Yesterday, we took a look at the 1992 Christmas special from the third Nickelodeon Nicktoon The Ren & Stimpy Show. Today, we’re basically working backwards and talking about the second Nicktoon to premiere: Rugrats. The Ren & Stimpy Show is probably the most celebrated of the original Nicktoons when it comes to animation circles, but I don’t think there’s much of an argument to be made as to which was the most commercially successful. That honor fell to Rugrats, the Klasky-Csupo original that is still relevant even today. Like Ren & Stimpy and Doug, Rugrats was a show in production basically until Nickelodeon had enough episodes to fill an entire calendar. And it did, because Rugrats aired seemingly all of the time on the network in the early to mid 90s to the point where I feel like I’ve seen each episode from that run a hundred times, and Rugrats wasn’t even a favorite of mine! It was solid though and rarely failed to entertain me as an adolescent, and even as an adult now that has watched the series more than once with my children, I can still say it’s pretty charming. Unlike the other Nicktoons, the success of Rugrats could not be ignored by Nickelodeon and the show returned to production in 1996 followed by a movie in 1998. That film would receive sequels and the show even got a spin-off in 2001 in the form of All Growed Up. And it’s still going today as Nickelodeon airs a new CG version of the series on its network and Paramount+.
Following a successful first season for each Nicktoon, Nickelodeon brought back all three seemingly with the mandate of making a Christmas episode. Two shows debuted a Christmas episode in 1992, though as we saw yesterday, The Ren & Stimpy Show Christmas episode was booted to MTV. Doug would follow with its Christmas episode in 1993. In the years following this episode, Rugrats would become somewhat famous for shining a light on non-Christian holidays. Lead baby Tommy Pickles lives in a mixed-religion household with his mother being Jewish and father some form of Christian. During the show’s hiatus, Nickelodeon would commission two Jewish themed specials for Passover and Chanukah, which was pretty cool. I had some cousins on my mother’s side who were Jewish as the result of my uncle marrying a Jewish woman and I remember my mom actually making it a point for my sister and I to get an understanding of the Jewish religion. Well, the holidays anyways as she bought us a kid’s book or two and even made us watch those specials. I think we even tried to add the Rugrats Chanukah special to our treasured Christmas Tape, but it didn’t record. Probably because we forgot to remove the piece of Scotch tape from the VHS that prevented it from ever getting recorded over. Or, the spirit of The Christmas Tape struck and decided only Christmas specials may appear on it. It’s probably the latter.
Anyway, before that could happen Nickelodeon apparently wanted Christmas to occur so we have “The Santa Experience.” This is one of those rare episodes of the show where both segments are combined into one. Like many cartoons of the era, Rugrats aired in half hour blocks and consisted of two roughly 11 minute cartoons that were unrelated to each other. It often felt like one segment would try to contain the whole ensemble, while the second would focus on just a baby or two with Tommy almost always included. And if you happened to have made it this far in your life without ever experiencing Rugrats, it’s a show about babies. Tommy Pickles (E.G. Daily) is the de-facto alpha baby and most of the episodes seem to occur at his house. He lives with his mom Didi (Melanie Chartoff), dad Stu (Jack Riley), and grandpa Lou (David Doyle). Lou, being a retiree, is seemingly counted on to watch the babies often (despite his narcoleptic tendencies) thus explaining why they always end up at Tommy’s house. The other babies are fraternal twins Phil and Lil (Kath Soucie for both), the cowardly Chuckie (Christine Cavanaugh), and 3-year old Angelica (Cheryl Chase), Tommy’s bully of an older cousin. The babies often go on adventures where they’re relying on their imagination to create the show’s visuals, sort of like Muppet Babies. Often their adventures stem from them misunderstanding something from the adult world with Angelica often pushing them along into a situation likely to get them into trouble or in one where she can take advantage of them.
“The Santa Experience,” revolving around Christmas and all the weird stuff that goes along with the holiday, seems ripe for a Rugrats plot. Tommy, being the youngest, has never really experienced Christmas and his buddy Chuckie, who is 2 and afraid of everything, has some stuff to share about Santa Claus. Meanwhile, the spoiled Angelica is going to see Christmas as the perfect opportunity to get more stuff and if she can ruin things for the babies then that will make her happy too. And for the parents, Didi is pretty obsessed with marking milestones with Tommy and it can be expected that she wants to make sure one of his earliest Christmases is a memorable one. It’s so easy that it’s no wonder why they wrote it!
