An adult revisiting favorite childhood haunts may encounter an odd sensation: The old backyard, the neighborhood playground and the high-school football field are, strangely enough, infinitely smaller than memory would have it.
Maybe that's because, from a child's point of view, everything is larger than life.
It's that particular perspective -- the world seen, heard and felt at floor level -- that accounts for the considerable charm of "The Rugrats Movie," an entertaining feature-length adaptation of the top-rated, Emmy-winning animated show on cable's Nickelodeon channel.
That kid's-eye-view effect is telescoped at the start of the film. Four explorers struggle up a mountain, grasp for a golden object, flee from a giant rolling rock, run through a tunnel and gasp as the ground opens up at their feet. They tumble to the ground, and the "Raiders of the Lost Ark" parody reverts back to an everyday unsuccessful attack on the kitchen refrigerator.
The "Raiders" reference is an added bonus to the amusing sequence, a technique that will be familiar to viewers of the "Rugrats" television show. While decidedly meant for children, the TV program is so popular, in part, because of its creators' willingness to make occasional concessions to the adults in the audience. This holds true for much of the big-screen incarnation of the series as well.
The filmmakers, for instance, jest about parenting fears and fads with a sequence at the Lipschitz Maternity Arts Building. There, newborns may begin their lives in a traditional setting or underwater at the aquatic immersion room -- or even amid the dirt and dust of a potato field in the Old Country room.
Furthermore, "This World Is Something New to Me," the first of several musical numbers, has newborns celebrating their arrival with spot-that-voice cameos by Beck, Jakob Dylan of the Wallflowers, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Lisa Loeb, The B-52's, Laurie Anderson, Lou Rawls, Lenny Kravitz, and members of A Tribe Called Quest, the Violent Femmes, Cypress Hill and En Vogue. The song and the score were written by Mark Mothersbaugh of the '70s new-wave act Devo. No Doubt, Elvis Costello and Rakim are among the other contributors to a soundtrack that includes a remake of Blondie's "One Way or Another."
Meanwhile, the plot revolves around the four refridgerator raiders: Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily), his best friend Chuckie Finster (Christine Cavanaugh), and the DeVille twins Phil and Lil (both Kath Soucie) embark on an adventure that's sparked by the birth of Tommy's little brother, Dil (Tara Charendoff).
The Pickles, back home from the hospital, are faced with familiar family-life struggles. Tommy, feeling left out by mom Didi (Melanie Chartoff) and dad Drew (Michael Bell), a failed inventor, is torn between "sponsitility" to his baby brother and loyalty to friends.
Those bonds are tested when the four toddlers, attempting to return the pesky Dil to the "hopsicle," inadvertently wind up lost in the woods aboard the Reptar Wagon invented by Drew. Tyrannical cousin Angelica Pickles (Cheryl Chase), hoping to retrieve her favorite doll, brings along her dog Spike on an expedition in search of the others.
A media circus, led by sleazy Big Action News reporter Rex Pester (Tim Curry), ensues. The kids, meanwhile, flee from various threats, including banana-crazed monkeys, a frightening wolf and a strange wizard. Forest rangers Margaret (Whoopi Goldberg) and her inept boss Frank (David Spade) follow the trail of the children.
Along the way, quick references are made to "Bambi," "A Cry in the Dark" and "2001: A Space Odyssey."
"The Rugrats Movie" and its cinematic kin are probably critic-proof: Fans of the small-screen series (and their parents) will show up at theaters regardless of reviewers' evaluations. Nonetheless, creators/producers Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo and their team, to their credit, have turned out entertaining fare, a cut above the competition, that requires no apologies. Sorry, Barney, but nice-guy mindlessness isn't everything.