Rugrats: The Santa Experience (1992)

It turns out I remember Nicktoons better than I thought I did, because I remembered this episode as we watched it. That’s always an odd feeling. It was also odd that it never once came up in this heavily Christmas-themed episode that one of the adults is Jewish, and the main kid is thus half-Jewish.

At first I thought: maybe they hadn’t decided that about the characters at this point in the show (The Rugrats Chanukah special didn’t hit ‘til 1996) but a little googling tells me that it was in the first episode. So… that’s weird. I guess they didn’t think the viewing kids could handle more than one religion at a time.

And anyway, this one’s all about Santa.

For most of the episode, it’s actually quite well done. The episode is just packed with intertwining plots. Angelica’s dad is concerned about her being traumatized by the unmasking of a mall Santa (she’s just pissed that the toys the store gave her for her temper tantrum aren’t the expensive stuff she wants). Chuckie is afraid of anyone who “breaks into your house in the middle of the night”, and Tommy’s trying to convince him that Santa is nice. The parents all get together and decide to rent a cabin for the holidays, and both Angelica’s and Chuckie’s fathers work on how to convince their kids that Santa is real. Meanwhile, Angelica plays out a manipulative twist on “Gift of the Magi” with twins Phil and Lil, only to panic that because she tricked them, the real Santa won’t bring her anything and tries to undo her cruelty by Christmas.

If that sounds like a lot for 22 minutes, it is, but it all flows together and at least it never drags. The kids’ different reactions to Santa and gifts all feel surprisingly grounded and plausible for a cartoon about intelligent-ish infants. Unfortunately, after actually wrapping up basically all the plots in a heartwarming way, there’s a totally cliche magic ending that’s 100% out-of-tone with the rest of the episode.

Except for the ending, though, this was surprisingly watchable, and even kinda good.