Friday, 31 March 2017

Benji The Hunted (1987) - I Told You I Was Freaky...

In my review of When The Wind Blows, I made some reference to Benji The Hunted being the film that killed off what remained of my childhood innocence after The Snowman had already left it slashed and beaten within an inch of its life.  Certainly, I think it's fair to say that I was never quite the same person again after being subjected to Benji and his eye-popping misadventures in the American wilderness.  If The Snowman opened my eyes to the sadness of the world, the fragility of life and the inevitability of death, then Benji The Hunted widened my scope on all of those things and also awakened to me to what a painfully cold and brutal place the world can be, particularly when you're small, defenceless and out on your own in the woods.  I have my mother to thank for renting the VHS when I was a small child, having seen the unassuming cover with the cute dog and fuzzy baby cougar snuggled up together and jumped to the conclusion that this would be a totally innocuous method of pacifying her sensitive, animal-loving kid for eighty-odd minutes on a weekend afternoon.  She no doubt regretted it when she later had to contend with me coming to her in floods of tears because of what happened to the baby cougar's mother.  This movie rattled me like crazy and, needless to say, will always hold a special place in my heart for it.

Benji The Hunted was the fourth theatrical film in a series created and directed by Joe Camp, which began in 1974 with Benji, an unassuming family flick that played a vital role in helping to restore commercial credibility to the G-rating, at the time regarded as "box office poison".  Audiences warmed to the titular mongrel, who packed all the heart of Lassie into a considerably shorter stature, and over the coming decade a variety of sequels and spin-offs were spawned.  Benji was originally played a dog named Higgins, although he passed away a year later and the role was subsequently filled by Higgins' daughter, Benjean, who starred in the films For The Love of Benji (1977) and Oh! Heavenly Dog (1980) along with a handful of television specials.  Benji The Hunted, the only Benji film to be released by Walt Disney Pictures, was the swansong of Benjean's career, and also the last Benji film for quite some time (Camp revived the series, briefly, with Benji: Off The Leash in 2004).  Higgins and Benjean were both trained by celebrated Hollywood animal trainer Frank Inn, who makes a few fleeting appearances as himself in Benji The Hunted.  In the film's opening scene, we're informed by a news reporter (Mary Beth McLaulin) that the canine superstar has been lost at sea while filming for an upcoming movie off the Oregon Coast and Inn, convinced that the hardy mutt has survived and made it to land, announces his intention to begin a helicopter search for him the following morning.  Benji's being lost and Inn's efforts to locate him initially look as if they're going to provide the basis for the entire plot but, past that opening sequence, the human rescue effort takes a backseat and forms only the vaguest of backdrops to the real substance of the story, which involves Benji caring for four baby cougars after their mother is killed by a hunter (Red Steagall).  Whenever Inn and his helicopter appear, it's either as an intrusion upon this natural wilderness or as a temptation that Benji must resist (if he returns to his life of domestication then who will look after those helpless baby cougars?).  Humans in general have a very minimal presence throughout the film and, aside from that opening and a couple of instances where Benji crosses paths with Steagall's hunter, it's almost entirely dialogue-free.  No twee Rex Allen-style narration, no tacky, awkwardly-imposed celebrity voice-overs (sorry, but I'm no fan of the Homeward Bound movies), just mountain upon mountain of engrossing animal photography.  This is not to say that Benji The Hunted handles its wordlessness with total deftness, but it does make for a more interesting viewing experience than a large bulk of Disney's live action output.

Obviously, a live action Disney flick about a dog who gets lost in the woods and babysits a litter of orphaned cougar cubs was never likely to register as high art, and it's fair to say that Benji The Hunted received a mixed reaction at best.  Roger Ebert infamously awarded the film a "thumbs up", although many, Gene Siskel included, were inclined to single this out as being the low point of his reviewing career - there's a joke in an episode of The Critic where Siskel mocks Ebert by reminding him that he gave Benji The Hunted a glowing review, a jibe that appears to embarrass Ebert, for he immediately goes on the defensive: ("Hey, you liked Carnosaur!").  Halliwell's Film Guide, meanwhile, describes the film as a "freaky fable about a dog with a high IQ", which is entirely apt and probably my favourite concise plot synopsis of anything ever.  It goes without saying that realism isn't exactly high on Benji The Hunted's list of priorities, and we get a number of scenes where Benji solves problems using lateral thinking that would surely make him a super-genius among dogs (for example, he figures out that he can prevent a particularly troublesome cub from escaping through a crack in a den by blocking it with a pile of stones).  Such moments may be absurd, but they're also played with a kind of quirky charm that defies even the most cynical of viewers not to smile.

