After reaching back nearly forty years in Halloween TV specials past, I’ve decided to mix things up a bit by watching a few episodes from a show that was a crucial part of my own childhood – Nickelodeon’s Rugrats! Now, I know that the popular consensus is that in the match between Nickelodeon vs. Cartoon Network regarding their lineups in the 90s and early 2000s, Cartoon Network tends to end up on top. Nonetheless, the original line of Nicktoons were what I tended to watch in my formative years and are what I tend to hold the most nostalgia toward. I was definitely hooked on Rugrats for at least a little bit during their entire run on the channel – I even watched a bit of All Grown Up for a little while (even though it is vastly inferior to its predecessor). Anyway, maybe I’ll go more into why Rugrats was so cool, but for now we’ll just cover the three Halloween episodes of the series!
The first of these three episodes is “Candy Bar Creep Show” (01×09), which comes early enough in the show’s run to take full advantage of the naivety of our tiny protagonists. As the adults set up a haunted house for trick or treaters on Halloween night, Tommy, Chuckie, Phil, and Lil are confused about the newly decorated environment, not to mention the grown-ups’ creepy costumes. Angelica comes by to explain the situation in the only way she knows how: by hyping up the significance of the Reptar candy bar, which is only rewarded to the big kids who visit the Pickles’s haunted house. This means that the babies are left to figure out on their own just how they can get their hands on a Reptar bar!
For the most part, I really appreciate how much light this episode shed on one of the most under-appreciated aspects of Halloween culture: the homemade haunted den. Not only did the Pickles’s deck out their garage with dark, spooky imagery, but they also used every cheap special horror effect under the sun: grapes for eyeballs, spaghetti for worms, a disorienting funhouse mirror. I honestly don’t know if these elements of Halloween are at all in style anymore, but they were among my most anticipated parts of trick or treating as a kid and I love their mention here. Tommy had some cool parents for sure! Additionally, this is a great example of the typical Rugrats style to play up the babies’ perspective to transform something innocuous into a genuinely terrifying Halloween romp. By the end, by virtue of the kids’ attempts at snagging their own share of candy, even the adults are left spooked out by the sights and sounds of their own creation! I think the best Halloween specials are the ones that capture the aesthetic and general feel of the holiday so palpably – and with that, this one succeeds so well!
This next episode, entitled “Ghost Story” (06×12), is pretty different from the last in many ways. For one thing, it’s immediately clear that the animation here is much more polished than in early episodes – colors are sharper, lines are smoother, and the look is just much cleaner overall. There also seems to be a much stronger sense of a story as well. The main narrative here involves the babies (including Tommy’s new brother Dil!) having a sleepover at Angelica’s house, where they decide to take turns telling the same scary story from varying perspectives. For the most part, though, it seems like it’s mostly Chuckie’s scary story, with the other children portraying different characters within. It’s a typical sort of haunted house mystery, with giant worms, ghosts, and monsters waiting around every corner.
Which brings me to probably the most peculiar aspect of this whole episode: seemingly out of nowhere, we get some cameos by the characters from Aaahh!!! Real Monsters… really! I get that this was an attempt to link two Klasky-Csupo brands, but I don’t think there’s been any other episode of Rugrats that feature cameo appearances. Plus the show had been off air for about two years at this point! I’m probably thinking way too much about this, but it really is just that weird. Anyway, while it’s cool seeing familiar Rugrats characters go on adventures outside of the real world, not enough happens in terms of story to make this particularly worthwhile. It’s another one of those episodes marketed as Halloween specials, when they really have nothing to do with the holiday and are only mildly spooky. Besides the bonkers Aaahh!!! Real Monsters cameo, there’s probably no harm in skipping this one.
And finally, the last of the Rugrats Halloween specials, “Curse of the Werewuff” (08×02). Initially, the episode was pretty confusing – it begins with the babies once again being confused over the concept of Halloween and Angelica once again explaining the holiday to them. It’s as if they want to pretend the first Halloween episode never actually existed. Also, it doesn’t quite make a whole lot of sense that it has been at least a whole year since that first Halloween, yet none of the children seem to have developed very much further than how they started.
Anyway! Let’s get to the actual story. So, Angelica is stirring the pot as always by telling the babies that whatever Halloween costume is chosen for them is what they will embody for the rest of their lives. This causes poor anxious Chuckie to have a nightmare over his own costume (a werewolf), especially as the troop head over to a scary amusement park for some trick or treating. And as these sequence of events tend to go, Chuckie endures his existential crisis over time and finds his inner werewolf to finally stand up for himself against Angelica. So, while this episode doesn’t quite possess much of the messy charm of the earlier episodes, it does have the most concrete character development of them all.
But yeah, as far as just plainly being the most Halloweenish, “Candy Bar Creep Show” is the way to go here. It harks back to a lot of what made the holiday so great as a little kid, while also humorously lampooning off of the actual experience of Halloweening as an adult with children. Despite all this, it was really fun looking back at all of these classic episodes after years – it helped me to remember what made the holiday episodes of Rugrats so wholesome and enjoyable.