Monday 21 January 2019

Pat Stacey: Rugrats reboot risks ruining the original hit 90s cartoon series

The beautifully hand-drawn series may get a CGI makeover

The original Nickleodeon series Rugrats
The original Nickleodeon series Rugrats

Pat Stacey

Our eldest daughter would have been about five and her little sister one-and-a-half when they came across this quirky little Nickelodeon cartoon series called Rugrats on television one summer afternoon in the mid-Nineties.

It focused on a group of toddlers: the babbling, bald-as-an-egg Tommy, still in nappies; the shy, timid Chuckie, scared of clowns and just about everything else in life; the sardonic identical twins Phil and Lil; and the sneaky Angelica, who was anything but angelic and tormented the others (although she usually got her comeuppance in the end).

In their innocent eyes and fertile imaginations, everyday occurrences were transformed into grand, sometimes perilous, adventures.

Rugrats was an absolute delight, clever, funny and charming. Its warm portrayal of ramshackle, imperfect extended family life (the parents and grandparents were as integral to it as the children) was a refreshing alternative to the vapid live-action sitcoms featuring idiot parents and smart-arse kids that Nickelodeon was churning out at the time — and for all I know, still is.

It could often be disarmingly touching, too, particularly in the way it handled the tender relationship between Chuckie and his widowed father, the equally timid Chas.

Our girls loved Rugrats from the off, so naturally they were delighted when it took off around the world, spawning books, toys and a 1998 movie spin-off (the first of three).

A follow-up series, All Grown Up!, focusing on the kids in their pre-teen and teenage years, lacked the charm and novelty of the original. Like most sequels, it was a terrible idea.

In fact, the only idea that could be more terrible is Nickelodeon rebooting the original Rugrats.

Guess what — that’s exactly what it’s doing. According to Variety, 26 new episodes have already been ordered. Nickelodeon is perfectly within its rights. It owns the Rugrats property and can do whatever the hell it likes it with it. But just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. It’s not exaggerating to say Rugrats is a classic of its kind. It was one of the last cartoon series to be made using hand-drawn animation — although, like The Simpsons, the film spin-offs and the later seasons were partially made using computers. But it retained that charmingly wobbly, rough-and-ready look right to the end. That was a big part of its appeal.

The new version is highly unlikely to be made in the same way. Hand-drawn animation is costly and time consuming. From conception to completion, a single season of Rugrats used to take a year to make.

The worst case scenario is that Nickelodeon will go down the opposite route and make the whole thing using CGI.

There are plenty of examples of the ghastly consequences this can have on beloved children’s TV series. The original Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and Bob the Builder were patiently and lovingly crafted using the other great (but sadly, fast-disappearing) animator’s art, stop-motion.

Have you seen the rebooted CGI versions? They’re horrendous; ugly, soulless, characterless things. To watch them is to plunge headlong into the uncanny valley.

With his mad, staring eyes and psychotic grin, CGI Fireman Sam looks more likely to bury his axe in your skull than use it to break down a door and rescue you from a fire.

As for Bob the Builder and his “Can we fix it? Yes we can!” — no you bloody can’t! I’m not letting a swivel-eyed, shiny-faced weirdo with a box full of power tools anywhere near my house.

But just when you think the news can’t possibly get any more depressing, it gets more depressing. As well as a new Rugrats series, Nickelodeon is also making a film version for 2020, which will mix CGI with live action.

At its best, this method can deliver gems like the wonderful Paddington films. At its worst, you end up with an atrocity like Peter Rabbit.

Frankly, the very thought of a CGI Tommy Pickles crawling between the legs of living, breathing human beings is the stuff of nightmares.

Read more: No 80s or 90s show is safe - ALF is the latest hit series set for a reboot


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