It’s been 25 years since Nicktoons debuted with its Doug, Ren and Stimpy, and Rugrats block. While these three series, and the bevy of other beloved cartoons that followed them to air, still endear an almost cult-like following, it’s clear the network is using nostalgia to look not back, but toward the future.
Nicktoons’ animation-focused panel “Happy Happy Joy Joy” exhibited today at Comic-Con, where Craig Bartlett (Hey Arnold!), Butch Hartman (The Fairly OddParents, Danny Phantom), Arlene Klasky (co-creator of Rugrats), and Jhonen Vasquez (Invader Zim) were happy to talk about the past and the love they still get from fans today. But the real excitement is about what they’re doing with that love to move forward with new projects.
Bartlett talked about returning to make the new Hey Arnold! movie, In the Jungle, which he said is aiming for a Thanksgiving 2017 release. “It’s very meta, checks a lot of boxes, answers all the fan questions,” he said, adding that Abner—who has gotten a little chubbier due to his love of bacon (weird)—plays a huge role in the movie. He didn’t want to give away too much, but he said the film will involve Arnold trying to find his lost parents, and the movie will revisit places from the episodes “Parent’s Day” and “The Journal.” So be prepared to be a little sad when it comes out.
Bartlett said that getting to return to the stoop is allowing him to bring a “long, long, long fulfilled dream” to audiences. There’s even a chance that this won’t be a one-time return, because Bartlett also said he thinks there’s a chance the show could find its way back to series too. If it does, the kids will be entering the sixth grade, as they are one year older in the new movie.
While Bartlett is moving forward with a new film from his old show, Butch Hartman introduced us to his brand new cartoon Bunsen Is a Beast, showing a short clip featuring the two main characters: Bunsen, the first beast to attend a human school, and his best friend Mikey, who is just trying to get through school without being killed. “I like to take kids to places they can’t get to in real life,” he said, explaining the ridiculous and fun things going on in the beast world (“Don’t use the M-word,” he said), where Bunsen lives in a house that is a real living monst… beast.
The clip was high energy and funny, but Hartman said they show is just a tick slower than his most famous work, The Fairly Oddparents, and would involve comedy “focused on character.” No worries, though—he promised it is still zany. Based on the clip we saw, it certainly seems to be.
The real highlight of the day though was the premiere of a new short by Jhonen Vasquez—an amazing, going-to-be-huge short of the Ninja Turtles done in an Invader Zim style. Titled “Don vs Raph,” the incredibly funny, insane cartoon deals with the two turtles engaging in an epic battle; the short brought down the house, and had Vasquez’s fellow animators awed too. The only downside is it seems like a one time thing, but we desperately need it to go to series. I mean it—desperately! Don’t believe me? Watch it for yourself. If anything I undersold it.
While the most exciting thing to come out of the panel related to the future of Nick animation, which looks as bright as any child of the ’90s would hope, there was still time to look back. Arlene Klasky managed to sum up a lot of what the rest of the panel echoed: It’s special to be a part of the legacy of Nicktoons. “There are still fans of Rugrats that can fill an auditorium,” she said, “It grew into something that warmed hearts.”
Oh, but don’t think she wasn’t looking ahead, too, as she hinted to Nick that a Rugrats revival might not be the worst idea. We agree.
Nostalgia can limit progress, but it’s clear Nickelodeon and its animators are using it to fuel innovation for a whole new generation… as well as for a bunch of adults that still love their shows.
What are you most excited about from the news out of Nickelodeon? Tell us in the comments below.