Nine years old and still growing strong, Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo’s animated Rugrats remains a merchandise machine with heart, maintaining its freshness with the gradual addition of new characters to its core group of “dumb babies” lorded over by three-year-old Angelica. So where 1998’s Rugrats: The Movie introduced Tommy Pickles’s baby brother, Dill, this sequel navigates a potentially dicier psychological minefield as the ‘rats assist timid, motherless Chuckie Finster in his quest to bond with the animatronic “princess mommy” he spies on a Matterhorn-like edifice in EuroReptarland, a Japanese theme park in Paris. Chuckie does acquire a new mommy and stepsister, but only after destroying most of the city.
Rugrats has always spoofed the merchandising hand that feeds it. In Rugrats in Paris, though, Nickelodeon launches a comedic assault on the Disney empire’s tired formulas. Susan Sarandon voices Coco LaBouche, a pointy, sinister corporate climber, dressed in hilariously parodied Japanese high fashion, who drags Chuckie’s father down the aisle (of Notre Dame, no less) to prove to the park’s owners that she’s kid-friendly enough to run EuroReptarland. Former Devo leader Mark Mothersbaugh detonates the Disney tear-jerking ballad with “Reptar I Love You,” while Disneyland’s small-world banality is slimed in Reptarland’s Ooey Gooey World ride.
A colorful theme park of a film, Rugrats in Paris nicely conveys a family trip abroad as seen from both the exhausted-parent and bewildered-infant points of view. And it pushes the viscosity button hard for extra verisimilitude, with countless pee, poop, vomit, and drool jokes that add a documentary aspect to the frantic family fare.
Quelle surprise to discover that Disney’s own seasonal product might have been titled 102 Dalmatians in Paris. Coco LaBouche is mirrored by Glenn Close’s scenery-chewing, fashion-flaunting Cruella De Vil, while LaBouche’s beleaguered assistant, Jean-Claude (John Lithgow), has his own counterpart in ferocious French furrier Jean Pierre Le Pelt (Gerard Depardieu). Cruella is once again bent on collecting enough puppy skins to fashion the frock of her dreams. And once again, yawn—this time in a strangely industrial patisserie—she is foiled by those cute li’l canines themselves. Guess which filmmakers didn’t have the smarts to license “Who Let the Dogs Out”?