the big screen before, Rugrats twice and Thornberrys once. And both are produced by animation house Klasky-Csupo.

I went into the movie with a sense of apprehension, wondering how successful the attempted fusion of the whimsical Rugrats and the much more realistic Thornberry universes could be. Frankly, I suspected the collision would result in a shipwreck.

And I was right! But I’m glad to say that it wasn’t the movie.

Somehow the plot has to contrive to get the Rugrats together with the Thornberrys, and the logical way to do that is to have the entire Rugrats cast go on one of their gigantic group vacations (which they seem to do about every two months when you count up all the times they’ve done it on TV and in prior movies and allow for the fact that their children haven’t yet aged a year since the series started).

At first the vacation sounds great — a luxurious ocean cruise with lots of activities for adults and kids alike. But just as the cruise ship pulls out of dock, it is revealed that young Tommy Pickles’ father has decided to swap the cruise for a do-it-yourself, no-frills adventure on a rental boat that is clearly too small for the whole cast. (In fact, it looks a lot like my Pa-Pa’s shrimper.)

The cast is underwhelmed, and so was I. Even in a cartoon universe, this was beyond the bounds of believability. This is the film’s most serious misstep. (Though the mild crude humor characteristic of Rugrats films is also a little less mild than usual — I suspect simply to get it a PG rating to give the older kids who like the Thornberrys permission to watch it.)

Like prior Rugrats movies, the film is soon dropping clever references to other movies for the adults in the audience to appreciate, and after a bit you realize there is a theme developing. With references to Titanic, "Gilligan’s Island," and The Perfect Storm, it’s not hard to see where this is going.

Soon the Rugrats cast is washed ashore on a tiny, uninhabited island. Only it isn’t quite uninhabited. It’s the home of an exotic species known as "the shaded leopard" (is this a real animal?) that is rare enough to be the current documentary subject of… you guessed it… The Wild Thornberrys!

Only the two groups don’t meet face-to-face for some time, and not all at once. The "Hi, we’re the Thornberrys.… Hi, we’re the Rugrats’ families" scene doesn’t occur until near the end of the movie. Instead, the film takes the much more inventive approach of letting the two casts mingle bit by bit without really understanding what’s going on.

This allows the filmmakers to explore interesting character juxtapositions between the two series:

  • Spoiled three-year old Angelica (Cheryl Chase) gets paired up with Debbie Thornberry (Danielle Harris), who is basically a teenage version of Angelica (though Debbie is showing signs of finally growing out of total teenage self-absorption).
  • Timid Chuckie Finister (Christine Cavanaugh) is paired up with the smallest member of the Thornberry cast, the fearless, hyperactive, and differently verbal jungle boy Donnie (Flea).
  • Courageous one-year old Tommy Pickles (E. G. Daily) gets to meet his hero, courageous nature-guy Nigel Strawberry… er, Thornberry (Tim Curry).
  • And Nigel’s "Dr. Doolittle" daughter, Eliza (Lacey Chabet), who can talk to animals? She gets paired up with Tommy’s dog, Spike (Bruce Willis), who gets to speak for the first time in the series (though less than the commercials would lead you to believe).

These character pairings are really nice. They’re what we came to see. We didn’t want a big complicated plotline; we wanted to see interesting personal interaction between characters we already know and like, and the movie delivers. The two casts have a surprising amount of synergy.

It also… doesn’t have much of a plot. The storytelling approach the film takes is sometimes described as "one dang thing after another" storytelling. It’s a loosely sequenced set of events, experiences, and problems for the characters to solve (that have to ultimately result in their getting off the island). For that kind of storytelling approach to work, the events have to be interesting and entertaining and, in this film, they are!

The animation is stronger than usual, with what I thought were better, more vivid color choices than the two series usually give us. There are also some computer animation shots blended in (particularly of the ocean). And there is some underwater footage somewhat reminiscent of the eye-popping Pixar release Finding Nemo. And, of, course, there’s lots of cartoon action and jokes. I didn’t even mind the (surprisingly large) number of times the characters briefly broke into song.

Why? Because watching the film I realized that this movie had something the prior Rugrats / Thornberrys big-screen outings had been lacking: a sense of unconstrained fun! There were no new major characters introduced into the Rugrats cast, no sonorous "beauty of nature" / ecology lessons for the Thornberrys to learn. And freed of these burdens, the two casts could kick back, cut loose, and enjoy themselves.

The movie doesn’t have to be "about" anything (other than the Rugrats meeting the Thornberrys). It’s enough for it to just be fun, and it is!

Sure, its plot-light storytelling approach will probably make it hold up less well on video and DVD (at least for adults), but for now it’s just a really fun summer film to watch with your kids, laugh, and forget your troubles. So… go wild!

Tags: Animation, Comedy, Family

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