The episode begins following a normal version of the credits (they did change-up the music, but not really for the better) with an image of snow falling. It’s fake snow because we’re at a mall, and Tommy and Chuckie are waiting in-line with their dads to see Santa Claus. Chuckie is describing Christmas in grave tones and seemingly doesn’t like that the grown-ups all smile more during the holidays. He’s working towards the worst part though: Santa Claus! Tommy, who seemed concerned during Chuckie’s big explainer, laughs when he gets to Santa and tells him that Santa is good because he’s big and fat and brings presents. The kid’s only 1 and he already figured this stuff out.
The next child is then summoned to meet Santa and Angelica declares it’s her, whether it was or wasn’t I can’t tell. She runs into this makeshift Santa’s village and jumps into the big guy’s lap. We get a closeup of his face as he grimaces indicating that Angelica must have landed on a sensitive area. The Santa (sounds like Michael Bell, who voices Angelica’s dad Drew) then goes into the usual routine and asks Angelica what she wants for Christmas. She tells him that she wants a Luxurious Hair Cynthia doll, which is kind of funny because the defining characteristic of her beloved Cynthia doll is that most of her hair has been pulled out. The Santa seems agreeable to this, but Angelica stops him because she has more. She then lists off a bunch of stuff she wants that’s all designed to sound insane. Something about a nuclear fission game and a real surgical kit are the highlights. As the Santa starts to pushback by telling her that’s a lot, she raises her voice to yell “I’m not finished yet!” You see, the big item she desires is a Deluxe Cynthia Beach House with real working hot tub, satellite dish, entertainment center, and attached garage.
She ends her list with a smile while leaving the Santa stammering and unsure of what to say. Obviously, this guy is pretty good at his job and doesn’t want to put that kind of pressure on the kid’s parents as he tries to tell her that’s a very long list of presents. Angelica pushes back and questions why he doesn’t already know this stuff already. He stutters and stammers some more and then Angelic lays a harsh accusation upon him: You’re not the real Santa! She goes for the beard and it’s a fake, a rookie mistake by the department store, and she runs screaming out of the little hut “Santa is a fake! Run for your lives!”
We then dissolve on a Happy Holidays banner and find ourselves in the Pickles’ living room. Angelica is opening a “Thanks for Shopping” box that’s apparently full of toys. Phil and Lil ask where she got it and she tells them from Santa Claus. They respond with confusion since it isn’t Christmas yet, but Angelica tells them you just have to know how to work him. Stu, Drew, and Chuckie’s dad Chas (Bell) enter carrying boxes and Drew is concerned for his daughter’s well-being following the incident at the mall. Stu tells him she looks pretty happy to him as we cut to Angelica gleefully ripping open another box and Chas confirms that the store gave her practically every toy they had. Drew is still worried that she’ll be traumatized by the ordeal and it’s not hard to see how Angelica came to be as spoiled as she is with a father like Drew.
The fathers continue doing dad stuff while Angelica continues rummaging through boxes. She’s extremely dissatisfied with the toys gifted to her and refers to it as a bunch of junk since none of it came from her list. Phil and Lil try to take a peek in one of the boxes and she swipes at them sending them running scared into the kitchen. The boys are seated at the table while Didi appears to be helping Betty (Soucie), the mother of Phil and Lil, with some plumbing under the sink. This is supposed to be a bit of gender humor where the men are just gabbing while the masculine Betty does the manual work. It’s dated.
Drew is still fussing over Angelica’s experience while Chas tries to tell him she’ll be fine. He had horrible Christmases growing up and states the best gift he ever got was a rubber glove and tongue depressor. He’s worried for Chuckie and doesn’t want him to have as lame a Christmas as he did. Drew states he wishes he could reaffirm Angelica’s faith in Santa and it’s Betty who chimes in with the idea to rent a cabin up north and have a good old-fashioned family Christmas. Well, not her words exactly, but they sound good to me. Everyone seems enthusiastic at the idea, which is always weird for me since my Christmases always involved going to the homes of grandparents and the idea of just dropping everything to do something else is completely foreign. Didi runs to call a travel agent (and renting a cabin should probably be an impossible task given their proximity to Christmas ) while Stu, who is a bit of a techie, declares he’ll get some lights while Grandpa Lou vows to drink a couple of quarts of eggnog and fall asleep in front of the TV. Now that’s my idea of Christmas!