Really though, the most striking thing about this mutt isn't that he's ridiculously smart.  No, what makes Benji such a fish out of water in the Oregon wilderness is that he's just such a sweetheart to the core.  This is made clear when he witnesses the mother cougar being shot and immediately runs over to comfort her, sentiments which seem entirely alien to the wounded cougar as she beats him off in her pain and confusion.  It's one hell of a tough scene to watch, and every bit as harrowing to my adult sensibilities as to my six-year-old self.  Benji feels little other than warmth toward his fellow creature and cannot bear to see them suffer, even where this conflicts with his inner survivalist - as illustrated by a sequence where he chases down a rabbit but, having finally cornered the damned thing, his killer instincts fail him and Benji's natural response is to give the rabbit a fond licking.  This presents a bit of a quandary when Benji discovers that cougars, being carnivores, don't eat raspberries, but it's nothing that a bit of creative thinking won't solve.  For Benji quickly stumbles across the cabin of Red the hunter and takes to pilfering ready-killed pheasant carcasses from him.  We might just as readily question the morality of stealing food from another being's dinner plate, but look at it this way - the hunter deprived those baby cougars of their bringer of sustenance, so having him indirectly donate food to them is merely a matter of redressing the balance.

At first glance, Benji might strike one as a bit too soppy for life in the woods, but nope, Benji's remarkable heart, much like his remarkable brain, is nothing to be sniffed at.  Benji's kindness and devotion toward those baby cougars forms the soul of the film and, even if it is nestled beneath a thick layer of general all-round hokiness, it ends up being surprisingly moving.  You care deeply about these cougars (in fairness, it would be impossible not to care about something so wretchedly adorable) and Benji's unwavering compassion ultimately feels like a force of good prevailing in a world dominated by indifference and brutality.  Projecting morality onto the natural kingdom is always a tricky business, and the film can be a bit patchy in that regard (see below), but Benji's interactions with the cougars do provide the basis for a lovely moral fable about the power of compassion and of taking responsibility for those in need.  His goodness is not infallible - a particularly heart-breaking scene occurs when Benji is momentarily distracted by the reappearance of the helicopter and an eagle takes the opportunity to seize and make off with one of the baby cougars (something else to keep in mind if you have particularly sensitive children).  This the last we see of that particular cub; Benji is unable to save it, and the agony of his failure is overwhelming.  It's a horrifying moment, but extremely effective in underscoring the fragility of life out in the wilderness and how letting one's guard down only fleetingly can lead to tragedy.

Where the film falters is in its efforts to work in a recurring antagonist, a sort of four-legged antithesis to the inherent sweetness that Benji represents.  Although Red Steagall is responsible for the death of the mother cougar, he's not the villain of the story and when Benji encounters him a little later on he's played up as a surprisingly benign figure.  Instead, our major source of menace throughout the movie is a black timber wolf who gets it into his head that Benji and the cougar cubs might be an easy meal and stalks them tenaciously as they make their way across the wilderness.  Unfortunately, he fatally underestimates (literally, by the movie's end) just how freakishly, fiendishly high that IQ of Benji's is, as the tricky mutt uses lateral thinking to outwit him and send him packing on numerous occasions.  The wolf is frankly a bit dumb for not figuring out that Benji's extreme smarts make him more trouble than he's worth; nevertheless, he gets closer to the cougars with every try, until finally Benji's goodwill toward his fellow creature gets temporarily burned out and he resorts to bumping the wolf off by tricking him into jumping off a cliff.  Ultimately, you end up feeling a bit sorry for the poor wolf as he goes hurtling to his death.  It's not exactly his fault that he's a predator, and the film's attempts to project a sense of morality upon the happenings of the woods are at their utmost weakest whenever he's involved.  Of all the deaths in the movie, the wolf's is the most gratuitous and mean-spirited but it's by far the silliest-looking too.  The manner in which he dies is visually very reminiscent of something out of a Wile E. Coyote cartoon, and it's topped off by having him let out this incredibly hokey-sounding howl as he falls.  Horrifying though it is, I find it near-impossible not to laugh whenever I watch this particular scene.

