Cartoon Review: Rugrats: The Santa Experience

Posted: December 15, 2009 in Cartoon Review, Holiday, Reviews
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Rugrats: The Santa Experience (1992 Dir. Charles Swenson)

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The dead eyes of a minimum wage worker in a job that should have been replaced by a machine years ago.

I’ve managed not to hate Rugrats over the years, despite being too old for them and the fact that I feel like I should hate them. Their antics are basically the same from episode to episode and much of their humor is mindless and harmless. The kids misunderstand what’s going on with HI-larious results. Meanwhile the adult characters have misadventures of their own with joke that only the parents of the kids who are watching will get. It was the beginning of that whole “winking at the adults over the heads of the children” thing that, while it existed before, really got footing in the 90s and is included in every so-called family movie these days. However, this was one of the first places I remember seeing it and I can’t blame them if everyone started ripping this aspect off. As far as I know they innovated the process so I guess that’s why I doesn’t bother me here.

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Take it off, but take it off slow.

Now, as far as I can tell, this was episode 14 of the second season. So, it wasn’t a special even though it was shown in December. The Chanukah episode (produced 4 years later) that I’ve reviewed in the past was a special though. This episode it just presented as one of the extra features on the disc, as another Christmas episode from season 9 was presented as the main program on this DVD. However, that episode is from the later stuff that I don’t like very much since the character of Dill was a shark jumper for me. So instead, we’re going to look at this bit of holiday fluff and see what we’ve got!

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They’re watching… they’re planning…

Now, your average episode of Rugrats has more story branches than Deadwood, so you’ll have to follow close. In fact, you could easily shoot this through a Deadwood filter if you wanted. Tommy is Seth Bullock, and his buddy Chuckie is Sol Star. Older cousin Angelica plays the roll of Al Swearengen in a moment of gender bending and her doll Cynthia easily fits the part of Trixie. Phil is easily E.B. Farnum and his sister Lil fits the roll of Doc Cochran to a perfect tee. She even drinks and swears constantly. Sorry, if you haven’t ever seen Deadwood then A) None of this will make sense and B) You’ve been living in a pale colorless world. Anyway, we still haven’t started the show yet have we?

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It just now kicked in.

So it starts with Chuckie (our Sol Star) and Tommy (Bullock) hanging out at what amounts to the Gem for this show, the shopping mall. Chuckie is explaining the concept of Santa to Tommy and telling him how scary he is. That is because this is Chuckie’s single character trait, he’s afraid of everything. One of the places Deadwood and Rugrats don’t converge. While one has complex characters, the other has thin veneers of characterization. Also, Deadwood was a western on HBO and had a lot of swearing, violence and a sprinkling of nudity and this was a cartoon on Nickelodeon. Anyway, they disagree about Santa while dead-eyed mall attendants look on in apathy. When an opportunity for total selfishness arises, Angelica takes it on the run like the acolyte of The Great Swearengen that she is. She leaps onto Santa’s lap, yanks off his bear, calls him a c*cks*cker, and runs with the beard, causing a panic. This results in her getting a big box of toys that will factor into one of the later storylines.

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The booze is the only thing that helps kill the pain.

As that happens the other side of the tale unfolds. It seems that Angelica’s father, Drew, is now concerned that Angelica won’t believe in Santa after this event. An event he blames not on having raised a spoiled little hellion, but on a store that didn’t deliver what he wanted the way he wanted it. I should point out that Drew is the typical bad yuppie parent of the 90s that we all hated so very much. Those people are still around, but there was a special flavor to them in the 90s that seems to have passed, only to be replaced with something far doucheier. This isn’t important! The point is that he worries about Angelica believing in Santa and Chuckie’s dad Chaz worries about Chuckie having a nice holiday at all. His Christmases were always disappointing and he worries the same will be true for Chuckie. While they’re talking Phil and Lil’s mother (Who is fixing the drain while all this is going one for some reason) decides they should all go to a place in the mountains for a real mountain Christmas… or something. I should point out all these people hang out together CONSTANTLY! They all plan to go, each stating what they intend to do, and a great joke almost passes you by. While you’re rolling your eyes at the idea of all these thirtysomethings going to the woods, and announcing “I’ll get some lights and ornaments” and “I’ll call a travel agent” Grandpa pipes up with “I’ll drink a couple quarts of eggnog and fall asleep in front of the TV” and for reasons I can’t fully explain, I love that joke.

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Look, you come up with the money or I’ll just watch you freak out from withdrawal.

Chuckie keeps talking to Tommy, explaining his paranoia about Santa. This doesn’t last long, but it keep coming up. It will lead to Chuckie and Tommy (okay, mostly Tommy) forming a plan to catch the jolly old elf. Meanwhile Angelica plans evil deeds with an eye towards the twins. It’s actually sort of funny, since she sets up a “Gift of the Magi” situation by coning Phil to give up his Reptar Doll to trade for some crayons that he could give to Lil for her coloring book. She then gets Lil to give up her coloring book for a Reptar Space Helmet she could give to Phil for his Reptar Doll. She then cackles with evil, which is the only reaction you should have for Gift of the Magi. Either you enjoy their pathetic suffering, or you hate that damn story with all the hatred you can muster up in your heart.