We return to the living room where Angelica is still upset with the quality of the toys she was given for free. She draws particular attention to a pack of crayons and a Reptar Space Helmet, an accessory for a Reptar doll and not a role play toy, which she tosses aside. In the playpen, Chuckie is playing with some blocks and Tommy his favorite ball while the two resume their Santa conversation. Chuckie stacks the blocks up and then knocks them over to punctuate his description of Santa as someone who breaks into your house while you’re sleeping. Sadly, the blocks do not appear to contain any hidden messages via their orientation. Tommy is still firmly in camp “Santa is Good” and the camera pans over to a dejected looking Phil.
Angelica comes along dragging a massive box of toys and asks Phil what’s up with him? He says he can’t figure out what to get his sister Lil for Christmas, which is a lot of pressure for a toddler. Angelica suggests he get her some crayons for her favorite coloring book which strikes me as a dumb suggestion since I’m sure they already have crayons, but we need this to happen for plot purposes. Phil thinks that’s a great idea, but then gets sad again because he doesn’t know how he can get ahold of a new box of crayons. Angelica is there to wave the box she just got form the store, but when Phil comes running over to grab them she pulls a “Not so fast!” on him. If Phil wants the crayons, he’s going to have to trade his Reptar doll to her for them. He resists at first, but when Angelica declares no crayons for him then, he relents and hands over the doll.
Now, you may have thought Angelica just wanted a Reptar doll for that new Reptar Space Helmet she just got, but Angelica is a very cruel child and has other ideas as she spies Lil. In the kitchen, Didi is on the phone with a travel agent and having little luck finding a cabin, which as I pointed out, makes sense. Outside, Drew and Chas are moping on a picnic table as both try to find solutions for their anxiety, Drew wants to restore Angelica’s faith in Santa while Chas just wants Chuckie to have a nice, memorable, Christmas. The two jump up at the same time declaring they have an idea and the gag is they’re supposed to have come to the same conclusion. And they did! Sort of. Chas goes first and says he can dress up like Santa to surprise the kids on Christmas. Drew enthusiastically declares he was thinking the same thing, only when a surprised Chas asks “You were?!” he shoots down the part about Chas playing Santa in favor of hiring a professional actor. Chas seems hurt by this and reminds Drew he played the lead role in their fourth grade rendition of The Wind in the Willows. Drew deadpans, “Chas, you were a tree,” and he points out “I was the willow!” I guess they’re both right.
In the living room, Angelica comes upon an unsuspecting Lil and asks her what she’s doing. She’s just sitting on the floor with that coloring book she apparently loves looking a little sad. Angelica confirms that she’s thinking about what to get Phil for Christmas, and Angelica tries to help her think of something by asking what his favorite toy is? Lil then lists off a series of three items starting with blocks and ending with a stuffed alligator that has a missing eye. Angelica says “No” to each one and yells at her after the third suggestion that his favorite toy is his Reptar doll and Lil just smiles and says “Oh yeah!” She’s adorable. Angelica then asks Lil what she could get Phil to go with his doll and we go into the same routine again ending with Angelica calling her a dummy for suggesting a bunch of other things and telling her a Reptar Space Helmet is what she needs. Lil, completely unphased, just smiles and thanks Angelica for the suggestion. We skip the bargaining routine this time and we just see Lil hand over the coloring book in exchange for the space helmet. As Lil walks off, Angelica grabs her Cynthia doll to fill her in on her doings. She outlines this Gift of the Magi scenario and punctuates it with a villainous laugh before confirming out loud “I’m bad, Cynthia, real bad!”
This is then carried over to Chuckie who insists “He’s bad, Tommy, real bad,” as they’re apparently still debating the merits of Santa Claus. Tommy still insists he’s nice, then Chuckie wishes that he could catch him and show Tommy how bad he is. Tommy thinks that’s a great idea and declares they’ll simply catch him, but Chuckie doesn’t actually want to catch him because that would be scary. They’re interrupted by Grandpa who gathers the kids to tell them about Santa. He gives them the usual rundown, but ends with a dramatic description of what happens to the bad kids: a great, big, lump of coal! He then dismisses it by declaring none of the kids present have anything to worry about, but Angelica looks a bit distressed. Didi then shouts out they got a cabin!