Eventually, Benji figures out that there's another mother cougar in the woods with a single cub and attempts to bring the two families together in an effort to get her to adopt the orphaned cubs.  I'm not sure quite how realistic this scenario is - would a mother cougar really be inclined to take in babies that aren't carrying her own genes? - but perhaps we're supposed to read her only having one a cub as an indication that she's been through a few losses herself and is looking to fill the void.  Once again, to be a bit too nitpicky about realism would be somewhat out of the spirit with this kind of film.  The mother cougar proves entirely obliging and gives us our happy ending, enabling Benji to woof his goodbyes to the cubs and finally come out of hiding when Inn's helicopter next appears.  The film stops just before the long-anticipated reunion between Benji and Inn, but then that was never really what this story was about.

Getting back to Siskel and Ebert, the actual contention between the two on Benji The Hunted seemed to come down to whether or not it's reasonable to judge a children's film by different standards to a film aimed at adult audiences - I notice that Ebert, while defensive of the film, is frustratingly coy on admitting whether or not he genuinely liked it as an adult or if he's just taking the "well, it wasn't really made for me" stance.  Myself, I can see eye-to-eye with both critics - Benji The Hunted is by no means a perfect film; nevertheless, I love it dearly and make no apologies in citing it as one of my all-time favourite guilty pleasure movies.  Unlike Siskel and Ebert, I had the luxury of being introduced to Benji The Hunted as a small child, so I've no doubt that a good chunk of my affection for it is wrapped up in nostalgia (albeit a tad ironically - this film upset the living snot out of me, after all), although there's still plenty of stuff in there that I can admire and recommend as an adult, and I think that Ebert is correct in singling out the nature photography as being particularly worthy of praise.  Where Benji The Hunted is at its strongest is where it trusts the charm of its animal cast and the beauty of its natural photography.  The imagery itself is variable - some of the scenes with Benji climbing up a mountain were blatantly filmed in a studio set with a cardboard backdrop, others are absolutely breathtaking - but overall it's a really lovely-looking film.  At times we get fleeting glimpses of wild animals who have no real purpose in the story other than to romp around and look enchanting - deer, ferrets, foxes, owls and raccoons  - creatures who are neither friend or foe to Benji but simply there to add the natural ambience and create a sense of a hidden world rich with all varieties of life.  Unfortunately, the film doesn't get the tone of this entirely right; one its biggest flaws is its over-reliance on Betty and Euel Box's somewhat incongruous score, which is meant to spell out the mood of each sequence and ensure that we pick up on what's funny and what's threatening, but serves to suck the subtly out of a number of scenes and undermine that natural ambience, and consists largely of generic, AC pop-style melodies on top of that.  I find myself deeply appreciative of the smattering of moments which use no music and instead trust the understated simplicity of the natural soundscapes to set the tone - they're precious, but much too brief.

The most noteworthy portion of the score is a Jan Hammer-esque theme that appears in some of the more action-y chase sequences and is pretty catchy, but still feels as if it would be better suited to a late night detective drama than to a Benji film.  It's in this emphasis on high-adrenaline chase sequences that I find myself siding with Siskel - there are simply too many of them, and their hectic, ham-fisted energy detracts from what's fundamentally quaint and charming about the story.  The film is at its best when it's happy to leisurely and gentle, with occasional flashes of harrowing brutality (eg: the eagle sequence) to underscore the daily battle for survival that's really taking place against this beguilingly whimsical backdrop; when it embraces the sweetness and melancholy of its central scenario and doesn't get too caught up in trying to be fast-paced and exciting.  Benji The Hunted can be a very muddled and hackneyed film in places, but I'd argue that ultimately it's the sweetness, the sadness and the whimsy which win out.  It has a heart of gold (except where that unfortunate wolf is concerned) and an endearingly quirky spirit, and I can certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good, unpretenious backwoods yarn.  Though keep in mind that it will totally scar the sensitive, animal-loving nippers in your family for life.

