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Nickelodeon’s mission to revive classic and beloved shows to cash in on some oh so nostalgic children of the 90s could be looked at with a hint of malice – seemingly churned out while executives flash $$$ in their eyes. However, the Nicktoons reboots are so far taking the right turn on this endeavor.
Last year’s Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie was a film originally intended for theatres in the mid-2000s to close off the Hey Arnold series. Yet, it was unfortunately never made with only its script finished. But then last year, the creator Craig Bartlett got to make the finale he’d always planned to fan acclaim.
Netflix’s 45-minute special, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling brings back the original creative team lead by Joe Murray (who went on to make Camp Lazlo) returning to bring the timid wallaby into today’s life. It manages to do so in a fun and fittingly current way, following Craig Bartlett and Hey Arnold’s lead.
After being stranded in space for the last 20 years (just go with it), Rocko and his friends, the dimwitted Heffer, and the geeky and nauseous Filbert, return to modern day Earth where every corner is full of drones, smartphones and culture shock for these 90’s mainstays. Desperate to grasp onto something familiar, Rocko turns to his favourite show, The Fatheads, only to learn it hasn’t aired in years.
Meanwhile, the economy of Rocko’s home town has plummeted and is on the brink of destruction. The wallaby uses this as an excuse to find the creator of The Fatheads. This is in order to reboot the show with the profits it makes saving the town. It sounds like a win-win. Yet, the complications of the modern world Rocko is so foreign to may affect his chances of success.
Static Cling is a cleverly aware reboot. It comments on creators’ views of their work being redone and fan reception. This never feels too forced because the plot is centred around a show revival. Instead of saying all reboots suck or they must be exactly the same to avoid alienating fans, it finds a middle ground stating they need to be created with passion and for reasons other than demand or profit. After all, you can’t please everyone but once the original vision and ideologies are still present that’s the best you can do.
This feels exactly like an episode of Rocko’s Modern Life. There are no compromises, no adjusting the shows infamous adult humour and no bastardisation of characters. You could’ve dropped this episode in 1996 as the series finale and it would’ve fit in perfectly…minus all the inventions and everyday culture that wasn’t around yet.
Even if you’re unfamiliar with the original show or haven’t seen it since you were a kid (like me) it does a nice job of being somewhat standalone. The callbacks for fans never become too intrusive for the fresh eyes of a 2000s kid. There’s a varying variety of comedy, from typical cartoon antics to the dry delivery of lines. Rocko’s complete timid nature towards normal animated hijinks makes him either clashingly calm or unabashedly terrified – a schtick that works and will definitely net some new fans.
To further emphasis the “modern” in the title, Static Cling tackles some timely concerns and developments. The most notable of these is the inclusion a transgender character. Yes, one of Rocko’s pals is now a woman and it’s handled rather well. While Rocko is fully accepting of the change and even brushes it off once its established, other characters like Ed Bighead can’t comprehend it and become somewhat afraid or angry from the confusion, the latter explored as a subplot. Though this plot thread does admittedly come from left field, it does tie into the special’s theme of change and acceptance of modern ideals.
Static Cling is a fun and faithful return to the 90s classic, worth checking out for anyone who longs for the days of coming home school, flicking on your bulky CRT TV, grabbing your favourite snack and watching some good ol’ Nickelodeon cartoons. The studio are definitely on the right track with their reboots, proving that Hey Arnold: The Jungle Movie wasn’t a fluke and making me somehow more excited for next week’s Invader Zim film.