Later that night, Drew is tucking Angelica into bed, but as he walks out of the bedroom she asks him if it’s true that Santa brings coal to bad kids on Christmas. Drew confirms that’s the case for her without much of a thought as to why she’s asking as he turns off the light and walks out. Alone in her bed, Angelica pulls out Cynthia and tells her she doesn’t care what the grownups say and tries to reassure herself that there’s no way Santa could possibly know about the trick she played on Phil and Lil. Insisting it was a great trick, she drifts off to sleep.
Smash cut to Angelica waking up in the morning. It’s Christmas! She bolts from her bed and runs down the stairs to find her tree loaded with gifts. Her dad appears and assures her they’re all for her and she dives in, but as she rips open the first one she finds a box with a lump of coal in it. She rips open another one: coal! And another: coal! Coal! Coal! Coal! Nothing but coal in each box! Angelica insists that this is impossible and that Santa can’t know about her trick because he’s just a smelly old guy in red pajamas! Santa (Tony Jay) then appears, laughing, but we only see him from a low angle never getting a good look at his face. He tells her that he knows everything and then details that Phil got a new Reptar doll and Lil a new coloring book, and for her he dumps a sack of coal over her. This causes Angelica to wake up from her nightmare screaming. Drew enters to check what’s wrong and she demands he tell her if it’s Christmas. It’s not, obviously, and when she says she needs to see Phil and Lil he sleepily tells her she’ll see them later on at the cabin and urges her to go back to sleep. He shuts off the light and Angelica confesses to Cynthia that she needs to trade Phil and Lil their presents back before it’s too late!
That’s normally where the first segment for an episode of Rugrats would end, but since this is a double episode our story continues. They didn’t want it to feel too different though so we get another title card that this time reads: Later That Day. We get a shot of the clan driving up to the mountains. I think this show is supposed to take place in Arizona so I have no idea where they’re actually going or how long of a ride it is. Geography is not my strong suit, but I feel like the implication is they’re heading to Colorado? If so, that’s quite the ride! The adults are singing “Jingle Bells,” and in a sign of the times Tommy is in the front seat of his parents’ mini van. Seemingly all of the adults are in the back, including Phil and Lil’s dad Howard who is making his first appearance of this episode. Missing are the other kids who apparently had to hitch hike their way to the cabin.
Everyone enters the cabin and it sure looks pretty. Angelica immediately goes for Phil and Lil, but before they can talk Betty scoops them up to tell them they’re going to go cut down their first Christmas tree. Grandpa is shown hanging a wreath and manages to strike his thumb with a hammer, which only seems to happen in cartoons, while the dog, Spike, runs past him causing him to fall off a stepladder. Chuckie is still fretting about Tommy’s plan to trap Santa and Tommy reassures him it will work. They then survey their new surroundings to check for all of the places Santa could enter. As Tommy calls them out, like door or window, Chuckie responds with a “Check.” He gets to “chimly” (sic) and Chuckie responds “Chimly?!” and, for once, Tommy agrees with his friend and says “Yeah, no one in their right mind would try to come down a chimly.”
In the kitchen, Chas is show preparing a turkey while we hear the unmistakable voice of Charlotte, Angelica’s mom (voiced by Tress MacNeille) as she’s on the phone with her assistant Jonathan while apparently making cranberry sauce. Angelica interrupts her to ask if it’s okay for her to go chop down a tree with Aunt Didi and Charlotte pauses her conversation to tell her it is before getting right back into it. Stu then interrupts her by saying it’s nice she could join them for Christmas and Charlotte remarks how she loves Christmas for being the season of hope before returning to the phone to shout in a stern voice “We have to crush the competition! Crush them now!” She’s a bit intense.
Betty is shown helping Angelica get dressed for the cold with Phil and Lil as Didi shows up with the axe. Betty confirms she has the permit to cut down a tree while Angelica assures Phil and Lil they’ll have time to talk on the sleigh. We smash cut to Angelica on the sleigh and her scarf has been wrapped around her mouth preventing her from speaking. Betty points out trees to Didi who shoots them down for one reason or another before enthusiastically pointing one out as the perfect tree. When Betty goes to chop it down, Didi jumps in the way as she seemingly has had a change of heart about tree slaughter. Angelica uses this as an opportunity to explain the concept of gift-giving to Phil and Lil with a phony history of how the whole tradition started. As she starts to ramble about the Easter Bunny getting slapped with a lawsuit by Santa over the whole thing, the sleigh she’s standing on starts to slide backwards slowly. Soon it’s soaring down a hill with Angelica screaming, her plans foiled again.
