After taking a trip to the past with Rocko’s Modern Life during the spring, it seems only fitting that I also take a look at the Rocko’s Modern Life movie from 2019: Static Cling. To be fair, the term “movie” is definitely used loosely when applied to this piece of media. Static Cling was originally conceived by Nickelodeon as a one hour TV special with commercials so the running time is a tidy 45 minutes. It’s basically a double-episode, but considering Rocko’s Modern Life had never had a special before it’s easily the longest story the show ever committed to.
The special was announced in 2016 by Nickelodeon and it rejoins the original cast, alongside series creator Joe Murray, and gives fans a look at what Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui), Heffer (Tom Kenny), Filburt (Doug Lawrence), and the rest have been up to since. The theme of the special is change as it’s a very metta look at how audiences grapple with the loss of something from their past and seek out nostalgia binges to fill that hole left behind. The special will drive that point home quite literally by having Rocko, who has been lost in space since the events of “Future Schlock,” return to an O-Town that has long since ridden itself of his favorite cartoon: The Fatheads. Rocko is forced to confront this new O-Town and adapt to a new modern without his binky and he finds it impossible. Conversely, he has to watch his two best friends adapt just fine as Heffer and Filburt become immediately enchanted by modern technology. A clerical error by neighbor Ed Bighead (Charlie Adler), whose life has apparently been bliss since Rocko and his friends were blasted off into space, causes the mega-corporation, Conglom-O, to lose all of its paper value thus plunging all of O-Town (since Conglom-O owns everything) into a depression. Rocko is able to convince the head at Conglom-O, Mr. Dupette (Adler), that a way to help the company out would be to produce a new Fatheads TV Special. The only problem is that series creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) hasn’t been seen or heard from in years.
The early bits of the special unfold in a predictable, but still entertaining, manner. Rocko and the gang are shown adjusting to modern life and the classic opening segment from the TV show is even redone with modern technology now harassing Rocko. There’s also a nice bit of the boys taking in a gritty reboot of Really Really Big Man that’s an obvious parody of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Even though the special is basically mocking those who have been begging for this show to return for the last 20 years, there’s still a ton of fan service throughout as basically every character of note returns for a cameo, at the very least.
Static Cling was commissioned as a Nickelodeon TV Special initially, but the network wound up passing on it and selling the rights to Netflix. This caused a rather significant delay in getting the special in front of fans. Nickelodeon never offered up a reason why it chose to option the special to Netflix, but many speculate it has to do with the character formerly known as Ralph Bighead. A major plot device in the special is that when Rocko eventually finds Ralph, he finds that Ralph no longer identifies as male and has taken the name Rachel instead. The reaction of Rocko and his friends, and basically everyone in town, is very positive as they basically congratulate Rachel and that’s that. Rachel’s father, Ed, is the only one who has an issue with it resurrecting his line “I have no son!” from the Season Two premiere. Nickelodeon was reportedly supportive of the idea to add a transgender character, and it certainly fits the theme of change, but it’s not the best look for the network that it chose to pass on airing this. Maybe the network found it could make more by selling the distribution rights to Netflix, but how much would the pay-out have been affected if Nickelodeon chose to premiere it on its own network and then pass it off to Netflix? Probably not a lot and it’s a shame it didn’t see this as an opportunity to make a positive social statement.
The look and sound of Static Cling is quite similar to what fans remember from the show, but also a bit different. Cartoons just aren’t made in the same manner they were back in the 90s so Static Cling doesn’t necessarily look like a 90s cartoon. It’s obviously all digital and a bit more “clean” to look at. Some of that Rocko’s Modern Life grime has been lost and this is overall a far less gross version of the show than viewers are used to. Not that Rocko’s Modern Life needed to be gross in order to be funny. The only big change I felt a bit jarring is that Rocko’s fur is a deeper shade of beige than it was before. As mentioned before, basically all of the cast returned to voice the main characters and the side ones as well. Pretty much all of them still sound the same, though Tom Kenny’s Heffer is a bit higher and is the most notable difference.
Rocko’s Modern Life was able to garner itself a reputation for adult humor during its life as it sometimes found itself censored after airing. Fans hoping for something as titillating as “Leap Frogs” or the infamous moo-milker gag might be a little let down by Static Cling. The Chokey Chicken does get to have its original name restored (it’s mascot has also been slimmed down as it’s become health conscious in this new modern setting) and Really Really Big Man’s magic nipples get some screen time as well. The only borderline lewdness I picked up on was just an emphasis on Mrs. Bighead’s ample bosom. There’s a scene where a fence divides her and Rocko and her breasts hang over it right in Rocko’s face, though he doesn’t seem to notice. She even reaches into her cleavage to pull out an object, though that’s the kind of gag I feel like the original show could have got away with anyway (and maybe did).
Static Cling does an excellent job of giving these characters a reason to exist in the 2010s. The foundation is solid, though I found the last fifteen minutes or so started to drag for me. A lot of the best humor and gags occur early in the special and it doesn’t help that the Rachel Bighead plot feels very similar to Ralph’s debut in “I Have No Son.” It was both disappointing and predictable to see Ed Bighead serves as the conflict once again for Rachel and the character just re-learns the lesson he had already learned back in that old episode. Maybe it could have been more interesting if the opposite had occurred and it was Bev Bighead that took issue with Rachel? Anything to make it feel less redundant would have likely helped, though maybe it didn’t feel redundant to someone who hasn’t seen that episode in 20 years.
Ultimately, Static Cling does have something to say and it’s a worthwhile message. It’s examination of modern fandom and nostalgia is pretty on point, and the overall message that change is necessary is a statement worth saying. The fact that it also contains a positive portrayal of a transgender character is also great as that’s a minority that is still under-represented. It never stoops to cheap trans jokes too, which is a plus, as the production did seek input from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) during production. It’s also hard not to enjoy Static Cling for the reason it seems to not want the viewer to enjoy it for and that’s just the pure nostalgia trip one gets from interacting with these characters once again. I have no doubt that because of it’s approach to comically infuse cartoon characters into a modern society that Rocko’s Modern Life could make a full comeback and be just as funny in 2020 as it was in 1995. It’s perhaps the cartoon from that era that has aged the best. It doesn’t seem like Joe Murray is interested in a full-blown comeback, but at least we got a little taste of what life would be like for Rocko in the 2010s.
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