On a final note, I've harped on about how horrible and upsetting the deaths are in this movie, and while they are very shocking in the context of the story, I can at least watch them with a clear conscience as, having studied them closely, I'm fairly confident that no animals were ever placed in any actual peril and that they were all the result of visual tricks and skillful editing.  Sadly, I can't say the same for a number of older Disney animal pics which seemed benign enough in my childhood, and which make me feel so uneasy now that I find them damned near-unwatchable. (The Incredible Journey, I'm looking at you...)

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Children's Lessons In Mortality: Rugrats - "I Remember Melville"

I'm of the opinion that Rugrats is a seriously underappreciated cartoon.  It may seem odd to propose that a show that was once so phenomenally popular could be "underappreciated" but nevertheless I find that people tend to overlook just how brilliantly strange, twisted and edgy this series was in its heyday.  It went on for rather too long and added one or two highly divisive characters in its latter stages, so it could be that its reputation was tarnished beyond all repair, but anyone who recalls Rugrats as being little more than an extended diaper gag-fest would do well to revisit the earlier seasons and see just how sharply scripted and, above all, darkly weird a number of those episodes were.  Although fundamentally a kids' cartoon, Rugrats was able to weave in a ton of adult appeal, including some really esoteric gags which I suspect would be as lost on half the adults the audience as the children (one episode has Tommy getting separated from Grandpa Lou and winding up in the care of a couple of eccentric cat hoarders at a house called Grey Gardens), and the central conceit is one that children and adults should find equally beguiling - namely, just how daunting and bizarre a place the world can be when seen through the right pair of eyes.  Rugrats had that sense of childhood innocence and wonder down pat, but more impressive still is how vividly it encapsulates that sense of irrational childhood fear, deftly drawing you into the mentality of a toddler and having you appreciate why the most mundane of everyday occurrences would seem utterly terrifying from their perspective.  If you grew up with the series then odds are there's at least one Rugrats episode which gave you sleepless nights - in my case, it would be "What The Big People Do".  At some point, I fully intend to cover that episode and just how beautifully, nightmarishly fucked up the whole thing is.  For now though, let's continue our tour of children's lessons in mortality by looking at "I Remember Melville", the first of two death-orientated episodes yielded throughout the series' run.  For so edgy a cartoon was Rugrats that it gave us not just one, but two episodes which dealt very explicitly with the subject of loss, albeit from somewhat different angles.  "I Remember Melville" deals very much with raw grief and with navigating through the pain of loss, while the second episode, "Mother's Day", is more concerned with coming to terms with an absent relationship and reaffirming connections with someone already long passed.  In both cases, the bereaved character is Chuckie, which ties in with him being the most emotionally sensitive of the rugrats.

"I Remember Melville" has a similar premise to the Alvin & The Chipmunks episode "Cookie Chomper", in that it also uses the sudden death of a beloved pet as the basis for outlining the different stages of grieving, with the final assurance that, no matter the pain that loss entails, there is hope at the end of the tunnel.  I'd say that the depiction of grief here is quite a bit starker than that of "Cookie Chomper", however, and that the final lesson is reached and delivered through slightly less spelled-out and thus all the more satisfying means.  Both episodes are excellent in how they approach the subject of death, bereavement and, finally, renewal, although I give Rugrats extra points for adhering more to the principle of "show, don't tell" in its representation of the journey through the grieving process.  The ill-fated pet in this particular instance is a pill woodlouse named Melville, whom Chuckie adopts and whom the babies mistakenly identify throughout as a "bug" (woodlice are actually a type of crustacean, although in fairness I wouldn't expect a two-year-old to comprehend the difference).  It's probably fair to say that a pill woodlouse isn't going to garner the same degree of instant emotional attachment from most viewers as a conventionally adorable pet like Cookie the kitten (I say "most" because personally, being a big crustacean enthusiast, I can't help but immediately feel warmth toward the little isopod); nevertheless, the episode does a wonderful job of making us feel the strength of Chuckie's attachment to him and, through this, genuinely come to care about his fate.  To the rest of the world, Melville may seem small and insignificant, and he doesn't exactly show much in the way of personality in what little screen time he has - and yet, by the end of the episode, we've been through such an arduous emotional journey with Chuckie that the gravitas surrounding the loss of Melville feels entirely genuine.  We really do believe that his closest, most personal friend is being laid to rest.

