Sequels that improve on ther cinematic forerunners are a rarity. This is especially true among children’s films, where sequels are too often straight-to-video photocopies of the originals.
“Rugrats in Paris,” now in theaters, is one of those rare exceptions. Nickelodeon’s popular babies return in a road picture that is a marked improvement on 1998’s “The Rugrats Movie.”
Last time out, the “Rugrats” creative brain trust was timid entering the new medium, and the result was a film that came across as a stretched-out but watered-down episode of the TV series. This time, they started with the assumption that audiences know their characters and are there for their particular brand of humor.
The sequel is more cinematic in scope, and not just because one of the stars is Reptar, the cartoon’s big, green version of Godzilla. The sextet of babies and toddlers successfully manage to turn “The City of Lights” into their own oversized sandbox.
How does the entire “Rugrats” extended family of children and parents end up in Paris? As a special three-episode series on the TV show revealed, Stu, the inventor dad of the heroic baby Tommy Pickles, was selected to design the Reptar to be used at EuroReptarLand (a subtle dig at Disney’s Parisian sinkhole, Euro Disney). In the film, problems develop, a call is made in the middle of the night, and before long, everyone, even Tommy’s dog, Spike, lands in Paris.
Fraidy-cat Chuckie Finster’s widower dad, Chaz, becomes the marriage target of Coco LaBouche (voiced by Susan Sarandon), the power-hungry head of EuroReptarLand who is seeking to take over the Japanese conglomerate which owns the theme park. Marrying Chaz will establish her as the family-friendly sort being sought for that position. Helping her is her sniveling aide, Jean Claude (thank God it’s still PC to use the French as villains).
The babies, assisted by the bossy Angelica Pickles and the newest Rugrat, Kimi, find out about Coco’s scheme and rush to Notre Dame to stop the wedding, with Jean Claude attempting to thwart them, resulting in an epic battle which disrupts the French capital.
At the film’s heart is Chuckie’s loneliness from not having a mother like all his friends do. His faher has tentatively entered the dating pool, but keeps getting almost drowned by freaks. Both think they’ve found the person they want in the movie, only for their situations to change with a surprise ending.
Like the first film and the TV series itself, “Rugrats in Paris” is firmly rooted in pop culture, and the adults in the audience will enjoy picking out the subtle references.
My junior critic, age 5, actually admitted to liking the sequel better than its predecessor (a huge step forward in her critical development). She said this is largely because of the presence of sweet Kimi, who, like Chuckie, lost a parent and is feeling a void in her life.
“Rugrats in Paris” takes the Nickelodeon superstars to the next stage in their evolution, while welcoming newcomers as well. It’s a film that parents and children can enjoy together.
Dale McGarrigle is a Style writer who writes about contemporary music, television and pop culture. His 5-year-old daughter, Samantha, is a fervent Rugrats devotee who unfortunately is beginning to sample the lesser offerings on Nickelodeon.