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RUGRATS IN PARIS

by: James Berardinelli

After the astonishing (and, to some degree, incomprehensible) success of The Rugrats Movie, it was only a matter of time before a sequel reached theaters. For better or for worse, that time is now. As is the case almost every holiday season, multiplex screens will be displaying a fair number of family-oriented features (including, but not limited to, the live-action Grinch and 102 Dalmatians). Of all these G and PG-rated films, Rugrats In Paris is likely to have the strongest appeal to the very young. In fact, many of those who thrilled to the animated protagonists' misadventures two years ago will have outgrown their heroes by now. Thus, the success of this Rugrats movie will depend upon a new generation of real-life rugrats.

As was true of the first film, this new episode provides solid entertainment for its target age group. Those in the four-to-seven year-old demographic will have little to complain about. All of their favorite characters are there, looking basically the same; there's enough music, color, and adventure to hold their notoriously short attention spans; and the running length isn't excessive (a slender 70-plus minutes, excluding the end credits). The difference between this Rugrats installment and the last one is that the number of adult-oriented in-jokes and additional "sophisticated" material has increased. Rugrats In Paris is less deficient than its predecessor in finding suitable diversions for the over-the-hill crowd. Granted, the Paramount/Nickelodeon feature doesn't match the average Disney animated effort when it comes to across-the-board entertainment, but it's a step in the right direction. I found The Rugrats Movie to be a terminal bore; this one was only sporadically sluggish.

The storyline, like many animated storylines, makes about as much sense as an ice cream salesman at the South Pole. After attending a wedding at which all of his friends dance with their moms, little Chuckie Finster, who is being raised by his widowed father, makes a wish for a new mother. Soon, Chuckie and his pint-sized friends - the Pickles kids with their nasty, older cousin, Angelica, and the DeVilles - are on their way to Paris for a multi-family outing. While there, they encounter the diabolical Coco LaBouche (a Cruella DeVil knock-off voiced by Susan Sarandon) and her henchman, Jean-Claude (John Lithgow). Coco is the head of a major European theme park and is in the running for the presidency of the owning Japanese conglomerate. However, in order to fulfill her ambitions, she must pretend to show her love for kids - and how better to do so than by marrying a man with a motherless child? With a little help from the scheming Angelica, she sets her sights on Chuckie's hapless dad. It's up to the rugrats, aided by a giant mechanical dinosaur, to foil her devious plan.

Rugrats In Paris contains a number of low-level film parodies (The Godfather, King Kong, and a variety of Japanese monster movies), some of which older children might recognize. One element included solely for the parents in the audience is a fairly constant level of Disney bashing. Rugrats In Paris takes a shot at the Magic Kingdom whenever an opportunity presents itself - from the EuroDisney-inspired theme park to a brief, mocking nod to Lady and the Tramp. I can't remember any other film, animated or otherwise, that has so openly acknowledged and challenged the people behind the Mouse.

For those who care to look, there's a theme here about the difficulty of growing up in a family where one parent has died. The screenplay acknowledges that a common wish of children in this situation is to have both a mother and a father, not one parent struggling to do the job of both. Rugrats In Paris preaches the acceptance of a step-parent while re-enforcing the notion that the new mother or father is not attempting to replace the

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