We cut again quickly to a new shot inside the cabin of Stu and Betty setting up a fake tree. It would seem Betty was unable to convince Didi to permit her to chop down a tree, but they all look pretty happy so I guess it’s not a big deal. We then see Tommy and Chucky pushing a log in front of the doggy door, seemingly to thwart Santa, while we see other shots of Didi and Chas decorating the tree. It’s sort of a montage in that the characters are speechless save for the low murmur of Charlotte talking on her cell phone. Angelica approaches the twins, but Betty intercepts them and scoops the pair up. Tommy and Chuckie wrap popcorn garland around a doorknob as another trap and seemingly no adults take notice, while Angelica continues to pursue the twins, who are now in jammies. It’s all broken by the sound of Grandpa howling in pain, for as he went to hang a stocking, Spike barked causing him to strike his finger once again with a hammer. Didi then can be heard calling out “Dinner!”
At the dinner table, all of the adults are chatting and it’s like a dull, indecipherable, roar. Tommy and Chuckie are seated together on a chair and further boosted by a pile of newspapers. Apparently, there was no room in the car for high chairs. Chuckie asks Tommy if he thinks the traps will work while Tommy just tells him that he worries too much. Spike barks at Grandpa, who scowls at him likely still angry about the hammer incident. Spike lowers his head submissively while Grandpa smiles and hands the dog a big hunk of turkey. Charlotte is still on the phone and has a fun slip-up where she instructs Jonathan to add a “Santa clause” to a legal document, but catches herself as she meant to say “Sanity clause.” Angelica asks her Aunt Didi if a hypothetical child tried to make up for a bad thing, but was unable to do so in time for Christmas, if Santa would still bring her coal. Didi just dismisses the concern Angelica has by wondering why she’s so consumed with asking about bad kids when she’s such a good girl. She sounds genuine, which just makes it extra sweet since you know she and Stu probably talk about how spoiled that kid is when she’s not around. Stu then points out that Tommy and Chucky are yawning and Betty declares it’s time to put the “young’ens” to bed which causes Angelica to look dejected and say “Oh no!”
The parents put the kids in cribs, Tommy and Chuckie in one, Phil and Lil in the other, and leave them. Right as they do, Tommy reminds Chuckie that they have to stay awake. Chuckie clearly would prefer to go to sleep and Phil and Lil already have. As he lays back down, Tommy decides he can rest a little while as he waits for Santa to spring one of their traps and he too falls asleep. In the living room, the adults are singing “Joy to the World” and that’s probably the last thing a group of adults in my family would do after putting the kids to bed, but it’s their party, who am I to judge? Charlotte is still on the phone and she’s basically just boasting at this point about her accomplishments and I question if she’s doing any real work. Chas slips away and goes into another room with a Santa suit as Angelica just walks by without even noticing him because she’s still upset about what she did to Phil and Lil. Chas them emerges giddy and dressed as Santa as he takes off somewhere.
Drew is shown on the phone calling The Santa Experience (how did he get Charlotte off of the phone to make a call, there’s no way this cabin has two lines) which is apparently a company that specializes in doing the whole Santa thing. He’s able to confirm that the Santa act he booked is still on. We then find Grandpa doing what Grandpa does best: sleeping in front of the TV. Angelica is there as well, but she snaps out of her funk when she hears a commercial for a seasonal depression hotline encouraging folks to call-in to talk to someone who cares. Angelica draws an odd conclusion from this and dials a number, the wrong one as she just presses “5” over and over, which gets her connected with Cogs Unlimited which is some guy with what looks like a bunch of film canisters behind him, but I assume they’re supposed to be cogs. Angelica demands to speak with Santa Claus, because apparently he’s someone who cares, which confuses the man on the other end. He tries to tell her she has the wrong number, but Angelica being Angelica, screams and demands he let her speak with Santa. The guy then decides to pretend he’s Santa and asks Angelica what she wants. She says that she’s just calling to confirm whether or not she’s on The Good List or The Bad List this year. The fellow, seemingly still a little salty about her screaming at him decides to tell her she’s on The Bad List before thanking her for calling. Angelica buys it and declares her future as a kid is over, which seems rather dark.
