A baby's gotta do what a baby's gotta do!
And sometimes, a baby's gotta make some extremely grown-up references that fly right over the heads of most of the audience.
Many nineties cartoons are notorious for crass jokes I'm shocked made it past censors, but I always thought of Rugrats as one of the more innocent ones. Well, these ten adult references tell a very different story, and I don't think I'll be able to look at those ingenious babies the same way again.
1. Grandpa watches an adult film
This is probably the most well-known instance of Rugrats getting a bit raunchy. Grandpa Lou picks up some movies and gets himself his own special treat.
Well, at least he's committed to watching it alone.
2. And that's not the only porn reference
During the episode "Twin Piques," Lil is rummaging through her Dad's office drawer. Among the other items she tosses to the floor, a Playboy magazine rapidly flies by. If you think this is just a coincidence and that this could simply be a woman in bunny ears, check out the inside of the magazine. Yep, that's DEFINITELY a center-fold.
3. Charlotte's favorite artist
When a conservative client comes to Charlotte's office for a meeting, she instructs her assistant Jonathan to take down a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph and replace it with a palatable Norman Rockwell painting.
For anyone unfamiliar with the artist, Mapplethorpe was a controversial artist who became famous for his black and white photographs of homoerotic subjects and the sadomasochistic BDSM scene in 1970s New York. A pretty transgressive work of art for Charlotte to have on the wall in her office!
4. Circumcision joke
This scene is technically from The Rugrats Movie, but it was too good to neglect. Right after Dil is born, some of the babies in the hospital are inspecting their bodies. When one notices that his umbilical cord is gone, another little guy notices that he's missing something else entirely.
5. A religious allusion
Speaking of circumcision, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Wikipedia has an entire page dedicated to Judaism in Rugrats.
I think it's safe to say that absolutely no kid (no matter how devout) noticed the connection between when Tommy pouring. banana baby food on his little brother to entice monkeys to eat him and the Sacrifice of Isaac. In fact, I'd be willing to bet that most adults didn't catch that biblical allusion.
6. So. Many. Movie references.
These are adult in the sense that they went over a kid's head and not necessarily because they were inappropriate. Sometimes they were puns in the titles of the episodes ("Twin Piques" or "Cradle Attraction"), and other times they were overt visual gags, like when Angelica took on the role of the Godfather Vito Corleone.
It'd be impossible to go into all of them here, but my absolute favorite happened in the episode "The Case of the Missing Rugrat." Tommy wanders away from his grandpa and finds himself in the care of two eccentric and lonely women living in a dilapidated mansion. The two ladies brilliantly bring to mind three of my all-time favorite movies: Sunset Boulevard, Grey Gardens, and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? Who knew that my first experience with these Hollywood classics would be through a Nickelodeon cartoon.
As some of the adults have to sit around and listen to Stu go on and on about his trip to the Grand Canyon, Boris (Didi's dad) jokingly makes a call to Dr. Kevorkian. In real life, Jack Kevorkian, also known as Dr. Death, was an advocate for physician-assisted suicide. The joke that Boris would rather die than watch any more of Stu's slideshow is really advanced for such a young audience.
8. Male bonding
While describing that Howard DeVille, Phil and Lil's dad, has gone away for some "male bonding," he puts his two pointer fingers together in a pretty obscene gesture. Considering the reversed gender roles in the DeVille household, there's little doubt that this was a veiled reference to Howard's supposed sexuality.
9. Drug addiction and alcoholism
Now that I can watch them with adult eyes, a couple Rugrats episodes are clear allegories for drug and alcohol addiction. "No More Cookies" sees Angelica "overdosing" on cookies and then going through withdrawal-like symptoms when they are taken away from her. She forces the babies to keep her away from her fix no matter how bad she needs it.
In "Weaning Tommy," Didi tries to get Tommy off the bottle when he starts teething. He really struggles without his drink, and even proclaims, "I need a drink!" at one point.
10. Angelica's drawing
In season nine episode "Pre-School Daze," Angelica and Suzie are tasked with making pictures to share with the class. When Suzie turns her back, Angelica ruins her drawing with a suspicious looking addition. Supposedly this is supposed to be a long nose and a pair of glasses, but it looks an awful lot like something else entirely. Considering the teacher screams violently when she picks this up, I think she's seeing what we're seeing too.
Now that the internet makes it so easy to go back and watch all of my favorite childhood shows, I'm consistently finding all of these jokes and allusions that flew right by me growing up. I doubt that they put these in episodes for the adults. If my parents saw some of these, Rugrats would have ended up with Ren & Stimpy and Cow & Chicken on the "Maybe When You're Older" list of shows I wasn't allowed to watch.
Whatever the creators' reasons for putting them in, I'm certainly glad I get to appreciate them now. Maybe I'm a masochist, but I find some new comfort every time my childhood gets a little bit ruined.
Were you surprised by any of these subversive moments in Rugrats?