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A Klasky’s Gotta Do What A Klasky’s Gotta Do

A Blueprint Q&A with ‘Rugrats’ co-creator Arlene Klasky

From its vibrantly memorable characters to its iconic theme song from Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” was a quintessential cartoon of the 1990s. Most millennials grew up enjoying the adventures of a group of talking babies: Tommy Pickles, Chuckie Finster, Phil and Lil Deville, Angelica Pickes, and later, Dil Pickes and Kimi Finster. But let’s not forget Reptar, Susie Carmichael, and Dr. Lipschitz. Smart, funny, and sometimes tear-inducing, “Rugrats” wasn’t just for kids.

In addition to the show itself, its closing credits were recognizable for the uniquely eccentric Klasky Csupo logo that came on at the very end. The production company—founded by former husband and wife Arlene Klasky and Gábor Csupó—-was responsible for making a few other animated Nick shows you might have heard of: “Aaahh!!! Real Monsters,” “The Wild Thornberrys,” “Rocket Power,” and “As Told by Ginger.”


Recently, we interviewed “Rugrats” co-creator Arlene Klasky for our “Rugrats Chanukah Retrospective." However, a lot of our conversation with her went unused for that particular piece, so we decided to present the rest of the Q&A below for your reading enjoyment.


New York Blueprint: What about “Rugrats,” in your own opinion, made it such a popular show that is still beloved by fans who grew up watching it?


Arlene Klasky: I think the concept of babies talking and adults not understanding them, coupled with the audience being let in on the “Rugrats” secret world, had great appeal. The Rugrats spoke with an advanced vocabulary yet their toddler brains processed the world incorrectly, which was a perfect set up for comedy.


When Nickelodeon first launched “Rugrats” they didn’t have enough shows to fill time slots. Consequently, Nick repeated each episode a number of times during the week. Anyone who has children knows you can read the same book to them every night and the child doesn’t grow weary of it.


What I’ve heard from fans that watched “Rugrats” growing up, it was a comforting place to be. “Rugrats” played in 75 countries and was re-dubbed in numerous languages, yet kept its appeal. I have to believe the story telling, a combination of comedy for laughs, and emotional moments stirred children’s’ hearts. Also the unique design of the characters and backgrounds plus the music seemed to resonate universally.


NYB: Where did the inspirations for the characters come from?


AK: My life changed radically when I had two small children, both boys. I hadn’t been around babies much so I tackled motherhood head on by reading early childhood development books and learning on the job. Before being a mother, I was driven by my career to create art and film. I found babies and toddlers humorous, particularly their motivations. If I hadn’t become a mother, I might not have had babies on the brain at that particular moment when Nickelodeon came knocking at Klasky Csupo’s door.


Gabor Csupo, my husband and partner at the time was also enamored with our sons. He was a master animator and artist. He originally designed some of the characters in “Rugrats.” Gabor based the drawing of Tommy on our 15-month-old who was adorably pidgin toed. He came up with the iconic drawing of Chuckie. Paul Germain, also a creator ofRugrats,” had a baby named Tommy, hence the name of our hero and brought his own inspirations to the material. I did the original drawings of Phil, Lil, and Didi’s Eastern European parents based on fond memories of my Polish and Russian Jewish relatives.


Peter Chung, a stellar animation director and designer, took the “Rugrats” concept to the next level with the pilot. In the beginning stages of development Gabor, Paul and I collaborated on building the “Rugrats” world. As the series took off the talented writing team, directors, designers, animators, storyboard artists, actors, musicians and producers contributed hugely to the success of the series.


NYB: What were your particular duties while the show was on the air and is there anything you miss about making the show?


AK: “Rugrats” was on the air for 13 years. Gabor and I were creators, executive producers, and the heads of an animation studio. When I first worked on “Rugrats,” Klasky Csupo had less employees and later grew to 550 people in house. Being full-time on any one show was not an option for Gabor and I. Klasky Csupo constantly developed new concepts for animated series with an active development team. Speaking for myself, I worked on a number of pilots over the years, creating and developing them with writers and illustrator/designers. At our peak we had 100 to 200 projects in development in various stages.


NYB: Do you have any particular memories about making the show that stand out in your mind?


AK: It was a privilege to work with Mark Mothersbaugh who composed the score for the series and the three “Rugrats” movies. We lucked out because Mark’s music was the icing on the cake. His creative sensibilities dovetailed with the vision Gabor and I had for the studio. Mark was easy going, funny and a genius.


NYB: Any favorite characters, episodes, moments, or movies? 


AK: I often think of a scene from “Rugrats in Paris” where Chuckie sang a song by Cyndi Lauper and Mark Mothersbaugh. “I Want A Mom That Will Last Forever.” Chuckie had lost his mother. The song defined the movie as a family film that had comedy and poignant subject matter that children could relate to.


NYB: What have been some of your favorite reactions from fans about "Rugrats" over the years?


AK: I began hearing the same mantra from millennials when I spoke at events, was introduced at industry meetings or used my credit card. The comments were, “I grew up watching Rugrats” or “Thank you for my childhood.”






Arlene Klasky

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