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Test audiences reacted badly to the cartoon version of Schindler’s List and it had to be retooled.

While that goes on, Chaz thinks of dressing up as Santa and making an appearance for the kids. Drew agrees it’s a neat idea, but decides to hire a professional instead, because Drew is a dick. Drew is a dick, his wife is a dick, his daughter is a dick, this family is comprised of almost enough dicks for that explanation Tarentino had about “Like a Virgin” at the beginning of Reservoir Dogs. Drew will call the professional, because he’s a dick, but Chaz will also dress up because he isn’t made of suck. I like Chaz, even if he is a bit of a nervous nelly. Also, Chaz? Totally Charlie Utter. Drew is Cy Toliver… and a yuppie scumbag douche. What issues? I don’t have issues. Yuppies are scum and should be wiped clean from the face of our beloved Earth. Not being mean, just stating facts. After we wipe them out, we go after the hipsters. Then the bankers, the lawyers, and after that we just wiping out all those who oppose our might. I suspect by that point we’ll have lost track of why we started this and just be shooting people for looking at us funny.

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Angelica’s line of BS is killing Lil’s soul from inside.

Now where was I? Ah yes! Grandpa, who is obviously Mr. Wu tells the kids (which he calls sprats) all about Santa. The boom is then lowered, because as we all know, Santa is a strict moralist of the Old Testament variety. It’s at this point that Angelica’s earlier deeds begin to haunt her, focusing into an opium-inspired dream/nightmare about getting lumps of coal. This is the start of Angelica heading down the path of paranoia which will no doubt end with her holed up in the Gem with a bottle of whiskey and a revolver, the guilt and shame having eaten away her sanity leaving only a cold lump of persecuted self-pity remaining. It’s going to be a shame when she accidentally shoots Cynthia, the show’s Trixie, when she just wanted to see if Angelica was all right. I assume the shock and horror of this act will be what finally inspires Angelica to turn the gun on herself and MAN this review got dark all the sudden, didn’t it?

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OH MY GOD! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?

All eight adults and five children take one van to the cabin in the woods. That’s three couples, their kids and two single men (Chaz didn’t get remarried until the second Rugrats movie… which I know off the top of my head for some reason) which means this must be a big place. It doesn’t look that big. It doesn’t look that big, but it might be the angles or something. I’ll deviate for a moment and mention that at least in the early years, the animators tried to throw in a fair few “moving camera” scenes where they would attempt to reproduce the sort of edge distortion you’d get with a wide-angle lens. I just noticed as we got a look inside the place and I thought it was neat.

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If it opens like The Shining, will it end with Stu dead in a maze?

The stories start to branch and weave so much at this point, I’m just going to talk about where each line goes. I’ll leave the conclusion of the storylines off, since it all wraps up in one place any way. Angelica begins an attempt to reconcile with Phil and Lil, but she keeps getting cockblocked by every damn thing in the world. It’s like the adults know she’s trying to do good and they just keep trying to stop her. Tommy and Chuckie wander around the house, looking for places to set traps for Santa, skipping the chimney because, and I quote, “No one in their right mind would come down the chimney.” Actually, they say chimbley, but I can’t go there. That way, madness lies. Anyway, they get the traps set as decorations go up. Speaking of decorations, Dee-Dee and company go looking for a tree, but when they find it, she won’t let them cut it down so they get an artificial one.

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They’re watching… they’re planning…

When bed time comes and we revel that it is indeed Christmas Eve, the question comes… don’t these people have family? Chaz leaves the party to dress up as Santa because he’s awesome and Drew confirms the professional Santa because he’s a douche. Angelica, worrying about Santa being against her, calls a number and ends up talking to a guy at a car parts place, who tells her she’s on Santa’s bad list because he knows the voice of evil when he hears it. Angelica then curls up in a ball with that bottle of whisky and the gun we discussed earlier. Tommy’s dad Stu , the Jewel of Rugrats, trips over a trap and alerts the kids. Then Chaz comes down the chimney and freaks the kids out. Chuckie runs in fear before realizing that it’s his own father, the only person he actually loves in the world, and then comes running back. Chaz feels terrible, because he wanted something nice for Chuckie. At that moment, the door bell rings and Santa hands out presents. He manages to ask Chuckie if he still thinks he’s so scary before giving Angelica a gift. Because, despite her evil ways, she tried to reform before the deadline. When the kids open their presents, Angelica returns the traded items.

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He’s right behind me, isn’t he?

As everyone is happy, and Chaz in congratulating Drew on his doucheiness, when a call comes. It seems the Santa he hired couldn’t come… so who was it who delivered the gifts? O!M!G! RANDOM AXE MURDER!!! Bar the doors! Block the windows! Anyway, angelica discovers a small lump of coal in the garage of her new dollhouse, a warning from Santa as clear as a dead rabbit’s head on the floor of a saloon. And that’s where the episode ends, with the big happy ending you always knew would come. Sacchariny, isn’t it?

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Built a monument to me! WORSHIP ME!

Official Score:
10 Degrees on the Graffiti Bridge Scale.

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