Wednesday, December 23, 2009
The Great Christmas Specialpaloozorama : Part V
Most cartoons pander to kids; they tell simple, inconsequential stories in simple, inconsequential ways. The jokes are, for the most part, dumb or obvious relying on slapstick and obtrusive sound effects to inspire yucks; it’s virtually impossible for anyone over the age of twelve to sit through twenty minutes of this and for anyone who understands capitalism (or who’s watched an episode of Mad Men) not to see all of the mindless animated mayhem as anything more than an excuse for a lot of toy and cereal commercials. But every now and then a cartoon like Rugrats comes along, defying this paradigm through thoughtful plotting and legitimate comedy.
Rugrats operated on two levels; the jokes were basic and cute, which made them accessible to children but there was a lot of wordplay (usually having to do with the babies misunderstanding grown-up phenomena) which made the show appealing to adults. There were several Rugrats Christmas specials over the years but for this little project of mine I decided to spice things up a bit and revisit the Rugrats Chanukah and Kwanzaa episodes.
Tommy Pickles, the bediapered Rugrat leader is half Jewish and if you can think of another openly Jewish cartoon character (in a kids show) I’d be interested in hearing from you. The Rugrats Chanukah special presents the story of the Maccabees in a way that is both droll and poignant. We get to see Tommy as Judah the Maccabee reading pop-up Torah scrolls, hear him say things like, “A Macca baby’s gotta do, what a Macca baby’s gotta do,” while also getting an accurate but easily digested version of the Chanukah story.
The writing in “A Rugrats Kwanzaa” isn’t as tight as the writing in the Chanukah episode but still, I think, it’s worth watching, if only because most people, including African-Americans, don’t know what the hell Kwanzaa is. As the poindextery older brother of Susie Carmichael (the lone black Rugrat and evil Angelica’s foil) explains, “Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday established in 1966 commemorating the first harvest celebrations of Africa.” So now you know!
After watching both of these episodes and the Doug Christmas special, it’s clear that Nickelodeon’s 1990s animated fare was progressive. But I wonder if these shows, the Rugrats episodes in particular, were too consciously progressive.
Eh, I’m probably putting way too much thought into all of this.