This idea has been living rent free for quite some time on my “future ideas to do” list from last year. For those who do not know, I have been doing Retro Rundown posts of looking at television shows from when I was younger that are in the genre of horror/thriller or scifi. We’ve looked at Goosebumps, Are You Afraid of the Dark and even deep dove into Hey Arnold. But now, it’s time to look at the grand poobah of Nickelodeon and Nicktoons and it ain’t Spongebob.
Premiering in 1991 and created by Arlene Klasky, Gábor Csupó, and Paul Germain for Nickelodeon, the cartoon series follows a group full of babies/toddlers and their very active imaginations and aloofness of their parents. And like a lot of Nicktoons back then, there are some very odd episodes that feel very horror/thriller/sci-fi inspired. Hey Arnold had a few, I will also do a post about Doug having episodes that as a kid would creep you out and it’ll stay with you as an adult.
So let’s get started on talking about it and The Weirdness (and Horror) of Rugrats by a handful of episodes.
Real or Robots (108) is the earliest example. A big heads up is that the early animation of the series is very off putting at times, grungy, cruddy but in a good way. It stays out from being one of the big 3 that Nickelodeon started with (Doug and Ren & Stimpy). But Real or Robots from season one is what happens when a baby (Tommy) and his toddler friend (Chuckie) watch a very short moment in a movie where a son discovers his dad is a robot. It leaves an impression on Tommy who now thinks his dad is a robot when in reality, he is sleep deprived. He sleepwalks and chases the kids around at night and the conclusion is okay, he’s not a robot BUT what if Chuckie’s dad is??!
Candy Bar Creep Show (109) is a classic Halloween specific episode. Again, very early in the series yet one of the more memorable because of Reptar bars! We are watching the Pickles clan get ready for Halloween and they created a haunted house spot in their backyard. Didi Pickles is a vampire, Stu is Frankenstein’s monster, Angelica is an angel, her dad Drew is some kind of furry creature and it’s all around fun. The babies want the Reptar bars and the only way they think they can get them is if they scream because they see older kids running out of the haunted house screaming and they have the bars. What happens is they basically scare the shit out of Angelica and the other kids and it’s a fun episode.
What the Big People Do (213) is an odd episode because everything seems “normal” until the last few minutes? Tommy and Chuckie feel like they aren’t “grown” enough because to them, grownups (or whatever Angelica THINKS she is) get to do all fun things and do what they want, etc. And as much as that is true, the scarier part is getting called by the “boss” and then scared out of your mind and chased by these robots that sound like the Wicked Witch of the West’s guards. Visually the robots are terrifying.
The Legend of Satchmo (304) is hilarious to me. There are 2 versions of “satchmo” mentioned and of course, it’s not the musician Louie Armstrong. No, it’s the story that Grandpa Lou tells the kids while camping in the backyard of a creature that sounds a lot like Bigfoot or Sasquatch and it terrifies Chuckie mostly. It just further shows that the kids are so impressionable and young that ANYTHING outside of what they know is scary. I mean, if said creature is real, that’s terrifying if it just shows up in your yard or camping site or when you’re hiking and your brain is trying to figure out what you’re looking at.
The Mysterious Mr. Fiend (311) is a mix of Pennywise and The Terminator. Stu, as a toy inventor, creates a toy called Mr. Friend to play with Tommy (and the other kids). The probably is the toy short circuits and becomes very much aware and smart. And it isn’t just ONE, there’s like an army. I love the reference to The Terminator which is very much a true horror, sci-fi film and there’s nothing funny about that movie. It’s played straight.
Under Chuckie’s Bed (316), I really love this episode. Chuckie is growing up and out of his crib and so his dad decides to give him a big boy bed! Until Chuckie suspects there’s a monster under his bed and is trying to get him. The visuals of this “monster” and Angelica’s tale of “Barnaby Jones”. Chuckie is so innocent and gullible and Angelica uses that to her advantage (this doesn’t work often on Tommy, Phil, Lil or Susie) and what was really under his bed was his dad’s sweater. Lord.
In the Dreamtime (318) is once again, Chuckie so scared that I guess in a way he disassociated? Chuckie has a very vivid dream and well, he then later on believes that he’s STILL dreaming when in reality, he’s wide awake. There is a talking Spike and creepy clown imagery towards the end.
The Alien (320) is basically Angelica making everyone paranoid that aliens exist and that Chuckie is an alien (as well as his dad). I’m still wondering why is Angelica such a brat and needs full spankings but she loves to kinda gaslight the babies and make them turn on each other. She claims that she, in the middle of the night, ALONE, saw Chuckie and his dad in their alien glory and the new toy (a playhouse) is a spaceship to take them all away! Again, why do they believe her so blindly?
Dust Bunnies (414) is a later episode into season four, you can definitely tell there’s an evolution in the animation, probably more computer than hand sketches but HUGE bunnies are going to kidnap Tommy and Chuckie, all thanks to who? Angelica. I’m seeing a pattern here. Granted Angelica’s biggest scare was losing Cynthia and being replaced by a new baby.
Interview with a Campfire (All Grown Up!) is a very rare occurrence in this show. All Grown UP I did watch but not enough to care? I still prefer the original run of Rugrats (and the two films) but this special is well, very special. The gang and their families are going to a camp site and well, things are not normal. There are rumors of a ghost story and a tragic event and we are then confronted with an actual ghost. The title is a big reference to Interview with the Vampire, the first novel in The Vampire Chronicles, written by Anne Rice (1976) which became a film (1994) and an AMC series premiering last year (and it’s great in my opinion). But also, people mis-remember the title for “a vampire” and not “the” vampire, could be a Mandela effect.
So what do you think of Rugrats? It’s a wholesome, fun show and then these episodes show up and it’s like huh, what? And with the older animation style which is more of a Klasky Csupo identity, makes it even more grungy. Fun fact, they also did early seasons of The Simpsons, As Told By Ginger, Rocket Power, The Wild Thornberrys and now a part of the reboot of Rugrats on Paramount+. I doubt we’ll see them tackle these spookier, child friendly horror moments in these newer episodes.
Why do you think a lot of these cartoons have a kid friendly spooky energy in them? Is it for the kids or the adults who are old enough to catch the references? Leave a comment below and let me know what is a favorite episode of Rugrats!