Rugrats is one of the original three Nicktoons to premiere on Nickelodeon on August 11, 1991. It ran until 2004 with a total of nine seasons, three movies (The Rugrats Movie, Rugrats in Paris and Rugrats Go Wild) and two spin-off series, All Grown Up! and the lesser known, short-lived Rugrats Pre-School Daze. Although I’ve watched plenty of cartoons growing up, Rugrats is the one I hold nearest and dearest to my heart.
I was born the same year Rugrats debuted, so I literally grew up with the show, and I have many, many memories of watching it throughout the years. I would exclaim, “Rugraaaats!” when I’d hear the start of the theme song and see the upside down diaper appear on our television screen. I remember the momentous event of Tommy Pickles’ baby brother, Dil, being introduced into the Rugrats’ universe in the first movie, as well as Chuckie Finster gaining a new mommy, Kira, and a new sister, Kimi, in Rugrats in Paris. I danced a jazz routine to the song, “Take Me There” by Blacsktreet and Mya from The Rugrats Movie soundtrack. The girls dressed up like Angelica, pigtails and all, and the boys dressed up like Tommy. I even saw the play, Rugrats: A Live Adventure, which involved Tommy coming up with his own invention called the “People-ator.” I remember when the “All Growed Up” special aired in 2001 and how cool it was to see the babies aged 10 years and going to their first concert. In short, Rugrats is the show that had the biggest impact on me growing up, and for that alone, it will always be my favorite childhood cartoon.
The premise of the show is simple, yet intriguing: If babies could talk, what would they say? The idea was conceived by Arlene Klasky, and together with Gábor Csupó and Paul Germain, they created Rugrats. Paul Germain served as the showrunner for the first 65 episodes of the series, and Tommy was, in fact, named after his son. Another fun fact: Craig Bartlett, the creator of Hey Arnold!, served as the story editor for the first season, and he’s the one who came up with Cynthia, Angelica’s favorite doll (who, as you may recall, is a really cool dancer).
What really made Rugrats special was that the audience got to see the world from a baby’s point of view. While some cartoons stood out for being wacky and irreverent, Rugrats’ charm came from its grounded sense of truth and relatability, coupled with the captivating way it captured the limitless wonder of a child’s imagination.
Most episodes revolved around Tommy, Chuckie and twins, Phil and Lil DeVille, going on adventures together. Oftentimes the babies would misinterpret something about the universe, and they’d have to utilize their baby brainpower to come up with a solution. They’d break out of their playpen, toddle away while their parents conveniently weren’t looking, proceed to unknowingly wreak havoc and ultimately return safe and sound, all with their parents being none the wiser.
Those lovable little babies were truly what gave the show its heart, as each one of them had a defining personality that all kids could relate to in some way or another. There was Chuckie, anxious and afraid, shy and sweet. There was Phil and there was Lil, bickering siblings and lovers of mud and worms. There was Susie Carmichael, caring and creative and rival to Angelica Pickles, the spoiled brat, the cookie-obsessed princess, the unrelenting antagonizer. There was Kimi, fun-loving and adventurous, and there was Dil, a rascal in his own right. Last but not least, there was Tommy, the bravest baby of them all. The reason he’s my favorite childhood cartoon character is because he’s an excellent role model for kids. His natural born leadership and his upbeat, unbreakable determination are qualities to admire and strive for in our own lives.
For me, the most valuable takeaway from Rugrats is to never underestimate the power of your imagination. It’s easy to get swept up in the mundane dreariness of everyday life, but with the innocence of childhood, everything is new and exciting, allowing those moments of playfulness and fascination we ourselves should never lose sight of, especially in our adulthood. So thank you, Rugrats, for all the wonderful memories, for all the laughter and tears and love and adventures. Thank you for reminding us to never stop growing or learning or playing or exploring, and most importantly, happy 25th anniversary, “you dumb babies!”