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Nothing riveting about 'Rugrats' spinoff

The movie that brings casts from the Rugrats and Wild Thornberrys together should entertain Nickelodeon regulars, but it's certainly no Finding Nemo.

Published June 12, 2003

[Paramount Pictures]
Rugrats Go Wild! is a super-sized version of familiar television fare.

Two Nickelodeon animated shows join forces on the big screen for Rugrats Go Wild! and the sum of the parts is far less enchanting than the funny, beautifully accomplished Pixar/Disney charmer Finding Nemo.

Nemo, a box-office winner, is this summer's gold standard for children's fare and may well overshadow the competition, with the possible exception of the upcoming Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over.

The third theatrical spinoff of Rugrats, and second such venture for The Wild Thornberrys, by comparison is a project with modest ambitions, merely a super-sized version of familiar television fare.

That said, the movie makes a pleasant diversion, sure to appeal to young audiences with its mix of likable tiny-tyke characters, talking animals, silly slapstick and inoffensive gross-out moments. The scratch-and-sniff cards available in kids' meals at Burger King - loaded with whiffs of everything from root beer to smelly feet - are fun, too, though the direct tie-in with a fast-food restaurant is crass, but to be expected, I guess.

And parents and other adult chaperones may be amused by the pop culture touchstones: references to the films Titanic, The Poseidon Adventure, Swiss Family Robinson and Taxi Driver and television's Gilligan's Island and Survivor and rock 'n' rollers the Pretenders, the Clash, the Who, the Police, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Iggy Pop.

The story is straightforward enough. Stu (Jack Riley) and Drew Pickles (Michael Bell) and their respective families, planning for a luxury cruise, wind up on a ramshackle rental boat. One Perfect Storm-size squall later, and the adults and their gang of wise-beyond-their-years toddlers wind up on a seemingly deserted island.

Noted wildlife expert and television celebrity Sir Nigel Thornberry (Tim Curry) and his brood, meanwhile, are on a remote island, thought to be inhabited, for the purpose of tracking down a rare leopard (Pretenders singer Chrissie Hynde).

The two, of course, are fated to cross paths, and so they do, with the bratty, arrogant Angelica Pickles (Cheryl Chase) meeting her older counterpart, the primping, prima donna-ish, Valley Girl-talking Debbie Thornberry (Danielle Harris), and Chuckie Finster (Nancy Cartwright) momentarily trading places with the madly jabbering Donnie Thornberry (Chili Peppers bassist Flea).

Long story short (with spoilers left out): Nigel and the kids find themselves in grave danger, and it's up to Stu to use his power of invention to save the day. The kids at a recent screening seemed interested in the adventure-story aspect of the movie.

But the filmmakers scored their biggest crowd-pleasing moments with sequences involving bug eating, butt baring, bad smells and a standoff between that ferocious big cat (Hynde) and a wily, wisecracking pooch (Bruce Willis); the two engage in a not-bad musical number. Can't wait for the stage show.

Rugrats Go Wild!

Grade: B-

Directors: John Eng, Norton Virgien

Cast: The voices of Michael Bell, Jodi Carlisle, Nancy Cartwright, Lacey Chabert, Melanie Chartoff, Cheryl Chase, Tim Curry, Elizabeth Daily, Flea, Danielle Harris

Screenplay: Kate Boutilier

Rating: PG

Running time: 81 min.

[Last modified June 11, 2003, 10:39:30]

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