|It’s difficult enough to make sense of the world as an adult, so can you even imagine what it’s like for a child?
Nickelodeon’s Rugrats wasn’t the first cartoon to attempt to present the world through the eyes of children - lest we forget Muppet Babies - however it was by far the most originally executed. The stories were told from the perspective of 5 children, whose limitless imagination provided the groundwork for each episode’s ensuing adventures.
The show revolved around one-year-old Tommy Pickles, who, clad in a blue shirt and diapers, still managed to have a few more hairs on his head than Homer Simpson. Tommy’s crew consisted of his bullying older cousin Angelica, his buck-toothed best friend, a frazzled, freckled, four-eyed worrywart named Chuckie Finster, and infant twins Phil and Lil DeVille. Susi Carmichael, a sweet African-American toddler, appeared later in the series. Too young to speak around adults, the youngsters found their voices when alone in each other’s company, often discussing and dissecting their own rugs-eye views.
The show’s humor came from the toddlers’ naïve and quite literal takes on the “adult world,” like how they believed eating from a dog bowl turned you into a dog, or that when dad spends his workdays “pushing paper,” that he is literally pushing paper all day. The show was unique in that it never condescended to its stars, or the viewers for that matter, rather making the audience feel as though it actually was regressing back to the innocent, imaginative world of a one year-old.
By the second season the entire infant premise became a bit less believable, what with the kids wielding power tools and reenacting scenes from classic Westerns, but far-fetched is quite different from boring, which the show never was. Like most cartoons of the 90’s, Rugrats wasn’t without its self-conscious aspects, often injecting pop culture references and societal critiques into its scripts, though these lines were usually reserved for the show’s full-grown characters.
The adults on the show included Tommy’s mom Didi, an overprotective social climber, his father Stu, an inventor of children’s toys, Anjelica’s pushover dad Drew (Stu’s brother), her annoying mother Charlotte, and the ever-doting Grandpa Pickles. Other grown-ups were Chuckie’s dad, Charlie Finster (his mom, Melinda, had died shortly after Chuckie’s birth), Phil and Lil’s parents, Betty and Howard DeVille, and Susie’s parents, Randy and Lucy Carmichael.
The cast of The Rugrats also appeared in a variety of specials, including Rugrats: Hollyween, A Rugrats Passover (Tommy’s mom is Jewish), Rugrats Mother’s Day Special, Rugrats the Santa Experience and Rugrats Vacation. In 1998, the tenacious tykes appeared in their first full-length feature film The Rugrats Movie, a hufe hit. A sequel followed in 2000, taking the babies to Europe for Rugrats in Paris: The Movie.
On television, Tommy, Angelica and the rest continue to entertain both the diaper set and those who need a reminder of what life as a floor-hugger was like. The Rugrats taught us that the wisdom and whimsy of the toddler set is not to be underrated.