Title: Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling
Release Date: August 9th, 2019
Directors: Joe Murray and Cosmo Segurson
Release Format: Netflix Streaming
“Rocko’s Modern Life.” If you’re a certain age, you automatically sang those words in your head. And then you probably followed it up with a Fred Schneider-esque “ROCKO’S MODERN LIFE!” If you’re not of that certain age, you are probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about. Allow me to explain.
Rocko’s Modern Life was a cartoon created by Joe Murray for Nickelodeon in 1993. The show centers around an oft-harried wallaby named Rocko, his loyal dog Spunky, his best friends Heffer (an idiotic but unflappably positive steer) and Filbert (an awkward turtle), and his neighbor, Mr. Bighead (a cranky toad). Its animation style, slapstick humor, and nods to adult themes paved the way for future classics like Spongebob Squarepants. In fact, many of the people integral to Spongebob were also mainstays of Rocko including Tom Kenny (Heffer/Spongebob), Mr. Lawrence (Filbert/Plankton), and Spongebob Squarepants creator Stephen Hillenburg, who wrote and directed several episodes.
The movie titled Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling picks up 20 years after the series left off (which is also roughly 20 years ago in real-world time). Rocko, Spunky, Heffer, and Filbert have been blasted into space in Rocko’s house. They happily pass their time watching their favorite show, The Fatheads. After realizing the remote control that will get them back to Earth has been stuck in Heffer’s buttcrack for 20 years, the boys return to their old place next to Rocko’s neighbors, the Bigheads. Rocko is excited to catch up on new episodes of The Fatheads (written by Mr. and Mrs. Bighead’s son, Ralph). He learns, however, that the show has been off the air for 20 years.
After a failed attempt by Mr. Bighead to bring the show back on the air, Rocko and his pals embark on a quest to find Ralph and get the “real” show back. When they do find Ralph in the desert happily selling icy treats in the shape of The Fatheads. However, they realize that Ralph has transitioned and is now Rachel. While this doesn’t faze Rocko and his gang, Mr. Bighead finds himself unable to accept that he now has a daughter.
Rachel goes on to create an updated version of The Fatheads anyway. Rocko finds himself upset that the show added a character and is not the same show he remembers. After a conversation with The Winds Of Change, Rocko and Mr. Bighead both decide that life will be better if they accept change.
I have to say, I wasn’t expecting a message from Rocko’s Modern Life movie. Not that the old show was totally bereft of deeper themes. Much like its progeny, Spongebob Squarepants, the show often wrapped more adult themes in weird slapstick antics. However, Static Cling is unflinchingly meta and forward with its message that change is an inevitable part of life. Remember earlier when I said Rocko and Mr. Bighead have a conversation with The Winds Of Change? Yeah… that’s a thing that happens in this movie. The Winds Of Change is literally a character that delivers the main message of the movie.
Change is a theme that’s foreshadowed from the very beginning. The opening narration sounds like a woman, but eventually, it’s revealed that the character doing the narration is Really Really Big Man, who then clears his throat and speaks with his regular masculine voice. Obviously, this is foreshadowing Ralph Bighead transitioning into Rachel. And of course, Rachel Bighead, the creator of the in-fiction cartoon, is voiced by Rocko’s creator Joe Murray. It’s as if Murray is reaching out of the TV to shake the viewer and scream, “ROCKO ENDED 20 YEARS AGO! WE ARE ALL DIFFERENT PEOPLE AND WE NEED TO MOVE ON!”
Normally, this kind of ham-fisted delivery would bother me, but not from Rocko’s Modern Life. For one, the original show was never known for its subtlety. It has always been a full-on assault on the senses and sensibilities and, changes aside, it wouldn’t be Rocko if it was anything other than that. For another thing, the movie is only 45 minutes long. And that’s a very good thing. For example, we can look at another, similar show that got a full-length film, Aqua Teen Hunger Force. I really enjoyed a majority of Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters, but I don’t know if I’ve ever watched it since my first viewing in 2007 because an hour and a half is too long to spend in that type of bizarre world. Eventually, the weirdness and sensory overload become numbing at best and off-putting at worst.
That’s not to say there’s not some really smart jokes/statements in the movie. Just in the opening scene, there’s a reference to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a movie about evolution. There’s also a Star Wars-style crawl that gets busted up by Rocko’s house/rocket, and there’s hardly a more famously change-averse and toxic fanbase than that of Star Wars.
There’s also an ad for a stand-in for Apple Watch where the tag-line is “Look like a tool!” That’s has nothing to do with the larger themes of the movie, I just loved it and wanted to mention it.
If you were a fan of the original Rocko’s Modern Life you’re going to love Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling. It’s weird and wonderful and has a really important message. The only thing I could see some people objecting to is that it includes a trans character. I know there’s a segment of fandom out there that sees any sort of non-normative character as “SJW propaganda” but if you’re that person, you’re the one who needs to hear this the most. Change happens and you can either accept it and move on or not, get left behind, and be cranky about it forever.
- Recaptures the spirit of the original
- Great capstone
- Filled with excellent Easter Eggs
- None! This movie is great!