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By Chuck Nowlen
The kid next to me in the theater is wired and overstimulated. He plays with his fingers. He fidgets with his Raiders cap. He grabs his feet and tugs them violently – over and over and over again – rocking back and forth all the while.
“Oo! Ooo! OOOOOO!!” the kid literally screams, now jostling his 8-year-old buddy into a puppy-dog wrestle as the Saturday morning crowd buzzes all around them. Then he starts to bounce on the cushion – timidly at first, checking for a missing authority figure, but with ever-increasing abandon.
Pretty soon, he’s shaking the entire row.
Multiply this scene by maybe 600 kids, and now you’ve got a rough idea of what a Rugrats movie screening is like.
The latest Nickelodeon testament to Ritalin – “Rugrats in Paris: The Movie” – does not disappoint. There are enough bare-baby-butt shots, poopy-pants and booger jokes, and other gross-out standards to keep any 3- to 5-year-old giggling and occupied for, oh, let’s say an hour and a half, anyway.
In this one, the Rugrats crew – led by prima donna Angelica and feckless, bespectacled Chuckie – travels to the City of Light, where Angelica’s dad must repair a feature dinosaur robot at a technophasmic theme park called “Euroraptorland.”
The real action, though, centers around Chuckie and his dream for a new mom. Seems the original has passed away somehow, leaving Chuckie and his equally feckless, bespectacled dad, Chas, lonely and pathetically pining. Enter Coco LaBouche (Susan Sarandon), a demon-eyed Cruella DeVille clone who runs Euroraptorland like Leona Helmsley runs hotels. She’s sublimely secure during the first 15 minutes of the movie – ball-busting here, scapegoating there – but then she’s told that she’s not long for her catbird seat unless she can somehow demonstrate that she possesses a good soul.
That sets conniving, child-hater Coco on a mission to marry Chas, and the nasal-voiced, clueless dad is the perfect chump. (“We both think bureaucrats are fascinating,” he muses wistfully after their first encounter – oblivious to a firestorm of perfidy that went on RIGHT BEHIND HIM.)
It all leads to a wedding-scene climax, of course; but along the way, you’ll meet Kira Watanabe (Julia Kato), Coco’s sweet assistant, whose daughter, Kimi (Dionne Quan) is the much-ballyhooed new addition to the Rugrats ensemble. Kimi will remind you of Dennis the Menace’s world-wise Italian friend, Gina – only French, in diapers and with a penchant for danger, simple words and green goo.
True, “Rugrats in Paris” is highly derivative. In addition to Kimi and Coco, you’ll find homages to “Lady and the Tramp,” “Jurassic Park,” Indiana Jones, Robin Hood and many other under-12 movie standards. But “Rugrats” more than makes up for the rip-offs with inventive animation; infectious musical segues; lush, busy scenes and a modicum of (harmless) double entendres to keep the adults awake.
Above all, though, “Rugrats” knows how to keep its toddler-and-up target audience engaged until the end. The trick here is frenetic, but somehow calming, short takes, both with music and with images. No frame stays on the screen for more than three seconds; no song (including the Baha Men’s ubiquitous “Who Let the Dogs Out?”) lasts for more than about a half-minute or so.
In other words, “Rugrats in Paris” is well worth the price of a ticket. Just have the quiet corner ready for the rest of the day.
RUGRATS THE MOVIE (G)
Directors: Stig Bergquist, Paul Demeyer
Stars: Susan Sarandon, John Lithgow, Debbie Reynolds, Casey Kasem, Kath Soucie
Details: Opens Friday
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