Christine Cavanaugh Tribute
|The 'Rats in the Hat
by Toby Herman
TNT's Rough Cut
November 30, 1998
TNT's Rough Cut Q & As: Cavanaugh and Mothersbaugh discuss working on The Rugrats Movie.
As the holiday rush takes over theaters nationwide, one film seems destined to a fate of happy babies everywhere. Enter The Rugrats Movie. Jumping from the tube to the silver screen, Nickelodeon's lovable playgroup is off on a wild adventure, all starting with the birth of Dylan Pickles. The long format brought new challenges for the voice talent, animators and music coordinators, who, judging by all the hype, have more than risen to the occasion. Christine Cavanaugh, the voice of scaredy-cat Chuckie and Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo fame), the film's composer, explain why their big-screen adventure will be a big hit for the whole family.
The thing that struck me most was watching the format grow into an hour and a half from the television show. It was a really different spin on a typical cartoon. First of all, "Rugrats" is geared so much toward kids and adults, a lot more than some "family" fare. In this case, a lot of the talent will hit home with both generations of movie-goers. How did they package all the talent, from celebrity voices to the soundtrack influences?
Christine: Well, we have Mark Mothersbaugh. And he called people.
Mark: (laughs) There are a lot of people who are "Rugrats" fans. And Patti Smith said she would sing, if her daughter could come to the recording session. You know, it just works out.
What was it like going from the half-hour format to the movie format as far as being in character?
Christine: It was not any different, being in character, in that sense. We've been doing the show for seven years, so that's pretty well established. And it's the same cast. But because it's longer, there was a lot more to do to make it different. So, it wasn't one note, you know? But the script gave us everything we needed. We just got to play.
How did you juggle doing the film and the series? Did they separate the schedules?
Christine: No, we were doing the show and the film at the same time. The film took us about a week of recording, all together. We spent minimal time compared to everybody else involved in the collaboration and animation.
Why do you think that they chose now to go and do a Rugrats movie? It seems like, in Hollywood right now, animation is a big thing, but they're also taking it a step further with 3-D computer animation like A Bug's Life and adult narratives like The Prince of Egypt.
Christine: They pitched the movie five years ago and it took a couple of years to sell the idea for "Rugrats," because it's kind of hard to crack that Disney block in the theaters. So, I think what happened was that Arlene Klasky and Mort Schubert, talked their way into Paramount with Sherry Lansing and she loved "The Rugrats," and she gave them a shot.
Do you think the film will broaden your audience or is it really going to just attract your weekly fans?
Christine: It will expand the audience. We're hoping it does -- knock on wood. There are plenty of people in that age range who are single, like 20s through their 30s, who aren't familiar with it. And most adults, if they have children, they live, you know, in 70 different countries, so they tell us, are probably familiar with it. And it does crossover for both parents and kids. I mean, it's written on two levels, which is intentional.
As far as the plotline, with the new baby, when is that being picked up in the series?
Christine: Baby Dil is the new catalyst for the rest of the series.
How did it work with the characters singing? Did they want you to do it in character voice or what?
Christine: We did it over and over....
Mark: We wanted the Rugrats cartoon characters to actually sing, as opposed to doing a film like a video where all of a sudden, a voice like Jim Nabors comes up, where the cartoon characters would all of a sudden sing with a real serious, boring voice. We wanted the kids to sing how they sound. We wanted them to sing like kids sing, you know, all excited and out of tune. And we got it. There's a lot of celebrities on this. Like I said, really, the essence of the musical part for me is the actors from the series, Tommy and Chuckie and Phil and Lil and Angelica. And Angelica sings a Blondie song, that's what I think is the great part about this. The other thing is that they do one song that takes place in a maternity ward with a day old baby. And that one we did with recognizable voices. It was kind of a joke, 'cause it had to be funny, backing up a day old baby, yet they all had voices where you could go, "Hey, that's the guy from A Tribe Called Quest" or "Hey, that's Jakob Dylan, that's Lou Rawls or Iggy Pop," you know? Or Lisa Loeb and Busta Rhymes. So, that was the idea behind that.
