The Rugrats run amok in “Rugrats Go Wild,” a frantic and frenetic concoction that throws the diapered crowd and the Thornberry clan together with none of the previous charm of either. Screechily abrasive and sorely lacking in elements that engage the imagination, this third and least entry in the moppet-dominated bigscreen series will do some automatic business based on the familiarity of Nickelodeon’s longtime franchise. But no doubt sensing pic’s third-place status among early summer animated fare, Paramount has wisely positioned release in a window midway between the “Finding Nemo” behemoth and the next potential biggie, “Sinbad,” and will do everything it can to squeeze the most out of it during this period. Ancillary afterlife should prove more lucrative.
After hitting $100 million domestically (and $55 million overseas) with “The Rugrats Movie” in 1998 and generating surprising charm and wit two years later in “Rugrats in Paris,” which generated $77 million at home but only $28 million abroad, producers Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo hit the B.O. wall for the first time last year with their more ambitious theatrical transfer of a TV series, “The Wild Thornberrys,” which managed just $40 million in the U.S. and half that foreign. Given these declining figures, it must be assumed that the future of the Rugrats franchise now hangs in the balance, and that if the pattern continues, new pic could well rep its swan song.
Which, on the evidence, would not be a bad thing. Cloaking the entire enterprise is an air of over-anxious desperation, suggested even before the picture begins by the handing out of Odorama scratch-and-smell cards that, in the event, prove much less amusing than when John Waters used them in conjunction with “Polyester” more than two decades ago. (For kids’ benefit, of the six odors prompted for delectation by flashing numbers and lights in the corner of the screen, the bare foot is by far the stinkiest and, once scraped, nearly overpowers the rest.)
By the same token, the simple plot device that brings together the two family units is all but overpowered by the bigger-than-ever gaggle of characters, all of whom endeavor to complain, bicker and cry louder than the next person just to be heard.
Literally missing the boat for an intended luxury cruise vacation, the extended Rugrat brood settles for a ride on a decrepit fishing vessel that is upended by a “Perfect Storm” wave and is “Cast Away” on an uninhabited tropical island.
After homages to “Titanic,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Planet of the Apes,” “Lord of the Flies” and “From Here to Eternity,” not to mention its profound debt to “Gilligan’s Island,” story mostly evades the opportunity for a “Survivor” parody by shortly putting the creature comfort-craving family in touch with the more adventurous Thornberrys, who are on the island seeking an elusive native white leopard (voiced by Chrissie Hynde) for their TV show.
As it happens, Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily) idolizes the leader of the British clan, Sir Nigel (Tim Curry), while bashful little Chuckie (Nancy Cartwright, who also voices Bart Simpson) manages to swap personalities with wild boy Donnie (Flea), resulting in some unexpected heroics. Along the same lines, Angelica (Cheryl Chase) finds a role model for narcissistic obnoxiousness in Debbie Thornberry (Danielle Harris), an Olympic-caliber teenage pill who’s actually able to teach her junior version a lesson or two about maximal brattiness.
These reversals, as well as a small plot strand that has dog Spike (Bruce Willis) able to speak with Debbie’s dorky sister Eliza (Lacey Chabert), who can communicate with all animals, have some potential, but any development or resonance is steamrolled by the shrill dialogue, going-nowhere storytelling and overbearing characters, of whom there are far too many. Effort simply lacks any of the magic or sense of wonderment that good animated films, and kidpics in general, should generate for smallfry. And it is certainly devoid of any appeal to adults, despite the old film references and partly because of the unappealing covers of some rock standards.
Due to the island setting and Thornberry influence, pictorial elements are more lavish than in the previous Rugrat entries, but to no avail.