For ’90s Babies Who Miss the ‘Rugrats,’ Check out the Virtual Escape Room
I have written extensively about my love of all things Nickelodeon, circa 1990s. From Ren & Stimpy to Pete & Pete, Alex Mack to Salute Your Shorts, Rocko’s Modern Life to Hey Arnold!, it was truly a golden age in children’s entertainment where risks were taken, creativity abounded and the end product thrived. As my colleague David Ferguson wrote in his review of the incredible The Orange Years: The Story of Nickelodeon documentary, “what’s most impressive with the backstory is how those behind the programming were so energized and committed to changing the world of children’s TV. There may have been game shows, slime, and Gak, but the real impact resulted from their understanding of kids…kids that are now adults, and admit to growing up watching Nickelodeon. It’s a legacy that continues today.”
And very high on that already-esteemed pedigree of hits is Rugrats, the classic cartoon about babies whose imaginations run rampant as they come across and interact with things and ideas they don’t yet understand about the adult world, along with their own imagined adventures. Babies Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily), Chuckie Finster (the late Christine Cavanaugh), and twins Phil and Lil DeVille (Kath Soucie) typically battle Tommy’s mean, antagonist older cousin Angelica (Cheryl Chase), who always dismisses the younger ones as “you dumb babies!”
Rugrats was already a much-beloved and constantly airing staple on Nickelodeon, so when a new full-length movie was announced with a Thanksgiving 1998 release date, it was the event of the season to me and other Nickelodeon babies all over the world. The film primarily deals with Tommy’s burden and responsibility upon becoming a big brother to newborn Dil (Tara Strong), as all the babies eventually end up lost in a scary forest. My mom still recounts a moment in the movie where Angelica sings a riff on Blondie’s song “One Way or Another” in search of her beloved Barbie-esque doll named Cynthia as a particular joy. And while its sequel, Rugrats in Paris, might be less charming, it does have what may be the best spoof of the opening scene of The Godfather in pop-culture history.
Besides the movies, of particular note is a Mother’s Day special in which Chuckie’s mother’s absence is finally explained: she had passed away shortly after Chuckie was born. The episode is considered a highlight by fans and critics alike, showing that despite its juvenile premise, the show was capable of great emotional depth and poignancy, and could maturely tackle themes of grief and death.
There’s a new CGI iteration of the show airing on streaming platform Paramount+ with much of the original cast of the babies’ respective voice actors returning. But for some reason, the adults are being voiced by an all-star cast, including three of the major cast members from Veep, a show so removed from the world of Rugrats that they barely belong together in the same sentence. I probably won’t check it out, I’ve been disappointed by recent reboots of cartoons trying to recapture their 1990s heyday as of late. (Looking at you, Animaniacs.) However, I am grateful that a new generation has the chance to grow up with the concept and characters the way I did, and that Rugrats still resonates three decades after it originally premiered.
On June 11th, I had the great privilege of attending a remarkable demonstration of a new Rugrats-themed escape room done “in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Nickelodeon’s Rugrats.” Entitled “Rugrats: Search for the Losted Toys,” this limited edition virtual event was fun and engaging, as a team of us tried to find clues and solve puzzles in order to find the babies’ lost toys. Held over Zoom, it was presented to us by the game’s “babysitter,” who would go where we told him to go and interact with the environment. Additionally, we had a very enthusiastic host who adorably referred to us participants as “grown-up babies.”
There are three different areas that fans of the show will easily recognize: the kitchen, the backyard, and Pickles family father Stu’s (the late Jack Riley) workspace for inventing. From the babies’ love of cookies being on full display in the kitchen to the doghouse of Pickles family dog Spike in the backyard, each area invokes beloved aspects of the show. The interactivity is key, as you can move different figures around on the jungle gym to get the secret passage into Stu’s workspace, or as move around the sand in the baby’s sandbox, as doing so provides much-needed clues. Finally, a bunch of the clues the team have already encountered must be utilized one final time to solve the final puzzle and win the game.
I was most impressed by the attention to detail. Fans of the cartoon will recognize references and Easter eggs abound, from a bookshelf containing the works of Pickles’ favorite child psychology writer Dr. Lipschitz, who you actually have to call in order to get one of the clues, to the final toy you have to find being the babies’ favorite Godzilla-clone, Reptar, this was clearly by fans of Rugrats, for fans of Rugrats. I particularly like the stylized, cartoon-esque design and furniture, it feels like you just stepped into the world of the show.
I think one of the most nostalgic aspects of participating in this was how invocative it felt of other 90s interactive media, particularly computer games such as the various iterations of Carmen Sandiego. But in fact, I think I can remember one Rugrats computer game in particular that I had growing up as a kid that this reminded me of, complete with various challenges and an inventory of items.
I must admit that this was my first time participating in an escape room, but would recommend this to almost anyone, particularly Rugrats fans. I came into this not really knowing what to expect, hoping that it would at least be interesting, as well as be in keeping with what made the show such a hit and resonate so much. Now that I have participated in it, I can report that “Rugrats: Search for the Losted Toys” is delightfully nostalgic, an absolute blast, and any “grown-up baby” who loves Rugrats the way I did should be dazzled and delighted by this captivating new game.
The Rugrats virtual escape room is now available for the general public to play either virtually and in person at locations in both Las Vegas and King of Prussia, PA.