SPOILER WARNING: This review contains spoilers for the Netflix film Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ve probably already watched this, but you’ve been warned anyway!

Also, I know this is only 45 minutes long, but the American Film Institute and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences define a feature length film as at least 40 minutes long… so there.

Disney sure isn’t the only one going crazy with this current nostalgia pandering trend. Their old animation rivals, Nickelodeon, has been throwing reboots and revivals at us nostalgic millennials left and right. First, it was Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie, and we’re now onto Rocko’s Modern Life and Invader Zim, with even reboots of shows like Rugrats on the horizon. Nick is certainly trying to get our attention, but it seems pointless. Nickelodeon is a children’s network and we all grew up and left it behind. Sometimes, we just need to let it stay in the past. 

Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling follows the wallaby Rocko (Carlos Alazraqui) and his friends Heffer (Tom Kenny) and Filburt (Mr. Lawrence), as they hurtle through space for 20 years. They’re able to make it back to Earth, but their home of O-Town has changed drastically over the past two decades. Attempting to experience some remnant of the past, Rocko seeks out new episodes of his favorite show, The Fatheads, but learns that creator Ralph Bighead (Joe Murray) has canceled the show and gone missing. Desperate to bring the show back, Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt set out to find Ralph and revive it. 

While growing up in the 90’s, Nickelodeon made up pretty much 90% of my television viewing experience. I loved the edge, the absurdity, the grotesqueness, and overall craziness of the network, and no show represented that better than Rocko’s Modern Life. I loved it as a kid simply because it was a funny cartoon, but when I watched it again when I was older, I realized it’s a show for kids and adults alike. It’s literally a show about modern life, where the optimistic and well-meaning Rocko constantly faces hurdles in his everyday life. We’ve all been there. At the grocery store, the beach, the movie theater, and all of the hijinks that go along with it. Even though we’re watching cartoon animals, it’s something we’ve all experienced. I’ve always looked at is as a somewhat proto-Curb Your Enthusiasm, where American social concepts are explored with a character who just can’t catch a break. It was also surprisingly progressive for its time, dealing with issues such as gay marriage, racism, corrupt corporations, homosexuality, pollution, and more. Exploring all of these real-world issues through the lens of animated absurd comedy was what made the show so unique. 

With being absent from the planet for 20 years, Rocko feels totally out of his element in the technologically focused 21st century. Heffer and Filburt quickly embrace the modern age, buying the latest, expensive O-Phones and guzzling down coffee milkshakes and toxic energy drinks. It’s the perfect analogy for the modern age, but also the perfect analogy of somebody who is resistant to change and thinking everybody around them is losing their minds. Rocko has always been stubborn, which gives him his drive, and it shows how hard some people will cling to the past. Appropriately, the entire theme of the film is about embracing change and letting go of the past. We can be grateful and nostalgic for the past, but it’s best to let it go and let it stay that way. They were fond memories, but we should go onto create more. There are many jokes that poke fun at nostalgia, especially the fact that this is a nostalgic reboot itself. It often felt very meta, especially with the barrage of fan favorite characters and iconic references. At first I thought it was too much, but as the message is further developed, it’s a perfect satire on nostalgic reboots that love assault us with fan service.

The biggest aspect of “change” in the story is when they find Ralph and discover he’s transitioned into a woman, now known as Rachel. Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt have no issues with Rachel’s new identity, but when Rachel reunites with her father Ed (Charlie Adler), he doesn’t know how to take it. He doesn’t accept that his son has now become a daughter, but realizes later on that she’s exactly the same person. No matter what, she’ll always be his child. It’s a refreshing change of pace from a lot of forced politics into other films, as it’s not preachy, as well as totally natural for the themes, story, and overall series. Despite all of this cynical satire, creator Joe Murray still set out to make a quality film for us to all enjoy. It has the same spirit and humor, all of the voice actors return, and the animation is still as beautiful and surreal as ever. There’s plenty of slapstick gross out humor to be found too, such as a baby Ralph chewing on his dad’s eyeball. Some of the humor is a miss, but it mostly tickled my funny bone. It’s all just classic Rocko and while the animation is obviously cleaner from being made on a computer, nothing has changed about the visual style. 

When it was revealed that Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling would release on Netflix, I was curious and even somewhat anticipating an actual revival of the series. There are just so many new aspects of American culture and modern life to explore, but again, just as the film states, it’s best to leave these things in the past. I have many fond memories of Rocko’s Modern Life and Nickelodeon, and I loved this film, but there are plenty of new things around to explore and beyond. I hope this puts a fork in the whole Nick reboot machine, though, because really, there’s no reason to keep these series around. They were products of their time, our time, and should stay that way. 


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