The second feature based on the successful Nickelodeon cartoon series will probably appeal to the tykes devoted to the small-screen version, but the wider audience will just wonder what the attraction might be. This extended episode (which runs some 78 minutes) has been cobbled together by no fewer than five writers, and from the result each must have wanted a completely different storyline; the narrative is a hodgepodge which veers from segment to segment with remarkably little logical connection, even for a kidflick. Mostly it’s about the desire of adenoidal Chuckie Finster (Christine Cavanaugh) for a new mommy (his real one, we’re told, is “in heaven”), but this plotline is clumsily tied in with a trip to France by the whole kiddie crowd and their parents; the occasion is a business jaunt by Dad Stu Pickles (Jack Riley) to repair a mechanical dinosaur he’s engineered for a local amusement park. The nasty manager of the park, Coco La Bouche (Susan Sarandon) sets her marital sights on Chuckie’s father Chas (Michael Bell) for business reasons, and, with the aid of snooty assistant Jean-Claude (John Lithgow), tries to maneuver him to marry her although she hates children. Kneaded into all this are further story strands involving La Bouche’s sweet secretary Kira (Julia Kato), who’s obviously destined from Chas from the start, Chuckie’s matchmaking efforts to link his father with a Japanese princess (Lisa McClowery), and even a “Lady and the Tramp” subplot involving the Pickles family dog. The denouement focuses on Chuckie’s need to overcome his fears in order to save his father from an unhappy marriage–a motif that’s sporadically enunciated throughout the picture–but the message is more perfunctory than central to the plot.
Kids might follow all this better than their parents (who will prefer the periodic references not only to “Lady” but also to “The Godfather” and to “King King” as the mechanical dinosaur lopes through the streets of Paris), but what’s really true is that the only consistent element of “Rugrats in Paris” is its reliance on the sort of crude humor that’s regularly employed to appeal to kids nowadays. Even the largely passive and apparently underwhelmed audience of fans at the screening this reviewer attended came alive at the mention of such words as “poop.” “booger,” and, given the French setting, “wee-wee,” as well as the periodic visual references to like matters (and surprisingly frequent shots of semi-bare derrieres, of children and other characters). But most of this stuff is devoid of any real charm, and will hardly elevate the minds or hearts of young viewers.
From a purely technical perspective, the picture is decently animated in the usual “Rugrats” style, and the voice characterizations by the TV performers are precisely what one would expect. Most of the “guest voices” are disappointing, though. Sarandon overdoes the Cruella De Vil bit, and Lithgow is singularly unamusing. There are also cameos by Casey Kasem, Debbie Reynolds, and Tim Curry, but they make very little impression. Mark Mothersbaugh apparently contributed the few instantly forgettable songs featured in the flick.
If your kids are already turned on by the TV “Rugrats,” they might find this feature version amusing enough. On its own, though, it’s a mediocre effort in today’s toon marketplace–better than another “Pokemon” or “Digimon,” to be sure, but otherwise of marginal interest–and adults will probably find themselves snoozing through much of it. It will doubtlessly have a long life on video shelves, though.