Rated G - Running time: 1:19 - Released 11/20/98

Although Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo are no longer married, their production company, Klasky-Csupo, has spawned many popular animated TV series, the most successful of which is Rugrats. Anyone who has children under 12 and a TV would have to be intimately familiar with the Nickelodeon show and its gang of toddlers: Tommy (voice of E.G. Daily), Chuckie (Christine Cavanaugh), Angelica (Cheryl Chase), and twins Phil and Lil (Kath Soucie). Ever since 1991, when the show debuted, those kids have been showing us their confused take on life and the crazy way grownups run it. But one of the reasons it has become so popular is because it's not just for kids. Filled with puns, childlike grammar errors, and "innocent" mishaps only a parent could appreciate, the show is designed to be appealing to adults as well as their offspring. And now, as is the way with these things, Rugrats has graduated to the big-screen.

As fans of the series will know, Tommy's mother, Didi Pickles (Melanie Chartoff), is pregnant with her second child. She and her husband Stu (Jack Riley) have been preparing Tommy for the arrival of his little sister for months. But when the baby is born early in the film, it turns out to be a boy, and they name him Dillon, nicknamed "Dil." That's right, folks: Dil Pickles.

While Dil (Tara Charendoff) is no surprise to the family, his constant crying and need for attention is. So Tommy and his friends decide to return Dil to the hospital from whence he came. But after a series of transportation-related problems, the kids end up stranded in the woods. Far from home, they must try to find their way back while taking care of the troublesome baby and fending off the advances of some escaped circus monkeys who have a fondness for Dil's strained bananas. Meanwhile, Stu, Didi, and the other parents begin a frantic search to find the diapered waifs, bickering about whose fault it was they disappeared, etc.

Not being a devotee of the Rugrats TV show, I was not overly thrilled with the film, but I'm sure it will do well at the box office. It's nothing much more than an episode of the TV show expanded to feature length, which I found surprising and disappointing. When compared to this season's other cartoon releases, like Antz and A Bug's Life, Rugrats seems quite ordinary. But it has one thing those films don't have: an established following. There is no doubt that kids all over America will flock into theaters to see their favorite band of babies in their latest adventure. And now, with the addition of Dil to the cast list, the next TV season is sure to be full of newborn-related misadventures.

This film was directed by Igor Kovalyov and Norton Virgien, both of whom have directed episodes of the series but are not its regular helmsmen. Their job was surely not difficult; with all the machinery in place and the experienced cast, it would have been like flying a 747 set on "auto pilot." The writers, both new to Rugrats, are David Weiss (All Dogs Go To Heaven) and J. David Stem (his debut effort). Weiss and Stem have wisely remained true to the show's style, with lots of clever wordplay and situations that just border on the absurd. The cast is good, but it's nothing they haven't done a million times; the same goes for the animation, music, and general production design.

Kids will love The Rugrats Movie, but unlike the other cartoons currently in theaters, its charm may be limited to devoted fans and the under 10 crowd. ***½

Copyright 1998 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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