The episode opens with Chuckie explaining to his fellow rugrats why Melville is the perfect pet and why he feels as strong a bond with him as Tommy does with Spike - Melville doesn't tease Chuckie or pass judgement on him, he's easy to talk to, and as an added bonus he doesn't have claws or teeth, which makes him less intimidating to Chuckie than other animals (it's also mentioned here that Chuckie's father has a fur allergy - I don't recall if they brought that up later on in the series when the Finsters adopted a poodle).  The obviously one-sided nature of Chuckie's devotions is played up in a somewhat comical fashion - despite Chuckie's assertion that Melville always listens to him, we know that Melville doesn't actually give a toss about his musings on eating fancy soap - but anyone who's ever given their heart to an animal companion will absolutely understand how he feels, and there's something immensely touching about just how much love and appreciation Chuckie has for this tiny being.  Which makes what happens next a little hard to bear.

In contrast to Cookie Chomper III, Melville meets his tragic demise fairly early on in the story.  He doesn't get much of a narrative arc in his living state - we see just enough footage to establish that Chuckie is totally enamored with the isopod, shortly after which Chuckie leaves Melville in the care of Tommy, Phil and Lil while he heads off to the outskirts of the yard to scout for more potential tidbits for Melville.  By this stage, Chuckie is now so devoted to meeting Melville's every need that he's assumed the mindset of a perpetually-fussing parent, dragging a suitcase full of Melville's stuff behind him and warning the prospective woodlouse-sitters that Melville gets cranky if he doesn't have his nap.  With Chuckie gone, Lil immediately proposes that they eat Melville, although a horrified Tommy is quick to put a stop to that (it would be a bad idea anyway - I've heard it said that woodlice taste like urine, although I'm not sure if I want to delve too deeply into the culinary habits of whoever verified that particular fact).  Instead, Tommy proposes that they teach Melville some new tricks in order to surprise Chuckie when he gets back, only to look down into the shoe box and see that the woodlouse has gone ominously belly-up.

Unlike Cookie Chomper III, no cause of death is ever established for Melville - his time had simply come, it would seem.  Lil cottons on quickly that Melville is now an ex-woodlouse, although Tommy, much like Paz The Penguin, is initially confused by the whole notion.  Lil explains that, "Dead is when you're asleep for a long time..." " forever," adds Phil.  Although Phil and Lil both appear to understand the permanence of death, their supposed solemnity is immediately undercut by the flippancy with which they detach from the situation and propose going back to making mud pies.  Phil and Lil have rather a callous attitude toward Melville (already evidenced by Lil's casual proposal that they consume him) although this does pay off toward the end of the episode.  Tommy alone recognises that Chuckie is going to be deeply distressed when he returns, and that the other babies can't just stand by and let that happen.  The three of them go in search of a replacement pet and happen upon a snail, although Phil is pessimistic about it passing for a Melville substitute.  "It's not really a bug, it's a snail," he muses.  Ahh, the irony.  "A bug's a bug", Lil insists, while Tommy places the snail in the shoe box and discreetly shifts Melville's body onto a nearby plastic shovel.  Note that, while Alvin & The Chipmunks was careful to keep Cookie's death and mangled body off-screen, here there's an awful lot of focus upon Melville's corpse, including several close-up shots of him lying motionless on his back.  You might think that a belly-up woodlouse makes for a less distressing sight than a dead kitten, but there is one particular shot in which we catch a glimpse of Melville's cold, lifeless eyes, and it's enormously grim.

