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"All Grown Up" But I Ain't "Loving It"

Way back when Nickelodeon was actually watchable, I used to love Rugrats. The adventures of Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil, Angelica, and Susie were all great fun. When Nick started its descent into what its current state, the Rugrats reruns were often the only thing I would watch. Heck, if Nick were to release a boxset featuring all 65 of the original cartoons, I’d still buy it in a heartbeat. And after re-launching the series with a few new characters and gaining 3 movies out of the deal, it was only natural that Nick would take the next step almost every Rugrats fan wanted to take: Making the babies into grown-ups. Well, they’re pre-teens to be exact.

All Grown UpAll Grown Up…And Loving It! (we shall spare our readers the McDonald’s puns) is a special disc released for any fan who’s interested in love. Here’s the basic setup: Tommy Pickles, Chuckie Finster, Phil DeVille, Lil DeVille, Angelica Pickles, Susie Carmicheal, Dil Pickles, and Kimi Finster have outgrown their diapers and have started attending school. That opens up a whole new world of problems, such as making the Principal mad every day, trying to act cool, and of course, attracting members of the opposite sex. And since Romeo’s guest-starring, these adventures are guaranteed to be the best ever, right? Right?

First up is “It’s Cupid, Stupid,” where Chuckie is trying to impress a young girl named Nicole in order to ask her out to the Valentine’s Day dance. Tommy is slightly jealous as Chuckie already promised to go with him and Phil to the dance as a “single and loving it” group (those never work out, by the way). Meanwhile, Angelica has fallen deeply in love with Shawn, your basic apathetic loser, and is trying to work her charms. And all the while, Dil spends time with “Lil Q,” a.k.a. Cupid, who uses a hackeysack instead of an arrow. Naturally, Lil Q is a bad shot, so Nicole ends up falling in love with Tommy, Shawn ends up falling in love with Susie, and Zee (who Kimi likes) falls in love with Susie as well. Can Dil help Lil Q work things out? I think we all know the answer to that, don’t we?

Next up on the disc is “Chuckie’s in Love,” in which Chuckie tries to woo Nicole by pretending to be a Scandinavian man-of-wonder named Chongo. Wait, didn’t Nicole fall in love with Chuckie last episode? Well, yeah, she did, but for some odd reason this episode, which takes place before “It’s Cupid, Stupid,” is placed after it on this disc. Probably because of Romeo’s guest-starring role. Anyway, Tommy and Phil know that sooner or later Chuckie’s clumsy nature is going to screw things up and they try desperately to get rid of Chongo. Things get even more complicated when Nicole reveals that she likes both Chongo and Chuckie. I’ll give you three guesses as to what the ending is.

After that, we have “Saving Cynthia,” which is the oddball of the group. Angelica wants to say she has matured, so she asks her mom to get rid of everything she had before she turned 13 and replace it with new things. Unfortunately, one of those things is Cynthia, Angelica’s symbolic doll from back in the original Rugrats days. She, Susie, Kimi, and Howard (the red-headed little boy from Rugrats that’s living with Angelica now) rush off to find Cynthia before she gets sold. Meanwhile, Tommy and Chuckie accidentally break the principal’s PDA, which practically runs his life, and try desperately to fix it themselves. While that’s going on, Chaz talks with Didi and Stu about not giving their kids enough attention (about friggin’ time). Angelica, in the meantime, is rushing around town trying to save her doll and eventually ends up at a comic book convention. We finally see what Cynthia would have looked like before Angelica added a personal touch to her, which was nice. Though seeing the girls and Howard play football with the new doll was horrible to watch animation-wise.

The last episode on the disc is “Fear of Falling,” which used to be DVD-only. Tommy is driven to rid Chuckie of his fear of heights, so when they take a field trip to a snowy mountain, Tommy figures some mountain descending would do Chuckie some good. However, a young girl named Olivia (voiced by anime vet Lara Jill Miller, who you might remember as Kari in Digimon) comes between them, as Tommy gets not only his first crush, but his first kiss as well. Chuckie, feeling left out by Tommy’s sudden obsession with Olivia, decides to descend the highest mountain in the area all by himself. Naturally, a snow storm comes in to add some dramatic tension. Oh, and Angelica tries to find herself a new boyfriend.

The best episode on the disc was by far “Saving Cynthia,” for several reasons. First off, it brought back Cynthia, a sorely-missed key ingredient from the original series. Second, it doesn’t deal with love in the traditional aspect, since the “love” is question is Angelica’s love for Cynthia, so we don’t get the usual mushy clichés. Third, the gang gets to run through a comic book convention. I always love it when cartoon characters (be they American or Japanese) go to a convention, and this is no exception (even if Comic Party and Dexter’s Laboratory did it better). “Chuckie’s in Love” is pretty decent as well. Chongo was fun to watch, if only for the hilarious accent Nancy Cartwright gives the character. “Fear of Falling” was probably the most dramatic, but the fact that Olivia doesn’t join the regular cast makes this episode feel like a waste. Finally, it figures that the episode with the celebrity guest star would be the crappiest of them all. “It’s Cupid Stupid” had pretty much every love cliché in existence, with no semblance of creative execution to try to mask the genericness of it all.