Yeah, and I definitely think that by doing that and by using the characters, actually singing, you put a good spin on it. And that gave it an edge that I think "Rugrats" luckily had from the beginning.
Mark: Well, we were worried about looking like another version of Disney. They've done a good thing. They've done some great things in the past. But now, it just seemed like a good time to redefine what animation and what kid's animation could be about. And I think Rugrats is going to be a strong contributor.
Christine, how would you describe your character of Chuckie? Why is he so appealing to kids?
Christine: He's a nerdy sidekick. Yeah, he's Tommy's best friend. You know, everybody feels for the kid who's scared or the kid who's kind of the put-down kid. Everybody relates to that. We've all experienced it. And it always gives him someplace to go, because you know he's going to overcome it in some way. You're rooting for him.
Mark: Because the kids identify with that they identify with the way that he relates to things. You know, a lot of kids go, "Yeah, yeah."
Christine: He usually bucks up because Tommy needs it or one of the other characters needs it. He doesn't do it intentionally on his own for his own sake.
Mark: It's too hard. But he's great.
Christine: Yeah. We'll keep him.
And what about Angelica? She almost broke down at the end of the film?
Mark: A side of Angelica that's never been revealed before! I think it's touching.
I wonder how long that will last?
Christine: She has her moments. She's the nemesis. But everybody likes her on some level -- each character has something that we relate to in ourselves.
I think that the most telling thing about Angelica is her relationship with her ratty old doll Cynthia. Every kid can understand "Don't touch that, that's mine" and "What happened to that?"
Christine: We can all relate to Barbie dolls. Her hair has been totally destroyed by us.
How many times did I get in trouble for that? So, did you have fun working on the movie? Did it feel any different?
Christine: It was a blast. It felt different in just that it was a feature film and we knew it was a big deal and it was like all the people who created "Rugrats" -- Arlene Klasky and Gabor Csupo, they've been doing this for 20 years. They started this little company out of their apartment. But it has always been their dream to do feature films. And they want to do live action, as well. But then there's a lot of things in the works. So, this is like their groundbreaker. So, it's like a family celebration. You know, like a victory. Completely.
How many times have you seen the finished version of the film?
Mark: I've seen it quite a few times because I'm the last person in line, you know, so I've seen it quite a few.
Christine: Well, I'm one of the very first things in the process, so it was two years ago almost that we recorded. And you see a script and they show us some storyboards and tell us some of the animations and then the ink stuff. And you're reading it, which is always one thing, because you have your own vision of it when you're reading it. And then seeing it exceeds my [expectations]. [It's] what I thought it would be. Most definitely. Especially the CGI, which is the computer animation, the background and the sky....
Mark: They made it so lush looking.
Christine: And it held up so well with the characters, and the characters are so bright. But this puts them in a new dimension.
Mark: Yeah, it was pretty smart the way they did it.
Christine: It's beautiful. I think it's beautiful.
Mark: Because it retains all of the important essence of the TV show, with the way the characters look and even the design, but yeah, the three-dimensional quality, it's really worthy of the big screen.
Christine: And it's got a complete look of its own.
Mark: "Beavis and Butthead," they kept it just as chintzy as it was on TV on purpose, because that's part of the charm.
Christine: But Rugrats, they just loom bigger than life on the big screen.
There are so many ways you can go wrong translating from the short format to the big screen and so many ways you can stretch things out that it just doesn't work. Why do you think you've surpassed those obstacles?
Mark: All the people who worked on it, everybody feels pretty good about it. And, I don't know, I've worked on movies that were stinkers before. You know, where it's the last line and you're watching and you're going, "How did that script that I read three months ago turn into this?" But this was really a wonderful experience.
Are you ever recognized as the voice of Chuckie on the street? Do you wish you could just turn it off once in a while?
Christine: No. No. Everybody has a day, you know? But if it's not that bad, there's an anonymity of being a Rugrats voice-over, and it's kids. You know, children are pretty straight forward. And they don't really diddle around and they don't want anything from you, really. Or they want to say something goofy to you and then they're done. They're moving on.