Most everyone's familiar with the old saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again," and its motivational message is nothing short of obvious. Few, however, have probably heard the related saying, "If at first you succeed, do it again for goodness sakes," partly because I just made it up, but also because it's even more obvious.
When people or endeavors are successful, few will change their ways for fear of losing that success. In the world of movies, unlike TV shows that thrive off familiarity and repetition, this unfortunately results in performers who often run a certain type of character into the ground and films that become boring by repeating familiar stories and characters - whether through sequels or copycat pictures - without adding much original or creative thought.
While it's still too early to say what will ultimately become of the Rugrats movie franchise, it easily could become a victim of the "if it's successful and ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality. After all, it's the only non-Disney animated film to cross the sought after $100 million mark at the domestic box office.
A favorite on the Nickelodeon cable TV channel since it debuted in 1991, the Rugrats are a contemporary and younger version of Charles Schulz's venerable "Peanuts" characters who see the world through kids' eyes and seem to be stuck in some sort of time warp where they never age despite the passing of time.
Here, and feeling like one of those "special" episodes of "The Brady Bunch" or other TV shows that took place in Hawaii or other non-suburban environs, the characters have been sent to Europe for the plot of their latest film, "Rugrats in Paris - The Movie." While that geographical touch gets them out of their homes and daycare, the old saying of "You can take a Rugrat out of mischief, but you can't take the mischief out of a Rugrat" (that I'm also just now making up) still applies.
In other words, this film's story - penned by J. David Stem & David N. Weiss and Jill Gorey & Barbara Herndon and Kate Boutilier (who've all worked on the original show and/or first movie in one fashion or another) - simply gives the lovable and often poop obsessed tykes a new location in which they can entertain their fans with their usual shenanigans.
While co-directors Stig Bergqvist (TV's "Duckman") and Paul Demeyer (creative producer for the TV show and director of several sequences from the first film) have made sure that happens, the locale switching is pretty much a bust, as little of that scenery, the people or their culture comes into play outside some French accents, a bidet and Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower briefly being used as backdrops.
In fact, since most of the story takes place in EuroReptarland - a Japanese theme park that, along with a "Lady and the Tramp" type moment, are none too veiled swipes at Disney (but aren't anywhere near as funny or clever as Duff Gardens in "The Simpsons") - the story could have taken place in Des Moines as long as the basic plot elements were kept in place. Although much of that deals with the usual Rugrats material - misinterpreting adult items and language often with scatological glee - the plot this time around deals more with the Chuckie character rather than Tommy who usually runs the show.
The TV show is known for tackling issues relevant to kids that go far above and beyond the typical kid-based entertainment, and this film doesn't disappoint in that regard as it deals with Chuckie's longings for a new mother (sometime after his biological mother has died). While that sounds like it might be a bit heavy for a kids film, the way in which the filmmakers handle the material makes it more touching than distressing or depressing.
As a result, the film's story is more complex than that offered in the original film and comes off as more accessible to viewers who've long since left the demographics of the film's target audience. That's not to say that childless adults will be clamoring to see this picture or that parents will be eagerly returning to see it, but that it's probably more palatable to adults than the first film.
To hedge their bets, the filmmakers have thrown in some "adult humor" (non-risqué material aimed at grownups) that mostly plays off "Godfather" related material as imitated by the Rugrats. While it (and other such material) is welcomed just as it was in the first film, there isn't as much present as there should have been. Consequently, the film doesn't do as good a job at entertaining all viewers as does "The Simpsons," but what's there is passable.
That also holds true for the animation style that is something of an acquired taste in today's world of often incredibly realistic cartoon graphics. Somewhat drawn in a manner consistent with how a kid might have drawn them, the characters clearly aren't lookers, but they're somewhat lovable in their individual "ruggedness."
As in the first film, the original songs aren't overly memorable, so the filmmakers have made sure to include a collection of contemporary hits - including Baha Men's "Who Let the Dogs Out " - that should have kids rocking and bouncing in their seats and thus desirous of owning the film's soundtrack.
Meanwhile, the vocal performances are as solid as in the original with most everyone returning to reprise their characters. The star additions this time around include Susan Sarandon ("Anywhere But Here," "Dead Man Walking") and John Lithgow ("Cliffhanger," TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun"). While the latter doesn't really add much to the proceedings despite the actor's distinctive voice, Sarandon really sinks her teeth into a role that will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Cruella De Vil.
Overall, the film will certainly entertain the film's target audience and won't do a half bad job of the same for adults. Often cute, amusing and containing non-preachy inspiration/motivational moments for kids, "Rugrats in Paris - The Movie" might not be the greatest film geared for children with adults also in mind, but it's clearly an enjoyable one in its own right. The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.