Three decades ago, there were two big events at my house. My twins, Jonathon and Hillary, were born on March 31, joining their 3-year-old sister, Amanda. And, 4 1/2 months later, “Rugrats” premiered.
Nearly 30 years later, new episodes of the show are about to start streaming on Paramount+. Hillary was anxious to see what they look like. And, initially, she was aghast.
“That’s not my ‘Rugrats’!” she exclaimed when she saw the trailer.
It’s not like she was wrong. The original series and its spinoffs were produced as traditional 2D animation. This reboot employs 3D animation, and it takes some getting used to. Tommy Pickles’ head looks kind of weird. So does Chuckie Finster’s hair. Actually … pretty much all of the characters’ heads and hair are weird-looking.
But give it a few minutes, and if you liked the original “Rugrats,” the reboot will quickly win you over. Not to mention the new generation of kids who may be coming to it for the first time.
It’s actually more of a remake than a reboot. It starts where the original series began back in 1991. It’s about 1-year-old Tommy Pickles and his friends — 2-year-old Chuckie, 18-month-old twins Phil and Lil, 2-year-old Susie, bratty 3½-year-old Angelica, their parents, Tommy and Angelica’s grandpa (they’re cousins) and the Pickles family dog, Spike. In their reality, the babies can talk to each other and go on imaginary adventures — and their perspectives on the world are hilarious.
Yes, there’s the occasional poop joke — mostly from Phil ��� but these are babies.
The first of the new episodes, which start streaming Thursday, opens with an extended sequence inspired by “Jurassic Park,” in which the kids imagine they’re being pursued by Reptar, a cross between a tyrannosaur and Godzilla. And it might be a little bit scary for the youngest viewers.
“Oh, this isn’t made for little kids,” Hillary half-joked as we watched together. “It’s made for their parents, who loved ‘Rugrats’ when they were little kids.”
(After episodes stream on Paramount+, the new “Rugrats” will air on Nickelodeon eventually, although that premiere date has not been announced.)
The look is different, but the vibe is the same. And it’s 2021, not 1991, so Tommy’s trusty screwdriver is electrically powered, the Pickles’ house has a doorbell cam, the adults have smartphones, Tommy’s mom has a “she shed” out back, and one of the episodes features a character clearly inspired by Marie Kondo. And when Angelica plays with the seniors dating app on Grandpa Lou’s phone, three women and a man show up as prospective dates.
Tommy doesn’t have a little brother, but, remember, Dil was born in “The Rugrats Movie,” which hit theaters just after the series’ 95th episode aired in 1998. And Chuckie’s stepmother and stepsister didn’t arrive until the second movie, “Rugrats in Paris” (2000).
The first 65 episodes aired from 1991-94, and went into heavy rerun rotation. There was a Passover special in 1995 and a Chanukah special in 1996. And then 101 more episodes from 1997 to 2004. Plus three theatrical releases, including “Rugrats Go Wild” (2003). And, from 2003-07, Nickelodeon aired 52 episodes of “All Grown Up,” which featured the babies as tweens and teens.
To say that “Rugrats” became a pop culture phenomenon would be an understatement. And it’s not an exaggeration to say my kids grew up watching “Rugrats.” They and most of their friends in Utah suburbia watched it all the time. They had Rugrats clothes and Rugrats toys. Hillary wore an adult-sized Rugrats T-shirt as pajamas from the time it hung down to her ankles until it was well above her knees. She still has an illustration of Tommy Pickles that I got for her at a Television Critics Association event sometime in the early 1990s.
I also took my kids to see the movies. They were embarrassed when we went to “The Rugrats Movie” because I laughed too loudly (they thought) at a joke that was aimed at adult moviegoers. I also took them to see a performance of “Rugrats: A Live Adventure” at what was then the E Center (now Maverik Center) in 1998.
(I found something I wrote about it online — I don’t actually remember going. Hillary, however, does.)
My kids loved “Rugrats” so much that it made my heart glad. And, unlike other shows that only kids could enjoy (think “Barney & Friends”), I could sit down and watch episodes with them.
How far back does this go? “Rugrats” was the second original animated series to air on Nickelodeon, immediately after “Doug.” And, while I sometimes have to coerce Hillary into watching TV screeners with me these days, she quickly agreed to watch the “Rugrats” remake. And she laughed out loud several times.
“You seem to find this very amusing,” I said.
“Yes, because this was made for me,” Hillary said.
When I teased Hillary by telling her I was comparing her unfavorably to Angelica in this column, she was once again aghast. “I’m not Angelica, Amanda is!” she said. “I’m Lil. Jonathon is Phil.”
Again ... it’s not like she’s wrong.