Cartoons Step-by-Step: Rugrats Episode 1

rugrats episode 1

Plot: It’s Tommy’s first birthday, and his parents have pulled all the stops to make it great. Didi has plenty of entertainment and food setup while Stu is inventing a gift. However, Tommy’s much more interested in trying some of his dog, Spike’s, dog food, believing that it will turn him into a dog.

Breakdown: I don’t think I need to reiterate how much Rugrats means to me. It was a huge part of my childhood, and spawned my love of all things Nickelodeon (back in the good ol’ days when the execs weren’t braindead dimwits…Er were slightly less braindead I suppose.) I was obsessed with Rugrats for well over a decade, and I cherish the show to this day.

That being said, this pilot was always boring as hell to me.

To me, this first episode seems a lot more like it’s made for parents than it is children. One of the great things about Rugrats is, due to the premise, it is very easy for children and parents/adults alike to enjoy it, but this episode does seem focused more on the parents.

It takes a quarter of the episode before any of the babies even speak, and rarely is there a joke to be had until the climax.

Instead we have to watch the human paradox that is Didi have a fit over this birthday party. I swear, she will obsess over everything related to parenthood because her ultimate goal in life is to be a good mother (“like the ones on TV” ~Didi) but even this early on she is completely oblivious to what Tommy wants, needs or is doing most of the time.

Instead, she’d rather bow down to the glory of the almighty Dr. Lipschitz books, to the point where her catchphrase is ‘Dr. Lipschitz says…’, causing her to actually be a less effective mother. (I can’t find info on this, but is Lipschitz’ name a joke? Like everything he says is bull shit?) Not to say she is one without him. Didi let Tommy slide off of her lap and wander into the kitchen (which is closed off by it’s own door by the way, for anyone who might argue that she can still watch him), which was about his fifth time attempting to get in there without anyone noticing, and she is always losing track of where the kids are, which has become one of the most well-known tropes of this series. (Even though all of the parents are negligent in their own right).

At least I can say Tommy was always picked up and brought somewhere else shortly after these attempts, before the climax of course. But let’s address that later.

Stu is up to his goofball inventor tricks, but he’s mostly babbling about his Hover-rama, a flying remote control spaceship thing, that he made for Tommy. Though he never gets it working purely because he forgot the batteries. Maybe that’s supposed to be funny because he’s brought up how impressive his gift is because it takes like four different kinds of batteries about five times at this point, but he seriously ends up crying because he forgot the batteries for the remote. He barely looks for any, either. He checks his pockets, gets a sullen look, then sits down and cries.

There are three shining lights in the adult section, though. Betty is usually always funny in the early seasons. In the later seasons, she becomes more of a bitch and an idiot. She’s in direct contrast to Didi. While she is fairly negligent of her children’s activities in her own right, she definitely knows more about children than Didi does. Even small observations like the fact that the party hats Didi puts on them will be quickly discarded are made a little funny because of the stark contrast. When you think about it, both Didi and Betty are realistic parents, it’s just that Betty is more relatable and funny.

Next, Grandpa Lou also brings some grounding reality to the household with some of his comments, along with Grandpa Boris and Grandma Minka.

Finally, the puppet show is the funniest part of the episode. Stu and his brother, Drew, father of Tommy’s famously horrible cousin, Angelica, put on a puppet show after Didi messes up the scheduling for the puppeteers. Their bickering is pretty funny and just gets increasingly entertaining.

At the climax, all of the kids go into the kitchen while the adults are focused on the bicker-fest of Stu and Drew, who never break out from behind the stage and fight as puppets the whole time. Spike has eaten all of his food, so Tommy and Angelica try to reach a can of it on the top of the shelves by them both standing on the counter balanced on a bunch of bowls and colanders while Tommy balances on Angelica’s shoulders. See why many people grew to be outraged at the Rugrats’ parents over time? If they bothered to pay a modicum of attention to their kids, they’d realize that Angelica and Tommy were in a situation where they could easily both smash their heads in on the tile.

They can’t reach it, so Chuckie, resident scaredy cat and Tommy’s best friend, decides to use the Hover-rama to knock it down. Chuckie has batteries in his pocket for some reason, and he’s able to instantly put the batteries in correctly, meaning he has better battery skills than most adults I know. Chuckie, amazingly, pilots the Hover-rama perfectly from the living room into the kitchen, despite not being able to see it, and, with the skill of a surgeon, is able to position and maneuver the Hover-rama to the shelf right by the dog food and starts nudging it over.

