Can you feel that energy throbbing through the Internet right now? I can (throb). It’s all around us (throb). It’s the sheer electrical excitement from a generation of ’90s kids who just learned that Nickelodeon is lumping all their treasured childhood cartoons into a single crossover movie. The title: Nicktoons. The ‘toons included: Rugrats, Angry Beavers, Hey Arnold!. Rocko’s Modern Life, Ren and Stimpy. At least, that’s the early list provided by The Tracking Board; Nickelodeon Movies is still in the process of convincing all the rights-holders to sign on the dotted line. The script’s also being described as a Who Framed Roger Rabbit?-style “crossover film for all the early 1990s Nicktoons.” Emphasis mine. Extrapolate that forward, and we’ve got an idea of what Nick’s endgame is.
If you’re feeling a rush of mama bear instinct for those childhood memories, know that Nick won’t “bastardize or update the characters unfavorably.” If you’re praying to the cartoon gods that Nicktoons– a live-action/animated hybrid- will be traditionally animated without a single CGI Reptar, know that I’m praying with you.
But I’m inspired by Nickelodeon’s reboot savvy. Seriously. These days, you go to the trouble of exhuming someone’s long-dead childhood memories for nostalgia points, you do it for at least an entire TV season. Girl Meets World was charming, so they say. Maybe that’ll hold true for DuckTales, Fuller House, The Muppets, The Powerpuff Girls, The Magic School Bus, Reading Rainbow, Teletubbies, ReBoot (so meta), Inspector Gadget and Danger Mouse.
Nick’s been down that road before, with meager results. Are You Afraid of the Dark? was a hit through 1995, so they brought it back in ’99. Two seasons, then kaput. Double Dare was a hit up through 1993, so Nick introduced Double Dare 2000 seven years later. It lasted one season. Also kaput. I’d like to think they’ve found wisdom in those missteps. By comparison, cramming a childhood of Nicktoons into one movie-sized bite is like reducing a full pot into a couple cups. Or nostalgia bouillon cubes, maybe.
Financially, it’s absolutely the way to go. The nearest Nick’s gotten to an outright bomb- Hey Arnold! The Movie– still skated by with $15M off a $3–4M budget. And just about every Nicktoon graced with the privilege of a “: The Movie” can usually triple its budget back. It’s a far more educated game than plucking a Nicktoon or two out of the ether and running new episodes every week. Nostalgia could draw me into a theater, once, to witness the glory of Heffer funk dancing to “Beaver Fever” (a personal note to Nick- if this movie doesn’t include “Beaver Fever,” you’re making it wrong). Every Saturday morning for three months is a stretch.
But the only way to truly win is not to play. I’ll give you an example- a month or two ago, I had a sudden, overwhelming urge to watch Hey Arnold!. I hadn’t seen an episode of Hey Arnold! in at least ten years. So I put one on (luckily, Hulu’s got just about all of them stocked away).
It was like traveling back in time. You watch enough reruns of something (as I did with Hey Arnold! as a kid) and you internalize it to a high degree; dialogue and rhythms and jokes get memorized without you really realizing it. Watching it again as a grown person, all that came back like muscle memory in a limb I hadn’t used since I was two feet tall. I was repeating lines along with Arnold and Grandpa. Recalling where my favorite gags would land, two seconds in advance of each one. It was Nicktoon spider-sense. It was glorious. My planned one-episode nostalgia trip ended five hours later, when I realized it was 3 AM and human beings require sleep to function.
Feeling nostalgic for that childhood cartoon? Watch that childhood cartoon. I can’t recommend it enough. Especially for the depth you might not be able to appreciate until you’ve got a grown-ups eyes and ears. As a kid, Hey Arnold! was funny. As an adult, it’s still funny. And overflowing with a Woody Allen love for every single block of New York City. And boasting a soundtrack with uncanny amounts of soul; lightyears beyond what a kid’s cartoon could possibly require. Listen to this, and watch as you spontaneously grow a beret and pair of hip shades.
That’s what nostalgia is, really. A longing for somewhere in the past (or “the pain from an old wound,” quoth Don Draper). If you’re visiting that somewhere on a weekly basis, it’s no longer in the past. It’s present, the old pain heals up and the nostalgic love dims. Your childhood home wouldn’t seem so distant and beautiful if you flew back to visit every Tuesday. Arrested Development hasn’t sparkled with that “brilliant-yet-cancelled” sheen since it stopped being cancelled in 2013. I watched Spongebob as a kid too, but there’s far less emotion there because Spongebob never went away. Look, there he is now.
That doesn’t mean the TV grave robbers will quit digging up all our fondest memories (although I’m thoroughly impressed with Nick’s restraint this time). But it also doesn’t mean I have to stop revisiting my childhood catalogue anytime soon.