Over three decades after its debut, Rugrats is still a significant program on the Nickelodeon channel. Since “Rugrats,” an animated series that featured humorously talking babies, started more than thirty years ago, Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil have captured its viewers’ hearts. Rugrats was undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with in the 1990s thanks to its 15-year Nickelodeon run, a spinoff, three films, video games, comics, and toys. Throughout its nine seasons, the show produced 172 episodes, immersing its viewers into the world of babies.
Rugrats is an American cartoon series that revolves around a group of toddlers and their baby adventures. It is a television series created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain for the Nickelodeon network. Arlene and Gábor are co-founders of the animation studio, Klasky Csupo. The name of the series is taken from the slang word used for a toddler, a rugrat.
The story of Rugrats focuses on a toddler, Tommy Pickles, and his group of friends, Chuckie, twins Phil and Lil, and Angelica. Each episode narrates a day from the toddler’s lives and howsimple life experiences become great adventures in their imagination. The primary setting of all the adventures is Tommy Pickles’s house.
In 1989, Rugrats was formed under the animation studio, Klasky Csupó, which also provided services for commercials and music videos. The Simpsons was also being created at that time by Klasky, Csupó, and Germain, and they continued to do so till 1992.
The children’s channel network, Nickelodeon, announced to launch their own series of animated shows named Nicktoons. In response, the trio planned to create their own cartoon series. This was when the very first six-and-a-half minutes pilot episode, Tommy Pickles and the Great White Thing, went into production. However, this pilot episode never got aired.
The characters were co-designed by Peter Chung, Klasky and Csupó. In 1990, the production got concluded and was submitted to Nickelodeon. The series was tested with a group of children and the feedback of this test was very positive. As a result, the cartoon series went into production. The characters of Chuckie and Angelica were also added.
The Rugrats series premiered on August 11, 1991. Three seasons and sixty-five episodes later, production took a halt in 1993. The last episode of The Rugrats was broadcasted on May 24, 1994. Before the last episode was broadcasted, most of the Rugrats writing team, including Germain, had left Klasku Csupo.
Between 1995-96, only two new episodes were broadcasted which were named, ‘A Rugrats Passover’ and ‘A Rugrats Chanukah’. These two episodes were Jewish-themed and got critically acclaimed. During this time, after the making took a standstill, Nickelodeon had constant reruns of The Rugrats’ initial three seasons.
The reruns became the reason behind Rugrats gaining immense popularity and higher ratings. In 1996, Rugrats’ original episodes had aired 655 times over a year, and despite the continuous reruns, Rugrats remained one of cable network’s most-watched television series.
In 1996, the production of new episodes, for The Rugrats’ series, resumed in the Klasky Csupo animation studio. The series had its fourth season starting in 1997.
As a consequence of the massive popularity this show received, a series of theatrical films were released over the span of five years:
- Released in 1998, The Rugrats Movie, which had an additional character named Dil, Tommy’s baby brother. The film was a box office success making a worldwide gross of $140million;
- The sequel, released in 2000, Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, which introduced Kimi, Kira, and Fifi as new characters. Kimi became Chuckie’s sister and Kira became Chuckie’s new mother. Fifi became Chuckie’s new dog. This movie too became a box office hit;
- Released in 2003, Rugrats Go Wild, a crossover film with another Klasky Csupo series, The Wild Thornberrys. This movie got the least success in The Rugrats film trilogy, both critically and commercially.
Two DVD specials were also released in 2005 and 2006 named, ‘Rugrats Tales from the Crib: Snow White’ and ‘Rugrats Tales from the Crib: Three Jacks and a Beanstalk’.
On 21st July 2001, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the series premiere, a special episode named ‘All Growed Up’ was broadcasted. It was a pilot episode of the spin-off series, ‘All Grown Up!’ which was to be aired later between 2003 to 2008. This spin-off depicted the lives of the babies and their stories after they aged 10 years.
In 2008, Nickelodeon aired another spin-off series on TV, ‘Rugrats Pre-School Daze’. This series, however, only had four episodes after which Nickelodeon decided to focus only on the first spin-off.
The final episode of the series aired on 1st August 2004, concluding the show to a total of 172 episodes over nine remarkable seasons.
Several other merchandise have also been released under The Rugrats franchise. Video games, comics, toys and many other products such as action figures, fruit snacks, cookie jars, pens, pencils, etc., have been produced under the Rugrats label. By March 1999, the franchise had spawned an approximate $1.4 billion in merchandise sales.
The Rugrats General Plot
The popularity of the Rugrats is attributable to its unique plot. The series focused on babies who amazingly interacted and conversed with one another behind their parents’ backs. Rugrats is one of the earliest television programs which featured the theme of twins trying to build their own identities despite being linked together and their similarities. The twins Phil and Lil struggle to show their unique individuality while they remain bonded as twins.
The plot of The Rugrats also depicts the reality of parents consulting parenting manuals and authorities to raise their kids well. Didi Pickles supported reading Werner Lipschitz’s essays and watching his specials on the show. At various stages in the series, Lipschitz and a different psychologist are introduced to Tommy’s parents to help them understand Tommy better. This shows that Rugrats was also an ideal show regarding parenting tips.
