Rated G - Running Time: 1:17 - Released 11/17/00

What's the holiday season without rugrats? With unsettling expedience, the Nickelodeon-based, Klasky-Csupo-created babies are at it again, forging ahead in their second big-screen adventure, directed by Stig Bergqvist and Paul Demeyer (both from the Duckman TV series, but with no 'rats experience), and this time they're in Paris. Joining in the trip over the water are the familiar and wealthy voices of regulars Elizabeth Daily (as Tommy), Christine Cavanaugh (Chuckie), Cheryl Chase (Angelica), and Kath Soucie (Phil & Lil), with a few big-name additions like Susan Sarandon and John Lithgow. The film is written by David N. Weiss and J. David Stem, who penned the first feature, with help from newcomers Jill Gorey, Barbara Herndon, and Kate Boutilier.

As it was with The Rugrats Movie in 1998, Rugrats In Paris is surprisingly unspectacular, seeming like little more than a longer version of the TV show with music. The fact that most of it takes place in the City of Light doesn't change this, as we barely see anything remotely resembling Paris. The setting is Euroreptarland, a French amusement park based on the Godzilla-style "Reptar" creature of Japanese origin, so most of the décor is Japanese. The 'rats reason for being there is that Tommy's inventor father Stu (Jack Riley), who designed the huge mechanical reptile that is the centerpiece for the park, is the only one who can fix it when it breaks. But as the story unfolds, we learn of a much more exciting effect of the trip: Chuckie finds a mom.

Ever since Chuckie Finster's mother died, his dad, the shy and unassuming Chas (Michael Bell) has been alone. This may have been the cause of Chuckie's overanxious personality; at any rate, he wishes for a mother who would love him and tuck him in at night. Likewise, Chas would welcome a woman's company, but his introverted style has prevented any prospects. When the group arrives in Paris, however, he meets Stu's crafty and matrimony-seeking Parisian employer, Coco LaBouche (Sarandon), who has learned that her appointment as CEO of Reptarland depends on her ability to project a family-friendly image. Although Chas appreciates Coco's attentions, the kids see right through her, and when he announces their plans to marry, they must endeavor to expose Coco for what she is even if it means fighting off her stuffy henchman, Jean-Claude (Lithgow).

The production values for Rugrats leave something to be desired. As simplistically animated as The Simpsons but without nearly the wit, the franchise seems willing and able to make major cash off the least necessary creative expense. The writing team is adept at childish malapropisms and the skewed perspectives of 5-year-olds, but the characterizations and plot lines are witheringly simplistic, underscored by the techno-trash background music by the one-time avant-garde Mark Mothersbaugh, formerly of Devo. The film also provides yet another vehicle for the Baha Men song "Who Let The Dogs Out?" — as much a reason to avoid it as any other.

Rugrats, along with most of its Nickelodeon successors, relies on the depressing fact that kids will suck up whatever they are given in the cartoon field. One can't blame its producers for making a buck, but it would be nice if they put a little more heart into it. ***½

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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