Outside, Chas is struggling to climb onto the roof, but he gets there and remarks that Santa must be in good shape. The background music seems to play this off like a joke on Chas since everyone knows Santa is a fat guy. Is he actually going to go down the chimney? Hasn’t he seen Gremlins?! Stu is then shown opening the front door with a stack of presents in his arms which causes him to not see one of his son’s traps. He trips over the popcorn string and tumbles over the sound of which causes Tommy to wake up and call to the other babies “Our traps!” They effortlessly free themselves from their confines and race out into the living room, but are disappointed to see it’s just Tommy’s dad.
Chuckie is relieved to find it wasn’t Santa as the four stand around the fireplace. That’s the cue for Chas to come down the chimney and the sight of him in his Santa costume covered in soot causes Chuckie to scream. Tommy reacts quickly by grabbing a fire poker and laying it across the glass door on the fireplace effectively trapping his buddy’s dad who is now screaming in a panic. This is going well. Stu comes over and frees his misguided friend which causes the babies to all run away screaming. Chas comes out calling to Chuckie that he’s not Santa before sadly adding “It’s just me,” as he removes the hat and beard. Chuckie then stops cowering in the corner to look at him, smiles, and runs over to him embracing his leg. Chas picks him up and now a smile crosses his face as the other adults all say “Aww.” I’ll always have a soft spot for old Chas the single dad just trying to get things right and often screwing up.
The other babies then come out of their hiding spots relived it was only Chuckie’s dad. Angelica declares there is no Santa and that she’s saved! You know we can’t leave it at that right? Of course not, which is why the doorbell rings. Grandpa answers it and it’s Santa (Neil Ross) who informs the crew there’s a problem with the chimney. Angelica gulps while Drew comes over to welcome Santa into their cabin, clearly thinking this is the guy he hired, but is it?
Santa immediately walks over to Tommy and calls him by his name handing him a present. He does the same for Phil and Lil, but when he gets to Chuckie he asks him “Still think I’m so scary?” Which brings him to Angelica, who greets him with a wide smile and thumb’s up. He hands her a pretty large box and she tares into it to find a Deluxe Cynthia Beach House with real working hot tub, satellite dish, entertainment center, and attached garage! She shouts “I didn’t get a lump of coal!” and Santa responds with a chuckle, then adds “Sometimes trying to be good is as important as being good in the first place.”
His task done, Santa bids them all farewell as he exits through the front door. Didi declares it’s almost morning and suggests they all open gifts. I’m guessing she means it’s almost midnight, because it would be pretty ludicrous if they all had stayed up all night singing carols. This also only needs to be said so that Phil and Lil have a reason to exchange gifts. How they got them up there wrapped and all is a mystery that still confounds us all to this day. They’re obviously disappointed when they open their gifts for each other, but once the realization hits what each gave up in order to get the present for the other, they smile and hug. It’s at this point Angelica enters the picture with presents of her own. It seems she finally figured out that trading back with Phil and Lil was pretty stupid and still selfish on her part, so she just gifted them back the things she took. They run over and give her a big hug, and even though Angelica cries out “Eww, baby germs!” she does it while looking pretty happy.
Chuckie then finally admits to Tommy that he was right all along and that Santa was a nice guy. At the same time, Chas admits to Drew that he too was right to hire a professional. Drew agrees and is more than willing to give himself credit for the idea, but a phone call interrupts him. It’s some gray-bearded guy named Barney (Tony Jay) and we see he’s in a bathrobe in his home fetching himself some milk and cookies (he lives his gimmick). He says he’s calling from a car phone and tells Drew his vehicle skidded off the road and asks if they can reschedule the Santa thing? We just hear indecipherable screaming on Drew’s part from the other end as Barney hangs up the phone and says “I hate Christmas,” as he sinks into a lounge chair.
