Ty Burr explains how 'The Rugrats Movie' has created the studios' dream demo

We knew it was going to be big, but the numbers still kind of boggle the mind. ”The Rugrats Movie” came to theaters last weekend and crawled away with $28 million — only about $9 mil less than ”The Waterboy” pulled in its first weekend, and lots more than its nearest competition, the Will Smith thriller ”Enemy of the State” ($20.3), garnered. Even more tellingly, ”The Rugrats Movie” scared up a very healthy $10,000 per screen, leaving such la-di-da limited-release dandies as Woody Allen’s ”Celebrity” (at $3,448 per screen) crying for mommy.

Translated to the personal dimension, this meant that my wife and I went to our local googolplex on Saturday and found ourselves surrounded by the Pampers Brigade, many of whom were in various states of trauma because both ”Rugrats” screenings were sold out (”Aw, come on, Dad, can’t we go see ‘Elizabeth’ instead?”). We didn’t see this reaction to ”Mulan.” Nor to ”Antz,” nor will we probably see it to ”A Bug’s Life” — not this presold, out-of-the-gate mania once reserved for the likes of the Beatles. Tommy and his pals are HOT.

What’s it all mean? Well, we can probably count on seeing ”Blue’s Clues: The Movie” (though I bet Steve gets shoved aside in favor of Jim Carrey in the big-screen version). What it really points to, though, is how potent a market force Generation XY has become. Not their parents, mind you. If it was up to Mom and Dad, we’d all be off to see ”The Wizard of Oz” rerelease or some other culturally approved flick. No, ”The Rugrats Movie” and its box office success proves that kids can vote for themselves — even if it is with Mom’s pocketbook — on something that they’ve discovered on their own.

To an extent, we’ve been down this road before — with Barney and the Power Rangers and all their scary little pals. But none of them have successfully crossed over to the movies. The difference this time is that every marketing executive in the land is reading the box office returns and 1,000-watt light bulbs are going on over all their heads. ”The Rugrats Movie” doesn’t just mean the triumph of a kiddie phenomenon. It means a brand new demographic — precise and exploitable — has just heaved into view.

Lock up your children.

The Rugrats Movie
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