Rugrats Go Wild!

(2003) ** 1/2 Pg
81 min. distributer. Directors: Rick Farmiloe, Mike Girard, Raymie Muzquiz. Cast: Bruce Willis, Chrissie Hynde, E.G. Daily, Nancy Cartwright, Kath Soucie.

Rugrats Go Wild refers not to a Mardi Gras vacation caught on videotape, but the historic collision of TV's Rugrats with TV's The Wild Thornberrys. The Wild Thornberrys made their big screen debut late last year (in The Wild Thornberrys Movie, natch), while the Rugrats are "old" hands at this, having starred in 1998's The Rugrats Movie and 2000's Rugrats in Paris: The Movie—Rugrats II. And it's all very cute, tongues firmly planted in cheeks. If you're due for a dose of kiddie jokes about underwear, diapers, doo-doo, snot, and smelly feet, Rugrats Go Wild! is the movie for you.

For non-initiates, the Rugrats are a phalanx of babies--led by the indomitable Tommy Pickles--who have thoughts and adventures which go largely unknown to their ditzy parents. The Wild Thornberrys are a family who travel around filming a Wild Kingdom meets The Crocodile Hunter nature show. When the Rugrats and their families head off on a vacation cruise, they find themselves shipwrecked on an apparently uninhabited island. In fact, they stumble onto the Thornberrys, who--in an unlikely scenario--are still filming the island the kids recognize from a recent televised installment.

Fans of both shows will appreciate the clever clashes of characters: Donnie, the Thornberry wild boy voiced by Flea, makes a nice foil for Rugrat Chuckie; high-maintenance Anjelica Pickle bonds with similar-minded Debbie Thornberry. The meeting of Eliza Thornberry--who, like Dr. Dolittle, talks to the animals--and the Rugrats' pet dog also allows the biggest cinematic event since Garbo spoke: Bruce Willis as the voice of Spike. The Thornberry characters get less screen time than the Rugrats, which makes sense following their recent outing; British-inflected pop Nigel spends much of the film in a concussion-induced state of arrested development.

The Rugrats and Wild Thornberry franchises have partly survived by understanding they must appeal to parents as well as children; accordingly, Rugrats Go Wild! features plenty of semi-hip humor and mildly amusing pop culture references. The standout gags include a running bit about brother-sister team Phil and Lil going cold turkey on their bug-eating habit and Anjelica's "The Morning After" serenade (invoking Irwin Allen's disaster "classic" The Poseidon Adventure). Less charming is the unseemly appropriation of The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go," but on the other hand, Rugrats Go Wild! boasts the song and harmonica stylings of Willis, who performs "Big Bad Cat" with Chrissie Hynde and, over the closing credits, "Lust for Life."

Rugrats Go Wild! also revives the Odorama scratch-and-sniff card last used by John Waters with his 1981 film Polyester. It's a nifty novelty (and another sly invocation of the franchises' hipness) and, it should be said, adds a bit of children-of-all-ages glee to the proceedings. But it also detracts by distracting impatient kids wanting to know when the next number will flash on the screen.

The grotesque character design of both shows is not to my taste, but Rugrats Go Wild! makes an appealing enough, guilt-free kids film. Any kid flick that can frame itself around the line "You're just a backyard baby with a diaper full of dreams" is okay by me.

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