When “Rugrats” went off the air after a decade in 2006, it did so with a handful of Daytime Emmy wins for animated program, a half-a-dozen Kids Choice Awards and its very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It also happened to be the second-longest running animated series on Nickelodeon (“SpongeBob SquarePants” being the longest), it spawned three movies, and the franchise’s licensing and merchandising potential seemed endless.
In other words, reviving the comedic adventures of the animated tots was a no-brainer for Nick, which has already dusted off “SpongeBob” from the shelf and is emerging as one of the biggest subscription drivers to the newly launched Paramount Plus.
When Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, Lil and Angelica return to screens, however, they’ll have a whole new look thanks to the CG-animation style. In reimagining “Rugrats” for new and grown-up audiences alike, executive producers Eryk Casemiro and Kate Boutilier (who both worked on the original series) set out to create a world that honored but updated the ground-breaking animation created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó and Paul Germain in 1991.
“The unusual line and design style was often referred to as ugly-cute and included a lot of forced perspectives of the camera at the babies’ eyes, at floor-level as they went on their adventures,” says Casemiro. “CG enabled us to give it a really fresh look and to feel contemporary compared to the original 2D.”
As a result, the primary character assets and designs were conceptualized in Burbank, Calif. before being sent to Technicolor in India for animation. That process enabled the team to achieve those extreme “Rugrats” camera angles and to capture the original, asymmetrical Klasky-Csupó character design. It also enabled more animation tools and lighting. The result is a bigger environment, more realistic shadows and settings, and a bigger “mood” when the characters go off on their signature, fantastical adventures.
“Because of the sophistication of kids and the movies they’ve seen, we wanted to give them that same experience of being right there with the babies under the table,” adds Boutilier. “The show feels very tactile. You’re really in their world, with their point-of-view with the crumbs under the couch and all that.”
The EPs add that the new “Rugrats” honors the color palette and design of the original, but the CG style also allows for more details that further build on these characters’ worlds — from what’s on the walls or furniture, to the clothing the children wear, to the scuffmarks on their shoes.
It also allows the creatives to push the storytelling itself to exciting new places.
“There’s an episode in which the babies imagine going inside Chas’ ear because there’s a song stuck in his head and they want to get it out,” says Casemiro. “So they go on a trip through the body and it is so much more, dare I say, grotesque than it would be in 2D. It’s not cutesy — it’s actually got a slightly demented quality, which the show always had in its design style.”
Considering how much the world itself has changed since “Rugrats” went off the air 15 years ago, updating the stories to reflect a new generation came easily to the creatives. Rather than revisiting all of the stories they’d already told, they focused on how life has evolved since then. They also updated the adult characters so the age of the young parents now coincides with the millennial audience that grew up with the series, creating a dual-viewing experience for young families.
“We changed some of the adult dynamics slightly, making more of a group of friends who are connected,” reveals Boutilier. “Even though we start our stories from a baby point-of-view, the adult stories also can influence a story or complement it.”
“It’s safe to say it was easier to generate stories now than it was near the end of ‘Rugrats’,” adds Casemiro. “I remember having that existential crisis, like, ‘What else can they learn, we’ve done everything!’ back then. But the refresh was nice. It was a whole new set of circumstances, but the characters were like old friends. It was easy to imagine how those characters would face these new circumstances because their core personalities haven’t changed. When we began writing, it was like a hug from an old friend.”
“Rugrats” debuts May 27 on Paramount Plus and Nickelodeon.
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