Nickelodeon was known in the ’90s and early 2000s for having the best animated programming around for kids. Some of their shows that fans still love and watch on DVD are Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Hey Arnold!, The Angry Beavers, and of course, Rugrats. Rugrats was an amazing show that features a group of babies and adults and their everyday lives.
Rugrats was one of Nickelodeon’s most popular and successful shows until SpongeBob SquarePants aired. It had nine seasons with over 170 episodes. This franchise even broke out into three movies, games, books, and toys.
Many believe that one of the reasons why Rugrats was so successful is because of how advanced the show was. This show is now known for being ahead of its time because of the many characters and moments the writers put on the show. With over 170 episodes to go through we have found the top five ways Rugrats was ahead of its time in the 1990s.
Rugrats – It Celebrated Cultural Diversity
On T.V. today you can see a diverse cast of characters in one show, but in the 1990’s it was very typical to show middle-class white families on T.V. But Rugrats was not afraid to show different cultures on their show, even if it was aimed for kids. One of the most noticeable characters different from the first few seasons is Didi Pickles’ parents, who are “from the old country.” The show incorporates many Jewish heritage aspects in the show and even has two fully Jewish themed episodes, “A Rugrats Passover” and “A Rugrats Chanukah.”
Additionally, Rugrats added Japanese characters, Kimi and Kira, after Rugrats in Paris: The Movie. These characters are added into the show by Kira marrying Chas Finster, showcasing an intercultural marriage.
Rugrats – It Challenged Gender Norms
Even though there are many adults in the Rugrats world, the show always focused around the babies and the trouble they got into every day. The babies were smart, funny, and did whatever they wanted since they didn’t know about consequences. The babies also challenged gender norms all the time. In the “Clan of the Duck” episode, the boys Tommy, Phil, and Chuckie get jealous that they have to wear pants/shorts even in hotter weather. So the boys go through and wear some of Lil’s dresses to stay cool. The boys end up loving the dresses as they were easier to go to the bathroom in and they make great parachutes.
All throughout the episode “Beauty Contest,” Grandpa Lou dresses Tommy up as a girl wearing a dress, wig, and makeup, just so he can enter an all-girl beauty contest so Grandpa Lou can try to win a boat. Even though the way Rugrats approached these topics was fun and lightheartedly, it still was something that many shows won’t even do now.
Rugrats – Carmichael Family
The Carmichael family was introduced into the Rugrats world in season two with the episode, “Meet The Carmichaels.” The Carmichaels were a successful black family that made a perfect addition to the series. Suzi Carmichael was a friend of the babies. She was smart, caring, and could even speak French!
Suzi’s parents Randy and Lucy were very successful in their jobs as well. Lucy was Havard-educated and a doctor who helped Didi deliver her second son Dil. As for Randy, he was a talented writer and wrote for one of the babies’ favorite T.V. show The Dummi Bears Show. Adding a successful black family into their show was uncommon for the time period the show aired. But adding this diversity was necessary to show children that you can love and be friends with anyone no matter their race.
It Tackled Difficult Topics
Kids shows are known for being light and funny to entertain kids but Rugrats wanted to be more than that. They wanted to have difficult topics on the show to really be able to portray what any child goes through. The episode “Mother’s Day,” reveals that Tommy was born premature and was in the NICU. In the episode, Tommy talks about how he was in a “weird fish tank,” but he knows everything was alright since his mom was there with him.
In that same episode, Chas talked to Didi about how hard it’s been for him since his wife passed. So Chas does what he thinks is best and does not mention Chuckie’s mother to Chuckie. At the end of the episode, Chas not only talks to Chuckie about his mother, he also ends up bringing him to her grave making them both feel closer to her and each other.
It Had Strong Women Characters
Rugrats has a cast of both adults and babies whose personalities all line up and create an amazing friendship to empower each other. But the moms in the show take centerstage not just for their friendship, but also for their gender norm breaking ways. In the show, Didi is the “breadwinner” out of her and her husband Stu. Even though Stu is an inventor and does have some good inventions here and there, it’s because of Didi’s steady paycheck they can pay the bills. Betty DeVille is known for being powerful. She is loud, very into sports, and does not do the “typical” mom roles of the house.
The most powerful woman, hands down, is Charlotte Pickles. Charlotte is the CEO of her own company, Mega Corp. She is seen in almost every episode working on the phone talking to her assistant Jonathon. Not only is she a workforce powerhouse, but she is also motivated and will get things done when the other mothers struggle on a task. These are the type of female characters we want to see in current shows.