Phil and Lil, Betty and her husband, Howard’s, twins, known for being more gross than most of the kids, ruin it by grabbing the remote and start trying to do the job better than Chuckie, which turns out like you’d expect. They accidentally grab Tommy with the Hover-rama and fly him all over the kitchen, knocking Angelica into a bag of flour, knocking the stack of bowls and stuff that they were standing on over, spraying the room with water from the hand nozzle from the sink, knocking over a stack of plates and all without any of the adults ever hearing a thing.

They even fly Tommy into the living room, where the parents are, and they still don’t notice a thing until the Hover-rama is crashed into the cake.

Chuckie was really funny when he was flying the Hover-rama, though. Not only does he have the skills, he also knows some pilot lingo.

In the end, Didi simultaneously shows us the insanity of a regular family and the insanity of trying to mediate one by pacifying everyone who is arguing by telling Drew and Stu they’re both wrong for what they did to each other as kids and telling both of her parents that they’re right on their opposing sides of what cake they should’ve had at the party (Boris was right, though. It should always be chocolate.)

And the babies did indeed get some dog food, which they promptly spat out. Which is weird, because they eat worms and bugs and stuff.

All in all, this episode is really boring, but it’s somewhat salvageable. The periods of no music don’t really help. I’m not saying every scene needs music, otherwise I’d have to apologize to 4Kids. But there are scenes that are just too quiet to keep your attention.

The funny moments are sporadic, but the ending is somewhat solid.

Rating: 5/10

Just for fun, let’s have two running tallies, because, trust me, this will be interesting to keep track of at each season’s end.

Parenting Fails

I didn’t count exactly, but let’s go with about eight times the kids sneaked away with no one noticing. (Let’s also include an ‘at blame’ counter, to see who comes out looking better as parents. In this case, though, while Didi and Stu technically have more, all of the parents are guilty. Stu, Didi, Drew, Betty, Howard, and even the grandparents, Boris, Minka, and Lou. Chas and Charlotte are innocent because they simply weren’t here.)

The entirety of the climax, which will count as three.

Stu thinking it’s not unsafe for babies to have a complicated flying machine as a toy, especially with tons of batteries. Also note that the battery compartment for the remote is not secured with a screw or anything. You push the door and it opens.

No one noticing that Chuckie had batteries.

No one noticing that Tommy has a real screwdriver (his later one is a toy).

Tally – 14

What the…They’re babies! (This category is for odd details that seemingly make no logical sense given these are babies, but this tally is mostly for fun considering some liberties have to be taken for humor.)

How did Tommy tape his screwdriver to the underside of his high chair?

How DID Chuckie know how to fly that thing so well? Especially considering that the controls look like crap.

How did Tommy and Angelica even get up on the counter like that?

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AVAHS – Rugrats: A Rugrats Kwanzaa

tommr8h

Plot: Suzie’s Great Aunt T comes to visit after Christmas and makes plans to celebrate Kwanzaa with the family. After learning that part of Kwanzaa is about celebrating the great people in your family, Suzie laments that she has done nothing great like her siblings and parents have done. Wanting to partake in Kwanzaa, Suzie tries to do great things with the help of the babies, but continuously falters. Will Suzie really be left out of Kwanzaa or is she greater than she thinks?

Breakdown: So we’re at the second of two of the seemingly only animated Kwanzaa specials in existence with Rugrats. I praised Rugrats very highly for their venture into another seldom explored-on-screen holiday, Hanukkah, and I was disappointed to say the least with The Proud Family’s version. Does Rugrats bring some light to the kinara this year?

Yes and no.

While this rendition is definitely miles above what The Proud Family spewed out, I’d still be a bit hard-pressed to say it’s really all that great as a true Kwanzaa special.

Like I mentioned in The Proud Family’s Kwanzaa special review, there are seven days of Kwanzaa to cover, each with their own meanings and particular celebrations. You can’t just shove all of that to the wayside for something else and think it will still give the same weight.

Rugrats gives Kwanzaa more respect as a holiday, giving us more insight into its true meaning and a slight taste into its history, but the whole Kwanzaa aspect is again shoved to the side for a plot about Suzie trying her best to be a great person. Not only that, but later on they delve into why Suzie’s ancestors, despite not having awards or fame, are great in their own right, such as her Great Uncle Charles being a very kind man whose kindness actually led him and Aunt T into meeting Martin Luther King Jr., Suzie’s mother Lucy braving her stage fright to sing at church and Aunt T giving Lucy her college tuition for Harvard Medical School when her financial aid fell through.

