What the ‘Rugrats’ would really look like — if they were all grown up

Sideshow
Rugrats

As a Gen Xer, I grew up amidst Baby Boomer nostalgia for the 1950s — shows like "Stand By Me" and "Happy Days." Today’s kids are being inundated with our nostalgia for 1980s franchises like "Ghostbusters" and "Star Wars." And now we’re seeing the beginning of Millennial nostalgia, or at least a wave of artists who fondly remember the cartoons they watched on afternoon TV and imagine what those characters would look like as grown-ups.

Jane and Daria
The artist Celeste Pille imagines the characters Jane and Daria from MTV's 1990s show "Daria."Celeste Pille/Tumblr

Full disclosure: I have something at stake here. I worked as a storyboard artist for the animation studio Klasky Csupo from 1999 to 2002, drawing "The Rugrats," "The Wild Thornberrys," "Rocket Power" and the woefully underrated gem "As Told By Ginger." Seriously, why didn’t you kids watch "Ginger"? It was a great show.

What does that mean — I was a storyboard artist? In our analog era, we'd get the script and a cassette tape of all the voices, already recorded. We'd imagine it playing out as a TV show, and draw every camera angle, every acting pose. Then the storyboards were shipped to Korea, where the animators blew them up on a Xerox machine, drew the animation based on our storyboards, and shipped the color footage back to us on videotape three months later.

My favorite episode that I worked on was "Cat Got Your Tongue," when Phil and Lil thought their father's laryngitis was caused by Angelica's cat literally stealing his tongue (a salmon roll at a cocktail party).    

So when I see illustrations like this, imagining the Rugrats today:

Rugrats today
Rugrats imagined today.Celeste Pille

Or this:

Modern Rugrats
Rugrats imagined today.Isaiah Stephens

Or this:

Rugrats re-envisioned
Rugrats imagined today.Leerer Raum

It really bugs me — not the quality of the artwork, but the interpretation. We referred to them as lumpy babies for a reason. If we ever drew the Rugrats as being too cute, our executive producer would scold us. We were supposed to emulate the style of Eastern European animators — many of whom were brought over, with their sly wit and husky voices (they took a lot of smoke breaks).

When I worked on "All Growed Up," a made-for-TV movie where the Rugrats imagined themselves in junior high, I tried to keep the awkwardness intact. But the studio spun it off into a series, which I thought was too sitcom-y. If you wanted to see what the Rugrats would be like in junior high, you should've been watching "As Told By Ginger." Did I mention it was a great show?

So no. The Rugrats did not all grow up to be fashion models or self-confident hipsters. Especially not Chuckie. They probably grew up to be average, if not slightly lumpy, looking people — just like their parents. My best guess? In 2015, the Rugrats would look look something like this:

The Rugrats, grown up
Rugrats imagined today.Eric Molinsky

Or this:

Other Rugrats
Rugrats imagined today.Eric Molinsky

As I have re-read this post, I see how I could have come off arrogant or dismissive, and I'm sorry for that. I chose the works that I featured because I thought the artists who drew them were talented, and their work was so well-drawn that I wanted to advocate for the un-glamorous style of the original Klasky-Csupo animation. But I don't speak for the studio or the creators. I was simply an employee and now a fan myself.

Are you with The World?

The story you just read is available to read for free because thousands of listeners and readers like you generously support our nonprofit newsroom. Every day, the reporters and producers at The World are hard at work bringing you human-centered news from across the globe. But we can’t do it without you: We need your support to ensure we can continue this work for another year.

When you make a gift of $10 or more a month, we’ll invite you to a virtual behind-the-scenes tour of our newsroom to thank you for being with The World.