Drew angrily hangs up the phone as Chas asks him who that was. He starts to complain that the guy he hired to play Santa just cancelled, but as he says it out loud he realizes just what that means and looks shocked. Chas then asks “…who was that?!” as the two look confused on the couch and we hear the sound of sleigh bells in the background. We then find Angelica seated on the floor gushing over her new toy. She wonders aloud if there’s a car in the attached garage. She opens it and there’s something in there all right: coal! Didi even walks over and asks, “Angelica, is that a lump of coal?” Which just leaves Angelica to look stunned.
We then move to an exterior shot of the cabin and pan up into the sky as Santa flies by, with all eight reindeer, laughing “Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!” and the trail of stardust he leaves in the sky actually spells out the words “Merry Christmas.” And that’s the end of this one. Of course he’s real!
“The Santa Experience” is a bit of an odd episode of Rugrats because it’s light on babies, heavy on Angelica. Angelica has other episodes centered around her, but it’s a little surprising that a big double episode like this one would choose to follow her. And in a way, it makes sense that Angelica, who is famously spoiled, would play a big role in an episode about a holiday known for toys. She’s not the nicest kid, and even Arlene Klasky kind of hated the character, and most probably would just assume she’s going on The Naughty List. That would seem a bit mean-spirited for a cartoon though, so we need to get the full Angelica experience here so we can see what makes her bad, but also what makes he redeemable. Placing her in the center of The Gift of the Magi as the reason for why the sympathetic characters are in the predicament they wind up in and giving her the power to make it right is a rather creative solution. Though I don’t know about that conclusion from Santa. Is simply trying to be good equivalent to just being good? Especially when the good deed Angelica is trying to do is really just corrective action for something awful she did. In that, the episode tries to have its cake and eat it too by giving Angelica what she wants, but slipping in a lump of coal that’s really inconsequential.
The angle with the adults plays about as big of a role as Tommy and Chuckie’s quest to trap Santa. Neither is that interesting as the Angelica plot takes center stage, but it at least leads to the satisfying conclusion with Santa. The cabin was basically just the easiest way to get everyone under the same roof, and honestly, it’s kind of sweet to see this group of friends be so close that they want to spend Christmas together. It’s also rare to see adults openly talk about Santa as if he isn’t real in a show that is unquestionably meant for young children. This episode might have caught some kids in that sweet spot where they still believe, but are also questioning things, and that ending feels like a reassurance. On the other hand, it probably found just as many kids who weren’t yet in that questioning stage and now suddenly are. If I sound a bit obsessive or nitpicky here, it’s because this is the type of stuff I’m careful to avoid with my kids, especially my youngest. I guess what I’m asking is does it make it okay for a kid’s show to present Santa as fake, only to reveal he’s real in the end? That’s something I personally grapple with, but I could be in the minority.
As for other Christmas stuff, there actually isn’t a lot. Most of the adults just sport their regular attire and the same is true for the kids. It would have been nice to see the babies in some ugly sweaters, but I guess they blew the budget on the new backgrounds for the cabin, mall, etc. I like that the episode’s title ties into The Santa Experience of the show and the final reveal of Barney is pretty comical, and also pitiful. Barney’s not long for this world. The bit with Angelica calling the fake help line feels almost cruel, and yet a touch satisfying since for once it’s Angelica who is having the tables turned on her. How much you enjoy that scene of the guy telling her she’s on The Bad List might be a litmus test for how you’ll respond to her actually getting a present in the end. As for that guy, man is he something. Even if a kid was rude to me on the phone, I don’t think I’d have the heart to play Santa and tell them they’re not getting any presents this year.
“The Santa Experience” ends up being a solid episode of Rugrats. I don’t think it’s the classic it could have been though. Klasky-Csupo was right to dedicate a full 22 minutes here, but it still feels a little too unfocused. There’s little riding on the non-Angelica stuff, and while I love the Chas/Chucky embrace and the Santa payoff is nice, getting there just seems to take longer than it should. It just needed a jolt of excitement and that’s really obvious when doing a write-up like this as we keep just returning to Tommy and Chuckie having the same conversation scene after scene. Those two never even talk to Phil or Lil in this episode, or Angelica, which is bizarre. Still, if you like Rugrats and you like Christmas shows then this is probably worth watching each year and it’s pretty easy to come by. It’s streaming on both Hulu and Paramount+ and it’s been released on DVD several times which are probably fairly cheap at this point. And you might as well pair it with the other Nicktoons Christmas specials from the 90s. I guess that means I’ll have to do Doug some day.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
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