Other than being an animated cartoon show Rugrats also subtly tackle social issues. For instance, in the series, dads are often seen taking care of the babies since the father in the show is a freelancer, which gives him more time to stay at home and take care of the kids. At the same time, the mother has a permanent teaching job. Another episode that gives emphasizes gender stereotypes is when Lil and the other female characters make Chuckie and Phil envious since they can wear outfits that are more comfortable for them. Even though other kids at the playground tease the two boys for wearing them, they also experiment with wearing them. Because Chuckie and Phil only wanted to wear dresses, Rugrats gave them the confidence to take their position. This became a fashion statement when popular American celebrities started wearing women-inspired clothing to promote gender equality.
The series also highlights important life lessons in its plot; for example, Tommy’s fondness for the family dog Spike was shown by Rugrats in a few episodes throughout the series. Tommy always stands up for Spike when in need and defends him. Spike’s devotion to Tommy also makes for an emotional story because the dog frequently challenges bigger creatures and people out of loyalty to his closest human companion.
Most importantly, Rugrats teaches its viewers how to deal with emotions such as excitement, happiness, rejection, pain, and disappointment. For example, in one episode, when Dil was born, Tommy was delighted to have a new baby brother. However, Tommy felt rejection and disappointment due to the adjustments brought on by having a new baby who receives more attention. Many kids struggle with this situation when having a younger sister or brother for the first time. Tommy finally develops a bond with Dil and concludes that having a big brother is worthwhile.
The Rugrats Notable Characters
Various characters may be found in Rugrats, including friends, family members, distant relations, locals, and imaginary characters. Here is a list of the most notable characters in the series.
1. The main character of the series is Thomas “Tommy” Malcolm Pickles, the son of Stuart “Stu” Pickles and Diane “Didi” Pickles. Most of the episodes are centered on him and his family. Tommy is typically seen in a light blue t-shirt, diaper, and no shoes. He is toothless, whitish, and bald. Tommy frequently appears to be crawling, but he can walk—albeit clumsily—and utilizes his diaper as a pocket for items like his screwdriver. Tommy is a courageous baby with a keen sense of justice, is always up for an adventure, and is not afraid to defend what is right. Chuckie and his dog Spike are his closest pals.
As the story develops, Tommy Pickles undergoes significant changes. But Tommy and Chuckie’s relationship does not change, and Tommy continues to be the person his pals go to for advice. Tommy has performed admirably in school. However, the stress of studying and keeping up with his friends leads him to act strangely, such as stealing garden gnomes while sleepwalking across the neighborhood. Tommy is undoubtedly headed toward becoming a well-known filmmaker because he has developed a blossoming knack for making movies.
2. Lillian “Lil” Marie Jill DeVille and Phillip “Phil” Richard William DeVille are the children of Howard DeVille and Betty DeVille. Phil and Lil are gorgeous twins who are alike in practically every aspect possible, and they are even dressed to match and live next door to Tommy. In the story, it is depicted that Lil and Phil fight a lot, calling each other by their entire names whenever they do so, typical for siblings, and they enjoy playing with earthworms, eating bugs, and digging in the soil. The two are white with brown hair and wear matching teal clothing with yellow ducks. The two are very alike; the only obvious facial difference is that Lil’s earlobes are not joined while Phil’s are.
3. Tommy’s cousin, Angelica Charlotte Pickles, is the show’s main antagonist, who frequently threatens the infants verbally or physically and lies to them for her enjoyment. Because her parents are often absent from her life, Angelica is portrayed as a spoilt only child, selfish, cunning, and self-absorbed. Even though she torments the infants, Angelica often defends them in front of others and shows a sincere desire to get along with them.
4. Yvonne Susanna Carmichael lives next door to Tommy. Her family buys a house on Tommy’s block, and their mothers get along well. Despite the age gap, Susie gets along well with the babies and regards them as friends; unlike them, she doesn’t get along with Angelica as often, despite making an effort to be cordial with her. Susie, like her mother, is a success in many facets of life and exudes kindness and warmth; however, she is very competitive. She is black and has black afro-textured hair worn in three braids and accented with red hair ties and clips. She also wears a yellow and purple dress, white lace socks, and red slippers.
5. Tommy’s closest friend is Charles Crandall Norbert Finster, Jr., also known as Chuckie. Chuckie is the exact opposite of Tommy; he is awkward and shy. He often disagrees with joining babies on their adventures; instead, he convinces them by outlining why they shouldn’t. When Angelica tries to intimidate them, he accepts her treatment and gives in to her demands. Chuckie is the oldest of the infants because he is two years old. He has freckles, purple-framed spectacles, curly red hair, and is Caucasian. He is dressed in lime green and yellow shorts, red sneakers with undone laces, and a red shirt with an image of Saturn.
In 2012, Arlene Klasky stated that, if Nickelodeon asked Klasky Csupo to, she would be more than happy to create new episodes for the Rugrats tenth season.
On July 16, 2018, it was proclaimed that Nickelodeon had placed an order with Klasky Csupo for a revival series. The series was announced to be executively produced by Klasky, Csupó, and Germain, and was to have around twenty-six episodes. It was also announced that Paramount Pictures was to release a live-action feature film and the release date is set to be 29th January 2021.
Rugrats gained over 20 awards and became Nickelodeon’s longest run cartoon for eight years. With two-year breaks in between, the thirteen-year run of The Rugrats series went on to become a cartoon classic marking a decade.