WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!
In the year 1993, Nickelodeon debuted the cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life. It was about a neurotic wallaby and his friends dealing with the ups and downs of living their lives in O-Town. While the show was known for its shocking “How did that get passed the censors?” humor (like Rocko working a phone sex line and staying at a sleazy hotel that charges by the hour), it also dealt with what it was like being a twenty-something having to adult for the first time in life and dealing with things that you were used to taking for granted because of always having others do it for you, like laundry or cooking. Then the cast was suddenly blasted into space and left the airwaves on a cliffhanger that was never resolved.
For two decades, fans of the show have waxed nostalgic, feeling Rocko’s Modern Life was canceled too soon, and loving it for the dirty humor it got away with in the 90’s. And like many properties from the 80’s and 90’s, demand for a return grew. We now live in an era of rebooting, with Disney making billions remaking their animated classics into CGI-fueled live-action extravaganzas and TV shows like Fuller House and The Conners finding success. Now, Rocko’s Modern Life has joined these shows in getting a modernized reboot.
That said, this is not your ordinary reboot. In fact, it is a double-edged sword reboot.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling picks up 20 years after where the show left off, with our heroes still trapped in space. The only thing keeping Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) grounded and happy while trapped in space with his friends Heffer (Tom Kenny) and Philbert (Mr. Lawrence) is the fact he still has an orange VHS cassette of his favorite show, The Fatheads. Created by Ralph Bighead, son of Rocko’s next door neighbors The Bigheads, it was a slapstick-filled, brainless cartoon that also served as a parody of how poor the quality of animated series in the 90’s could be. In one of their nightly viewings, the VCR eats the tape, taking away the one last thing that brought a semblance of joy to Rocko’s life: nostalgia for a television show.
Through a ridiculous situation, the gang discovers a re-entry remote stuck to Heffer’s butt and return to Earth, only to find that the Earth they know is gone, having moved on without them into the 21st century. Heffer, Philbert and Rocko’s dog Spunky instantly fall in love with the new world ,especially Spunky, who can now feed his unnatural “affection” for mops by watching 10 hour mop videos online. Rocko, however, freaks out when he learns that The Fatheads was canceled years ago, when Ralph left to go rediscover himself. Panicked, Rocko undertakes a mission to find Ralph and reboot The Fatheads.
Yes, a nostalgia-starved person desperate to do whatever he can to reboot a show is the star of a movie that exists only to cater to nostalgia-starved fans of Rocko’s Modern Life. Oh, the irony!
The wacky humor that was the show’s trademark is still there, including some great throwaway jokes about how technology changes and how television has gotten ridiculous in modern times. However, the movie holds nothing sacred as it showcases how nostalgia is a tricky mistress. From showing how corporations will suck the soul out of a property to make money off of nostalgic fans, to how die-hard fans will reject any change to a property even if it is an improvement, the show goes deeper than it has any right to as a silly cartoon.
If that was not serious enough, the movie’s other plot line deals with Ralph Bighead himself. Or, as I should say now, Rachel Bighead herself. Over the past two decades, Rachel realized the reason she was not happy was because she had been living life as the wrong pronoun. Now The Bigheads’ child has found happiness and contentment, but she soon realizes she needs to return home to help out during a family crisis by rebooting The Fatheads and is greeted by a father who refuses to accept change. At this point, the show becomes a deep mediation on transphobia and how one cannot stop the winds of change when it comes to what can make one happy in their life. Yes, it gets that deep between the fart jokes.
My only complaint? I think 45 minutes was not long enough. While Static Cling gets the job done addressing both nostalgia and LGBTQ issues on a level that all ages can understand, I was left wanting more. Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is bold in taking on this subject matter and has done so successfully. Let’s hope this is not the final time we’ll return to Rocko’s world, as this return was much welcomed and the modern world of Rocko’s Modern Life needs to be further explored.