20 years of living in space have been very taxing on Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) who’s been clinging to his favorite tv series The Fatheads. When he crash lands back on Earth with his friends, Heffer (Tom Kenny) and Filbert (Doug Lawrence), he finds O-Town has drastically changed in the 21st century save his neighbors, the Bigheads (Charlie Adler). Pizza tacos are all the rage, flying drones watch your every move, and 3D is so real it can send you to the emergency room if you sit in the middle seat. While trying to adjust to a time where printers have replaced his job at the comics shop, Rocko yearns for The Fatheads to make a comeback, but only if he can find the original showrunner, Ralph Bighead (Creator Joe Murray) who was last seen leaving his parents to find himself….or so they claim.
The 90’s were a time when animation was exiting its dark age and coming into a resurgence in both theaters and the living room. While Disney took the world by storm with The Little Mermaid, Nickelodeon allowed artists to flex their minds and animation with creator driven cartoons, an unheard practice when toy companies held a conglomerate monopoly on the market in the name of selling their products. Enter Rocko’s Modern Life, which was part of the second wave of Nicktoons following the likes of Doug, Ren and Stimpy, and Rugrats. Many well known names got their big break from this cartoon such as creator Joe Murray, voice actors Tom Kenny and Doug Lawrence, and cartoon creators like the late Stephen Hillenburg (SpongeBob Squarepants), Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh (Phineas and Ferb). It made satirizing modern times cool before the likes of Wreck-it-Ralph 2 and The Emoji Movie came along. And much to the annoyance of parents, had a more risqué take on its comedy with jokes that adults would get more than kids. But years later it still holds up even if you don’t know what a video tape is. With the entertainment market saturated with new takes on old properties, this special spent an extended amount of time in limbo. And the wait was completely worth it.
The first thing to notice is the animation, which hasn’t changed much after computers took over the industry. But now with digital 2D tools, it’s very pristine merging two time capsules in the same way Cuphead brought the best of the 1930’s to a whole new crowd. There’s less emphasis on realism and more on the bizarre situations that come from taking modern society to an exaggerated extreme, like when drones are used as transportation. It somehow successfully captures the digital age when animation can barely keep up with the internet’s everchanging popularity contest. If there’s any argument to be made in favor of hand-drawn animation making a comeback, this is the prime example.
But it wouldn’t be Rocko if it didn’t have the clever writing that cemented its place alongside its wacky siblings. And boy does it run the gambit. After watching this, it’s no wonder why modern Nickelodeon refused to air this on their channel with so many adult jokes that would bump this from a G to a PG-13 rating based on one gesture. And the message behind the special is refreshing to the movie going audience who spend their money (self guilty party included) on familiar brands than new ideas. The only gripe I have about the message is the reliance on a well known Nicktoon. If this was based more on a stand alone product, it would’ve been a little less hypocritical about embracing change and how things from the past aren’t always the solution to your problems. Then again, after seeing The Powerpuff Girls and Teen Titans get the short end of the stick, why look a gift horse in the mouth? Because everything from top to bottom is brimming with comedy gold. From perfectly timed slapstick, to witty banter, to numerous adult gags, there’s never a dull moment with this band of crazy animals. Even Sausage Party gets mocked for how it treated its animators during production with a cunning punchline at the expense of computer animation. All the voice-actors who got their start on the show 20 years ago came back for a reprisal. And none of them have lost their touch, specifically Doug Lawrence and Tom Kenny bringing half the neighborhood to life. Meanwhile Charlie Adler gets the fun job of flip flopping from calm and reserved Mrs. Bighead, to a green version of the devil from Cow and Chicken in the form of the close-minded, Mr. Bighead. If Shakespeare worked in animation, this would be his go to cast.
Speaking of which, it’s important to note that one of the storylines involving Mr. Bighead’s offspring has come under fire for its forced inclusiveness. But for a show called Rocko’s Modern Life, it was only a matter of time before the subject matter came up as it’s becoming more prevalent as the years go by. Just look at The Loud House and The Legend of Korra in how they represent the changing times of what can be shown in animation. Murray has stated that many writers dealt with generational family differences that were reflected in the original series. That tradition continues here whether you like it or not because it’s showing what’s stuck around and what’s changed over the past two decades.
Another elephant in the room to bring up is why this special took so long to release after so much early promotion. My guess is it had something to do with Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie. That conclusion had very few flaws, but it barely got any attention on its home network during premiere night. Kids who grew up with Hey Arnold are now adults who subscribe to affordable streaming services rather than expensive cable. Those who watch Nickelodeon now are more likely to remember Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles since Craig Bartlett’s show has been off the air for a long time, which makes catching up on the storyline very difficult. Even Samurai Jack had to migrate to Adult Swim before wrapping up its story because it knew how much time had passed since the 2004 series finale. Having a concluding movie was the right path to take, but it didn’t follow its fanbase to their new entertainment outlets. This however took that route even if the internet had to cryogenically freeze itself a little longer than expected.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is a brilliant update to a series that’s both dated and timeless. With very few changes in style and substance, it keeps in line when evolving with the times and always has fresh material even in the face of more competition. The animation gets all the new tools for an insane, squeaky clean presentation, and the script is both hilarious and surprising in how much it can get away with. Will this mean Netflix will reboot the series? Who knows, but as of now it’s one of the best revisits of the 2010 decade. You can definitely say that this trip down memory lane was a hoot.