By David Mumpower
July 9, 2003
Rugrats Go Wild! is best stated as a disappointment. As a huge fan of the series and the first two films in the movie franchise, I was probably a victim of unrealistic expectations here as I had hoped for one more day in the sun for Tommy and the rest of the Pickles family. The reality is that the glory days for this series are sadly a thing of the past.
The third film in the series has a solid idea; the Pickles family is taking the Finsters and the DeVilles on a vacation cruise. This means that Chuckie and the twins, Phil and Lil, get to join Tommy and Dil on their trip, so the band is back together for one more world tour. The problem is that papa Drew Pickles hasn’t booked everyone on the exotic cruise they had expected. Instead, he has them sailing on their own modestly sized boat, and the confined quarters are leading to escalated tensions.
Soon thereafter, the group encounters the perfect storm and is shipwrecked at sea. They happen to turn up on an island they believe to be uninhabited, but as it turns out, other Nickelodeon staples the Thornberrys reside there. Smell the synergy, baby! Why, the merchandising sales alone justify the whole excursion. But they don’t justify the lack of a quality movie.
For those of you who missed the debut Wild Thornberrys movie (and, judging from the box office, that appears to be each and every single one of you), this family hosts a nature show and they tour the world in a RV searching for new and exotic locations. Nigel and Marianne are the stars of their nature program but the star of the Wild Thornberrys is none other than Eliza. As the literary reference implies, Eliza is able to talk to animals because she once liberated a warthog who was actually a shaman in disguise. Her unique ability was his way of showing gratitude for her act of heroism. Of course, the reality is that the title of the movie speaks volumes about how much you should care about the Thornberrys. It is after all the Rugrats supposedly going wild.
The rest of the movie involves various attempts by the stranded Gilligan’s Islanders to contact the outside world and let them know of their tragedy. In the meantime, the action is largely predicated on making sure that all the young ‘uns survive along with the moments of comedy made available by the union of the two animated Nickelodeon casts. Sadly, most of the good jokes belong to wild boy Donnie, the adopted Thornberry who is kinetic enough to be accurately described as the human incarnation of coffee. I love that little guy.
It’s hard to quantify exactly what happens at the moment when a formerly beloved cast of characters grows stale. I find that strange since it’s such a normal part of the evolutionary process and yet I still can’t put my finger on what about the new adventure feels least in tone with the series and the prior films. To be sure, one staple of the series is alive and well as the send-ups of other films like Titanic and The Perfect Storm are hilarious. The flip side of this coin is that the celebrity casting feels more than a touch desperate. Willis voices the beloved Pickle family dog, Spike. The reason he is of course able to talk now is that he’s been placed in direct contact with Eliza Thornberry on the island so some polite shenanigans ensue involving liberal usage of jokes about dogs licking and sniffing themselves. If scatological humor is your bag, boy howdy, are you ever in luck with the latest Rugrats outing.
On a personal level, though, there just isn’t anything about Rugrats Go Wild! that doesn’t feel in some way recycled or redundant. As with The Powerpuff Girls last year, I found myself feeling that many of the better episodes of the TV show would have made better feature length films than this. Since I get the show for free, that’s simply not acceptable and as such, I can’t recommend the movie unless your child is a diehard fan of one of the shows. Even then, you’ll probably want to stick the tape in the machine and quietly leave the room rather than watch it with Junior.
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