When talking about this series, it’s inevitable that we’d get comparisons to the original, so here we go. Tommy is a bit more cautious than when he was a baby (Oh heck, who am I kidding? Tommy was rarely ever afraid of anything as a baby), and while this does give him a more well-rounded character, it also gives him a sort of “blah” feeling. Had this been an entirely new cast Tommy wouldn’t stand out in the least bit. Chuckie is pretty much the same, except somehow even more nerdy. Lil has grown out of her “Worms! Yummy!” phase and is probably the most responsible of the 10/11-year-olds of the group. She’s the one who plans out the decorations and will not let anyone mess up anything she puts together (I know the feeling). Angelica is obviously boy-crazy and obsessed with her looks (I’m sure you could see those character traits coming a mile away), and she’s still bossy around everyone else. Though I rarely liked Kimi in the original, here she is a welcome addition, providing a nice counterbalance between Angelica’s bossiness and Susie’s cynical nature. Speaking of Susie, she’s the mother of the group (in the absence of actual mothers) and pretty much takes on the same role she did in the original, seeing through all these hair-brained schemes and trying to keep the others from doing something stupid. Phil, one of my favorite characters in the original, is pretty much the same “Gross is cool!” kid he’s always been, and is rarely ever truly serious. He’s still my favorite character of the bunch. As for Dil, he’s still annoying. Who’da thunk it?

However, there’s a major problem with the characters growing up: they’re too young. Angelica and Susie are thirteen, Dil is nine, while everyone else is ten or eleven. Despite their actual ages these episodes depict the characters going through difficulties and problems that fifteen year-olds face. It’s weird enough seeing a ten year-old traveling all around the world by himself trying to capture random creatures that would easily kill him in real life, but All Grown Up is supposed to be somewhat realistic, and I know very few ten year-olds who are expert mountain climbers. Then we have Chuckie and Kimi, who actually have jobs. Chaz has finally decided to get a job and thus owns his own coffee/smoothie shop, where both Chuckie and Kimi work after school. How in the world could those two actually be allowed to work without some kind of government official stepping in? What’s wrong with hiring one or two actual teenagers to work in the shop? While this is far from the first series to have the characters act older than they are, this is one of the most glaring examples.

Any Rugrats fan worth their salt will tell you that Klasky-Csupo doesn’t exactly have the most flattering character designs. For the most part, they’re formless blobs with arms and legs, and few people would actually consider them “good” on paper. However, the designs, for the most part, worked in the original series. Sure, the babies weren’t all that cute, but except for Tommy, things were good. Then we get into this series and that all goes out the window. Chuckie looks really pathetic nowadays and Kimi’s rock star get-up is a major distraction. Tommy and Dil are by far two of the ugliest characters I’ve ever seen, and Angelica, to put it bluntly, looks like a slut. The adults all have some sort of re-design to freshen things up, but the only one who actually looks better is Didi (who thankfully got rid of that trident in her hair). The rest haven’t aged well at all. Angelica’s mom looks like one of those plastic-surgery-gone-wrong actresses on Saturday Night Live and Chaz looks like he’s in his fifties already. None of the character designs in this series could be called good.

The animation is nothing to dance about, but since the only major action being performed is running the show can get away with some cheats. The only time there’s something new to be seen is Angelica’s robot helper, which has some funky movements. Transfer is standard as well. No noticeable errors of any kind, though you may notice some if you have one of those fancy schmancy Hi-Def TVs.

One thing I did like about the show is the voice acting. All the actors and actresses from the original have come back for this series and each give a slightly different pitch to their character so that they sound much older than they did when they were babies. E.G. Daily (Tommy), Nancy Cartwright (Chuckie), Cheryl Chase (Angelica), Cree Summer (Susie), Tara Strong (Dil), and Kath Sourcie (Phil & Lil) all deserve the utmost praise for giving these characters the same acting quality the original had, with just enough difference to make the new ages seem believable. The voices are by far the best thing about this show, which is no surprise given the excellent talent involved.

Extras? On a made-for-kids disc? That’s a laugh. Extras are limited to trailers for other Paramount releases (such as Spongebob Squarepants the Movie and G.I. Joe Valor Vs. Venom) and a “Create Your Own Adventure” feature that combines all four episodes into a branching plot. You are given two options and you have to somehow pick your way into getting the longest story possible. Unfortunately, no video clips are shown and everything is static text. Combined with the fact that this task isn’t all that interesting to start with, it all adds up to a very boring extra. Heaven forbid we get some interviews or featurettes or behind-the-scenes stuff.

If you don’t like the later Rugrats incarnations (or just didn’t like the series at all), I suggest staying as far away from these DVDs as you can. And even if you like the series, I just cannot recommend paying more than $10 for this disc.

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