First, a confession: I don’t care for most cartoons. They fall into one of two categories: kiddie crap, like ABC’s Disney block (The Mighty Ducks, etc.), or so-called adult animation, which is said to be going through a golden age. I don’t buy it. I know I’m in danger of having my critic’s license revoked for writing this, but I don’t find The Simpsons or King of the Hill funny.
Two animated series about kids — South Park, which is aimed at adults, and Rugrats, targeted at tots illustrate this demographic duality vividly.
There’s an interchangeable pair on Rugrats, but at least you can tell them apart: Lil and Phil are identical twin babies; Lil’s the one with the pink bow in her hair. The show revolves around their playmates, Tommy (the bald, good-natured one) and Chuckie (the red-haired, bespectacled, neurotic one). Launched in 1990, Rugrats has become the highest-rated show on cable (the first new episodes since 1994 begin airing Aug. 23). A Rugrats video recently hit No. 3 on Videoscan sales charts, ahead of Jerry Maguire.
How to explain this phenomenon? Simple: Rugrats is such a witty, original show parents don’t mind watching it with their children. It sees the world through kids’ eyes, literally (with point-of-view drawings of looming grown-ups) and figuratively. The Rugrats‘ hazy perception of reality often leads to sly malapropisms. When Chuckie gets chicken pox, his pals hear it as ”chicken pops” (”Maybe it’s a cereal,” Lil speculates).
Like South Park, Rugrats engages in frequent bathroom humor, but it’s in keeping with the series’ gently loopy spirit. In the classic ”Chuckie vs. The Potty,” the eternally nervous 2-year-old is traumatized by toilet training. He dreams he’s an inmate being taken to ”The Chair” as diapered prisoners taunt him. When he’s flushed down the tubes, it’s a moment of Trainspotting-esque surrealism more subversively funny than anything seen on South Park. A