The more things change, the more they suck… at least, that’s the worldview of the characters of Rocko’s Modern Life as Rocko, Heifer, and Filbert return after being stranded in space for 20 years and discovering that they are a long way from the nineties.
In many ways, Static Cling – which is more of a special extended episode than the movie we were promised – is about leaving the past behind and embracing change. The result is a Rocko return that is every bit as silly and immature as one would expect given the original run of Rocko’s Modern Life, but also offers something else in that it’s unexpectedly heartfelt, clever, and topical.
Static Cling attacks on many fronts. First, the episode serves as a meta commentary on cartoon reboots as Rocko, desperate for anything familiar and comforting, seeks to reboot his favorite cartoon show, The Fatheads. When the original creator, Ralph Bighead, has no interest in returning to his old creation, the project is taken over by literal worms who strip it off its appeal and animate it with cheap CGI.
Later on, when Ralph does decide to create an episode of The Fatheads, Rocko is shocked when the series’ creator makes changes, adds characters, and evolves the concept. In a deft swipe, Rocko is turned into a toxic fan… you could almost apply his complaints to Star Trek: Discovery or The Last Jedi. Change is not what Rocko wants… he wants things to stay the same which is, of course, not a possibility. Still, you can’t help but see things from Rocko’s perspective as well… everything’s changed for him and he can’t escape it. Here’s the one thing he thought would help him cope, and it wasn’t what he expected.
Oh, speaking of change, the biggest story point of Static Cling is that Ralph Bighead has made the decision to live as Rachel. Yes, children, Rocko’s Modern Life has a trans character. What I liked about this revelation is that it is topical and, for an animated series – even one that pushed boundaries like Rocko’s Modern Life did – it’s pretty audacious.
Rachel isn’t played for laughs and the falling out that she has with her father, Mr. Bighead, feels disturbingly real, making the subsequent reunion probably the most touching thing I’ve seen in a while in an animated series.
Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the show returned without missing a beat. There was no awkwardness, so insecurity… Rocko’s Modern Life returned like it wasn’t a big deal, the last 20 plus years being a mere commercial break, and the jokes, timing, and even the glorious hand drawn animation style were just as good as they were in the nineties.
In every sense, Static Cling is a welcome return to the world of Rocko, a world I’ve missed more than I realized. Yeah, it’s not really a movie, but in its 45 minute run, Static Cling tells its story and tells it so effectively, anything longer probably would have been a waste.
I hope this can lead to more Rocko specials in the future. There’s just so much in the 21st century that this bunch can skewer… it’s comedy gold just waiting to be mined.