About The Production
As far as executive producer Albie Hecht is concerned, the “Rugrats” meeting “The Wild Thornberrys” was bound to happened sooner or later. Hecht had already shepherded the debuts of both cartoon clans onto the big screen with Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo, whom he calls “one of the top animation teams in the business.” After twelve years of working together spawning countless beloved characters, Hecht says they’d been looking for an opportunity to “cross-pollinate” their successes.
“We’re always trying to reach a step beyond where we’ve been,” says producer and Arlene Klasky. “By combining these two wonderful sets of characters, we felt there would be numerous possibilities for a great adventure.”
Producer and Gabor Csupo adds that he was excited to have his creative team run with the challenge. “Producing innovative children’s entertainment is what we’re all about,” says Csupo. “And we also feel that engaging adults makes our creative product that much better.”
“One of our artists on the ‘Rugrats’ series, Craig Elliott, did a drawing of Chuckie and Donnie switching their clothes,” recalls Hecht. “It was an astonishing piece of art, because when we looked at those two characters, we realized that they could be each other. It was that ‘oh-wow’ moment of two worlds colliding. From then on, we knew we had a crossover movie.”
Executive producer Eryk Casemiro remembers that magic moment very well. “Something none of us had considered before was that the physical construction -- the architecture of those two characters -- was different, yet similar in a way,” says Casemiro. “A light went on in my head as well as in Kate Boutilier’s, and we started drawing comparisons between all the characters in both shows.”
Writer Kate Boutilier ran with the idea, remembering the day she wrote on a legal pad: Chuckie, the scaredy-cat boy = Donnie, the wild boy; Debbie, the big brat = Angelica, the little brat.
“It was a natural, then, to think of Eliza, the girl who talks to animals, paired with Spike, the dog who’s never talked to humans before,” says Boutilier. “And because Tommy Pickles watches the Thornberrys’ nature TV show, you instantly can see that the adventurous baby would idolize Nigel the grownup explorer. What developed then was a great opportunity for all the characters to grow.”
Worrywart Chuckie (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) switches clothes and personalities with bold Donnie, and gets to be a hero for once, declaring proudly, “I saved someone instead of someone always saving me!” A veteran voiceover artist, Cartwright, who also does the voice of Bart Simpson, says, “Chuckie is very complicated, and one of the most challenging characters I’ve ever voiced. He’s intimidated by life in general, but after switching proverbial hats with Donnie, he gets his chance to do outrageous things and get away with it. There’s great freedom in that, but there’s also a big opportunity to get himself into trouble.”
Speaking of trouble, Cheryl Chase, who voices Angelica, couldn’t imagine her character having a better teen diva model than Debbie Thornberry, voiced by Danielle Harris.
“Not that she really needs lessons in bossiness, but Angelica learns a thing or two from Debbie,” observes Chase. “And she just loves getting to spend quality time with an almost-grownup instead of those darn babies she’s stuck with all the time. Still, she can’t resist the opportunity to pull one over on Debbie, and in the process, she gets them both into a lot of deep water.”
“Debbie is the older sister that little kids can relate to, and Angelica would do anything to be like her,” observes Harris, who welcomed the opportunity to interact with the Rugrats’ clan. “The Thornberrys are usually on their own, doing their own thing, so it’s nice to end up in the middle of nowhere with a group of people that just might be even crazier than we are!”
Another pairing made possible by this comedy of errors happens when the intrepid Tommy seeks out his hero Nigel “Strawberry” to rescue them off the island. But after a bonk on the head from a coconut, the lovable Thornberry patriarch regresses back to his inner-infant and it is Tommy who ends up having to save him.
“That’s the real fun and the ultimate crossover,” laughs Tim Curry, who voices Nigel Thornberry. “Basically, Nigel himself turns into a Rugrat!”
“What’s so wonderful is that it’s a story about friendship and having faith in each other,” says E.G. Daily, who voices Tommy. “Kids can really learn something from Tommy when he realizes he has a lot more in his diapers than a bunch of dreams.”
Throughout this tale of friendship, the infants never seem to falter, even while their parents are arguing over how they got stuck on the island and how they plan to get back to civilization. At one point, in fact, their arguments become so heated that Betty DeVille draws a “circle of chaos” in the sand – a clear homage to TV’s “Survivor” and the Thornberrys accidentally mistake them for “a hostile tribe.” Meanwhile, as the adults continue to kvetch about their vacation not turning out as planned, they don’t even notice when their babies wander off.
Kath Soucie, who voices Betty as well as the bug-eating twins Phil and Lil, observes that even though the crisis appears to bring out the worst in the grownups, once they realize the babies are gone, they pull together to get them back.
“The adults do come to their senses pretty quickly,” says Soucie. “Then they work as a team and apply real ingenuity and great heart into finding the kids and figuring out how to get back home.”
As it turns out -- quirky as each of them is -- the Rugrat parents all end up contributing something to the final successful outcome once they begin to cooperate with one another. Most importantly, the adults come to realize why they went on a family vacation in the first place: to spend quality time together.
Executive producer Julia Pistor, herself a mother of three, can certainly relate, especially since she started to have her children while making the Rugrat movies and had little time on her hands for vacations, let alone quality time with her family.
“We wanted to address that when families do finally have the chance to vacation together, they should really try to be together,” says Pistor. “There are so many holiday cruises nowadays that are ‘supposedly’ for families, but what often happens is the adults go off to gamble and leave the children with babysitters or in activities designed just for kids. They might as well be on separate cruises!”
Writer Kate Boutilier remembers the sentiment expressed at Paramount during early meetings on the film. “Sherry Lansing said she’d like people to leave the theater, hug their children and feel happy that they’re together,” says Boutilier. “Too many of us lose sight of something as simple as that.”
“Sometimes it takes extraordinary situations to realize how much you have,” confirms Albie Hecht. “I think especially at this time when the world is unsettled and we are looking to find meaningful ways to reconnect to the family, this film could be a good starting point for dialogue. There’s no denying the movie has a message, but it’s all within the context of a very feel-good, high-comedy romp.”