Rugrats in Paris
directed by Stig Bergqvist
& Paul Demeyer
(Paramount, 2000)

So you have your KC & the Sunshine Band, your Casey Kasem, a Sinatra (Nancy, not Frank) and a clever little tribute to The Godfather. Coast through the first five minutes of Rugrats in Paris, and there may be enough to entertain you even if you can't tell Lulu Pickles from Stu Pickles.

An animated offshoot of the wildly popular kids' cartoon that has wit enough to keep parents from climbing the walls (at least, right away), this Rugrats movie, swirling with poop and booger jokes, has as its core a surprisingly sentimental heart: A lonely boy, Chuckie, wants a mother.

It's not that his widower father Chas isn't a great dad. He is. It's not like Chuckie gets no love and attention. He does. But, sometimes, when he looks around and sees everyone else has a mommy, he's got to wonder: Why can't I, too?

He just may get his chance when the father of some "Rugrats bunch" members is summoned to a European amusement park so he can troubleshoot the fire-breathing monster he engineered. Seems the monster can't quite keep his head about him, despite Drew Pickles' design that expressly requires rubber bands and paperclips. Of course, sending Mr. Pickles by himself would make for an awfully dull movie, so the entire Rugrats crew and their parents hop a plane (a fun experience, considering you're watching from home, not Seat H-3) headed for Paris and an amusement park that riffs on the foibles of EuroDisney and Japanese animation.

The kids are beside themselves, but there lurks a danger to them all: Coco LaBouche (voiced wonderfully by Susan Sarandon), the conniving theme park director who desperately wants to advance to the top of her Japanese-owned company. And in lonely Chas Finster, she spots a mark even she can't miss: Woo and win him, and impress her Japanese boss with her family life and love of children (whom she refers to in private as "deformed monsters"). And Coco will get a little help from Angelica, the know-it-all Rugrat who trades her loyalty for promises of a float pulled by matching ponies in the amusement park parade.

Of course, most of the Rugrats see right through Coco -- and, to the movie's credit, the adults aren't clueless doofuses. They -- all but Chas -- can sense something's not quite right, too. But will Chas open his eyes in time?

The danger of a movie like this is that somebody -- either the kids or the adults -- will be squirming with boredom after 15 minutes. But the writers, most of whom have television Rugrats in their credits, do a great job of walking the line between Chuckie's yearnings and general Rugrats mayhem. And they treat his great wish like a grand quest, not something to be grown out of.

And -- this is a personal bias -- there blessedly are no big production numbers that, in some animated films, strike me as soundtrack album filler for whatever big star has recorded them. Add in a little Lady and the Tramp, King Kong and Godzilla, and you have a movie that, in slightly over an hour, manages to entertain and talk about the finer points of friendship, real love, loyalty and kindness.

[ by Jen Kopf ]
Rambles: 30 December 2001

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