Apparently living in the same universe as Dennis the Menace, Charlie Brown and the Peanuts gang, along with other similar cartoon/comic characters whose pituitary glands have seemingly been removed to stunt their growth and development, the Rugrats are a big hit among kids.
Although they're relatively new in comparison with those other longstanding favorites, these characters -- that have appeared on the Nickelodeon cable TV network since 1991 and are loved worldwide -- have now made it to the big time. Yes, they're getting their own "full length" feature film.
I must admit that before checking out one of the episodes, I was only mildly familiar with, but had never seen, the characters or their show. From my limited comparative observations, fans of the show should generally be pleased with the big screen treatment it's received.
While all of the familiar characters that have made the show popular for so many years return relatively unchanged, the film's look has been given something of the big screen treatment. Although no one will ever compare the series' -- or this movie's -- animation to that of Disney or the recent Fox release, "Anastasia," the theatrical release is decidedly better drawn and features greater depth than its small screen cousin.
Of course, shows featuring Charlie Brown and the rest of the Peanuts gang didn't become favorites due to quality of their animation. Instead, the characters and their stories are what have drawn kids and adults alike to those shows over the decades. Likewise, and despite the out of focus backgrounds deployed to give the film greater dimensional depth, it's the Rugrats themselves who will draw the kids.
As written by David N. Weiss and J. David Stem, and directed by Norton Virgien and Igor Kovalyov, the film plays out like an extended version of the show's short episodes. With the exception of a new baby brother to the central family and some extraneous supporting characters, most everyone from the small screen has made the trip over to the big side.
The Rugrats -- led by the adventurous Tommy -- still talk among themselves when the parents aren't around or are out of earshot, and also find themselves in their own self-generated adventure that keeps the momentum high and the story continually moving forward -- something that's important to both kids and their parents.
Speaking of the latter, the film, much like the singular episode of the show I've seen, wisely attempts to entertain the adults just as much as the young ones. While this film didn't come off as clever as that rerun episode -- and is extremely lame when compared to the far more imaginative and spoof-filled "The Simpsons" -- there is enough material to keep the parents from nodding off or continually shifting in their seats.
As such, there's an opening homage scene featuring elements from "Raiders of the Lost Ark," a brief, but funny reference to the Meryl Streep movie "A Cry In The Dark" where a character here asks, "Is it true -- a dingo ate your baby?" (both of which are presumably unknown source material to the target audience), some voice cameos by the likes of Tim Curry, Whoopi Goldberg and David Spade, and a few children-oriented covers of old pop hits such as Blondie's "One Way Or Another."
Unfortunately, most of the songs injected into the film are rather lame, and lack the big screen pizzazz and quality found in Disney's animated features. Although a few of them are fun for the kids, most aren't lively or cute enough to hold the kids' -- let alone, their parents' -- interests.
Even so, the characters, as crudely drawn as they are in relative terms to other big screen animated features, have something of an infectiously charming spirit to them, and while I mostly dreaded having to see this picture, I left with the impression that it wasn't that bad.
Although I'd wager that relatively few adults will flock to the theater sans children to see this feature, if they do go, those with kids should have a relatively good time. Not as clever as "The Simpsons," nor as grandly staged as recent Disney films, this feature is cute enough to earn a passing grade although we imagine it won't last long in the theaters. We give "The Rugrats Movie" -- a film that will prosper much better once on video -- a 6 out of 10.