Time to dust off your old VHS tapes and regress to childhood, as we're about to revist Rugrats - that colourful Nickelodeon show where a group of talking toddlers try and make a Great Escape from their play-pen every week. A staple of '90s Saturday morning television, Rugrats ran for nine seasons, had three feature-length movies and even a spin-off (All Grown Up) with the babies as teenagers. You had Tommy the plucky leader, who was joined by his bossy cousin Angelica, as well as Phil and Lil, his daring sidekicks. Then you had Chuckie - the scaredy cat who never quite seemed to fit in. In reality, Chuckie's backstory was more tragic we first realised, resulting in a saga that has gone on since 1991.
To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the show (feel old yet?), co-creator Paul Germain opened up on a rather morbid issue that the show never managed to handle - just where was Chuckie's mom for all those years?
The Mother of All Problems
A show about babies was never going to jump on the social soapbox and change the world. About the most different thing Rugrats ever did was have two specials that focused on Jewish holidays. However, back in the early '90s, the show did nearly tread some rather dark territory. Germain told Entertainment Weekly:
We developed the baby crew, and we developed Chuckie, and then we thought, ‘This kid magically appears at the house, but where are his parents?
At this point we will all remember Chuckie's equally geeky father Chas- he was basically an adult version of Chuckie, so we don't feel they stretched themselves too far with character development. Germain continued:
So we thought, let’s do Chuckie’s dad — but we decided not to do a mom. We just didn’t want an extra character there. But why? Why would there not be a mom? By the second or third season, we were saying, ‘What actually happened to Chuckie’s mom?
The show did make a goof though, showing that in its early days, they really didn't know what to do with Chuckie's parents. In the show's seventh episode "Real or Robots?" Stu Pickles says to Chuckie, "your mom and dad will come pick you up in the morning." Clearly something needed to be done, and the fate of Mrs. Finster was sealed! Despite being a kid's show, Germain had wanted to represent the harsh realities of life - just because they were babies, doesn't mean their lives were all breast milk and diaper changes:
We talked to [co-creator] Arlene [Klasky], we talked to Nickelodeon, and we said, ‘Let’s do that she’s divorced.’ And they said, ‘No, no, we don’t want to touch divorce. That’s too heavy a subject, we don’t want to go there.’ So we said, ‘Okay…so…you know…that means…Chuckie’s mom…is dead?’ And they go, ‘No! No! No! We definitely don’t want to talk about that, that’s scary! Children don’t want to see that.’ So if we can’t say that she’s divorced, and we can’t say that she’s dead, we can’t talk about her.
Mum's the Word
Germain only served on the show for the first 65 episodes and the show went on hiatus in 1994. Rugrats returned in a prime time slot and with a new team, so Nickelodeon decided they could address more adult issues. It wasn't until 1997 that Klasky Csupo Animation bit the bullet and did the whole Chuckie's mom backstory. The episode "Mother's Day" was a maudlin affair that strayed from the usual 'baby formula' of the show. The official synopsis reads:
On Mother's Day, all the Rugrats work on presents for their mommies, except for Chuckie, who doesn't have one. After the babies try to find him one without any luck , Chas reveals to Chuckie that his mother was Melinda, and that she had passed away.
In one of the strangest cartoon cameos you will likely hear of, it was Kim Cattrall who played Chuckie's mother Melinda. Although the show never specifically uses the word 'dead', the episode revealed that Melinda was terminally ill and wrote Chuckie a poem from her deathbed. "Mother's Day" was the highest-rated episode of the show at that time and was nominated for a Prime Time Emmy in 1997 - it lost to those pesky yellow Simpsons.
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If "Mother's Day" had you sobbing, then DO NOT watch 2000's Rugrats in Paris, which is basically an hour and a half of Chuckie sadness. One tragic scene sees all the other children dancing with their mothers, while poor Chuckie is once again left on the sidelines. The film centres around the little red-head longing to finally find a mother and lil' Chuckie even gets his own musical number!
Don't weep too much for Chas and Chuckie though! Chas eventually found love in Paris, marrying Kira, and the show also introduced her baby daughter Kimi. Kira would later go on to adopt Chuckie as her own son...and they all lived happily ever after!
Well, I guess they got a whole movie out of Mrs. Finster then, but it is easy to see why Germain is frustrated - he never got to tackle the issue which he had longed to. However, those first 65 episodes are undoubtedly Rugrats at its best. It is sad that the original run just glossed over Chuckie's missing mother. Rugrats limped on after In Paris until 2004, bringing the episode total to 172 - boy, is that a lot of used diapers.
So, with the babies officially all grown up, what are the chances of a baby boom? Germain did also open up to EW about reuniting everyone's favourite diaper babies:
I think a lot of the direction that they took the show in after I left in 1993 – the second 65 episodes and then the All Grown Up series – I thought those episodes were poor. I thought they lost the spirit of it...I think the way to go [for a reboot] would be to take it back to where it was. I don’t know if we could really do that, but that’s what I would like to see. I think it’s possible.
So, do we leave Tommy, Chuckie, Phil and Lil as adults, or Benjamin Button them back to 1991...what do you think?
Did Nikelodeon handle Melinda Finster's death properly? Sound off below!