This Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling review endeavors to avoid spoilers, but does broadly touch upon major themes of the movie.
Originally premiering on Nickelodeon not long after the network’s The Ren & Stimpy Show began to noticeably decline in quality, Rocko’s Modern Life was another show starring anthropomorphic animals and packed with gross-out sight gags and sly adult humor. It was initially tough to shake the feeling that Nick had cynically picked up a lesser Ren & Stimpy—a rip-off to satiate fans of that sort of thing.
However, Rocko gradually demonstrated it was doing something pretty different. Where Ren & Stimpy seemed to be foremost about disturbing and grossing viewers out (not that there’s anything wrong with that), these aspects of Rocko’s Modern Life were just seasoning for pointed satire about, well, modern life. It also developed its own unique brand of strangeness. For example, the total bizarreness of the season 2 episode, “She’s the Toad,” which ends with Mrs. Bighead taking the entire Conglom-O building on vacation by driving it away like a car, has stuck with me to this day.
The reboot movie, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, is now premiering on Netflix a flabbergasting 23 years after the end of the show’s original Nickelodeon run and, even more flabbergasting, it nails the look and feel of the original series perfectly. The problem with rebooting something from an era with different production methods and technology is that it’s bound to come out just different enough to feel off to fans of the original work. However, if it weren’t for the widescreen aspect ratio, if you put Static Cling alongside 1990s’ Rocko, it would pass as part of the same production run.
It’s here I should mention that I am not a do-or-die Rocko fan. I watched a good lot of it and still think fondly of some episodes (“Wacky Delly” is one of the best episodes of animated television ever made) but I lost touch with the series after a point and never saw it through to the finale. Hardcore fans may therefore find inconsistencies to criticize that escaped my gaze but, as far as I can tell, this is pitch-perfect Rocko.
It’s not only the animation; there’s also the sound design. The madcap music is just as I remember it and all the returning voice actors are in fine form. Just like the old show, minor character movements are accentuated with fart sounds and other assorted gross noises.
Further, it’s the tone that—though at its core is about real-world topics like the advancement of technology, runaway capitalism, our present cultural obsession with nostalgia, and LGBTQ issues—is cavalierly surreal and fourth-wall breaking whenever it wants to be. It’s a confident style that allows Static Cling to have grounded, heartfelt character interactions one moment and to completely throw its reality out the window in the next as its characters travel around the world in seconds by way of some chairs tied to a drone. It’s also how the movie gets to be a nostalgic reboot that, at nearly every turn, blatantly acknowledges that it’s a nostalgic reboot.
Static Cling masterfully has its cake and eats it too. All the old goofy, gross-out humor and the sexual innuendos are in there and nearly every frame is packed with callbacks and cameos from classic side characters. But the story doesn’t wallow in the nostalgia, instead confronting and subverting it by making it front-and-center in the plot. It mocks our cell phone obsession, pooh-poohs computer-driven animation, and says the Apple Watch is for tools. But it also condemns those set in their ways, in no uncertain language insisting on the importance of embracing the here and now.
Also, regarding those LGBTQ issues, though I won’t go into spoiler specifics, they’re one part of Static Cling’s main theme and they’re handled in a smart, graceful, and surprisingly poignant way. It’s not too shocking they’re in there. The original series did have an episode that sneaked in an allegorical tale about Mr. Bighead’s closeted homosexuality (by making him a closeted clown). But, with this reboot being for a now-adult audience, this subject matter is bluntly addressed and the unambiguous approach is refreshing and well-handled.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is a revival that, at least to this casual fan’s eye, recaptures everything that made the original series what it was. At the same time, it boldly addresses and explores its role as a relic revived in a very different era. Clever, polished, and alternatingly critical and accepting of both the new and the old, Static Cling is everything you could hope for from a reboot.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling is available now to stream on Netflix.
Joe Matar watches a lot of cartoons and a lot of sitcoms. He’s obsessed with story structure so that’s what all his reviews are about. Joe also writes about video games on occasion. He has an MA in English if you can believe it. Read more of his work here. Follow Joe on Twitter for more fun @joespirational!
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