It’s true that part of Kwanzaa is celebrating your ancestors in various ways, and Suzie trying to find what’s great about her is a realistic way a three-year-old might approach this. This plot, as a whole, is solid enough. Not particularly great episode material, but good. My problem is that is takes up nearly the whole episode, once again pushing the Kwanzaa festivities aside.

Probably the worst aspect of this is that the special treats Kwanzaa like it is indeed a one-day event. They only cover the first day, Umoja, without even mentioning the fact that it’s a seven day event with six other principles to cover. And the special doesn’t even focus on that, really. It focuses more on being great in your own way and recognizing greatness in others in various ways. That’s a great lesson to learn, but it has little to do with unity.

If I wanted to go the extra mile, I might even say this special wasn’t even intending on being a Kwanzaa special at the start. You could almost take all of the Kwanzaa stuff out and the episode would not really be all that different.

It’s just really disappointing because they did such a phenomenal job on their Hanukkah special that I was expecting something at least nearing such quality for their Kwanzaa special.

There are also weird parts of this episode like….what are the babies even doing there? Why are they at the Carmichaels the day after Christmas? I wouldn’t be so bothered by this if any of their parents were there, but they’re not. The only parents who make an appearance besides Suzie’s are Phil and Lil’s and they only make a brief cameo.

Another weird thing is where the hell is Dil? This is season seven, and Kimi is there. Why would Tommy be babysat by the Carmichaels but Dil not? Angelica is also noticeably (and thankfully) absent but she might have an excuse to not be present whereas I can’t think of a damn thing for Dil.

I love how Mrs. Carmichael is so flippant about leaving a house full of children. She doesn’t even mention that she’s leaving to anyone and no one notices that she’s gone either. Oh yeah, a parent in Rugrats not being irresponsible. Silly me.

I guess I appreciate that the didn’t end the episode with Suzie revealing some great hidden talent, even though it has been established that she’s a fantastic singer like her mother (send up to Cree Summer.) They just appreciate what she tried to do out of the kindness of her heart (making a gift for Aunt T, which ended up getting ruined)

I also like how they included all of the babies in the festivities for Kwanzaa instead of making this a purely Suzie and the Carmichaels episode. I would’ve liked it a little better if they included all of the parents too, though.

I could make an argument that this episode does, subtly, include all of the principles of Kwanzaa.

Umoja, unity, is shown in all of the family finally getting together at the end during the power outage and spending time together.

Kujichagulia or self-determination is reflected in Suzie’s determination to do something great to be a part of Kwanzaa. Lucy also shows this in her determination to get over her fear and sing in the choir.

Ujima, collective work and responsibility, is reflected in the babies doing everything they can to help Suzie achieve something great. Additionally, Charles stops to help MLK Jr. with car troubles.

Ujamaa or cooperative economics is shown when Aunt T uses the money she and her husband have saved over the years for the tuition money to help Lucy become a great doctor.

Nia or purpose was touched upon when Aunt T was talking with Suzie about discovering what truly makes her great as she grows up.

Kuumba or creativity was shown when Suzie tried to hand-make a gift for Aunt T.

Finally, Imani or faith may be a difficult one, but it could be reflected in Aunt T telling Suzie to always be proud of who she is and where she came from. I could also make the stretch in merely the fact that there’s a scene in the church with Lucy singing ‘This Little Light of Mine’.

I’m basically reading something into nothing, but I find it kind of neat that you can apply all of the principles of Kwanzaa to the episode, more or less, even if they don’t even mention the others.

This special certainly did more things right than The Proud Family did. They weren’t talking down to anyone, bad-mouthing Christmas for no reason, making you feel like crap or giving mixed messages that contradicted themselves or were bad messages anyway. They were respectful of their audience, didn’t even mention Christmas outside of showing the tree and some gifts, made you feel fairly good for have watched it and gave a clear and concise message that was actually good.

I really like Suzie as a character anyway. She’s always been a great foil for Angelica, which just makes it weirder that Angelica’s not here. Though, I guess, she really couldn’t have been given a decent spot in the plot.

She’s not being greedy for gifts, though she doesn’t understand the significance of her scrapbook gift when she gets it and is disappointed that it’s not something she can play with, at least she’s not slamming it on the floor and making a sarcastic comment about how it’s not a better gift like some Pennys I can think of. She’s just trying to be a part of the holiday and wants to make her family proud. Hehehhehehe, Proud Family. Hehehe, that’s funny for some reason.

All in all, this is a good episode, but just an okay Kwanzaa special. I just don’t think they had the same direction, inspiration and drive for this special as they did for the Hanukkah special.

Happy Kwanzaa everyone!