Sure enough, when Chuckie returns he doesn't take the news too well and wants nothing to do with the slimy imposter in Melville's shoe box.  It's here that the different stages of grief first kick in, although Chuckie experiences them in a less structured manner than the three chipmunks, with Denial and Anger occurring at pretty much the same time.  Chuckie indignantly tosses the the snail (I hope that it landed softly, or else two minibeasts perished instead of just one) and demands that they return Melville.  There follows an extremely heart-rending sequence in which Chuckie attempts to bring Melville back to life by reanimating his corpse himself, moving him around and having him "perform" various circus tricks.  Tommy attempts to illustrate the difference between life and death to Chuckie by showing him a live earthworm and asking him to notice how it, unlike Melville, is capable of movement, but Chuckie continues to hear none of it.  He can only maintain the illusion for so long, however, and after having to prop Melville up one time too many, breaks down and tearfully admits that his beloved friend is dead.  Compared to the more understated reactions we saw from Alvin, Simon and Theodore to Cookie Chomper's passing, Chuckie's sudden, unrestrained outpouring of grief feels raw, searing and painfully authentic, not least his harrowing declaration that he'll, "never be happy again!"  Unlike Alvin, Simon and Theodore, Chuckie also isn't fortunate enough to have a learned parental figure like Dave Seville on hand to talk him through the grieving process, his companions being every bit as inexperienced in this field as he is.  Phil and Lil have a surface understanding of what death is, but are unable contemplate it too deeply.  Tommy is a notch more sensitive toward Chuckie's emotions, but naively assumes that the problem can be solved by having him banish all thoughts of Melville entirely.  Although Chuckie's friends do, in their way, prompt him along toward the right realisation, ultimately Chuckie has to figure all of this out for himself.

The following morning, Tommy, Phil & Lil recall that Chuckie was very upset yesterday and resolve to avoid saying anything that might remind him of Melville.  To their surprise, Chuckie shows up in apparently good spirits, insisting that his grief over Melville was yesterday's news that he's ready to move on with his life.  Obviously, Chuckie has merely slipped backwards a stage from Depression to Denial, but then, contrary to popular belief, the five stages of grief don't always follow smoothly in a straight line - often the road toward Acceptance is messy and chaotic.  Tommy suggests that the babies celebrate Chuckie's ostensible restoration by raiding the refrigerator for some chocolate pudding.  At this stage, I'm going to interrupt my commentary on Chuckie's grapplings with the grieving process to point out a really strange sight gag that occurs when Tommy opens the refrigerator to retrieve the tubs of pudding.  Sharp-eyed viewers might notice a milk carton amid the Pickles' victuals advertising the disappearance of one David "La Brea Tar Pits" Allen.  Evidently, there's a sly in-joke going on here.  The La Brea Tar Pits should, of course, be familiar to anybody who's seen the film Miracle Mile, but who's David Allen?  It seems a safe bet that this refers to David L. Allen, who worked as a design supervisor on a number of Rugrats episodes, although I'm still intrigued to learn what his connection was exactly to the La Brea Tar Pits.

Unfortunately, the taste of chocolate pudding is all that's needed to noisily shatter Chuckie's facade; he erupts into tears, recalling how he and Melville used to eat chocolate pudding together before the latter's tragic passing (all credit to Christine Cavanaugh, who does a splendid job in making Chuckie sound totally, gut-wrenchingly distraught in this scene).  Tommy suggests that the babies find something else to do which won't remind Chuckie of Melville, but Chuckie refuses.  He understands that inevitably he's going to feel sad whenever he thinks about Melville, but at the same time he realises that his own life needs to carry on and that he can't deny himself day-to-day pleasures like chocolate pudding just because he doesn't want to confront those emotions.  Moreover, he feels a personal obligation, as Melville's only friend, to keep his memory alive - as he poignantly points out to Tommy, Phil and Lil, "if I don't remember him, who will?"  This confuses Phil and Lil, who wonder how Chuckie can bear to burden himself with so much sadness.  Chuckie admits that, even though he knows that Melville has already gone, he feels that he still needs to properly say his goodbyes.  Thus, we see him finally move into the Searching stage, as the babies confront the issue head-on and attempt to bring a sense of closure to Melville's passing, by burying Melville in his shoe box in the Pickles' backyard and holding a miniature funeral service for him.  Phil and Lil offer to say a few words, and speak mournfully about all the fond times they observed Chuckie and Melville sharing.  It's here that we get our pay-off for their earlier flippancy, as Phil and Lil demonstrate that they have learned to genuinely care - only, to their surprise, Chuckie suddenly erupts with laughter in the middle of their speech, leading to a neat bit of role reversal in which Phil and Lil chide him for not showing Melville proper respect.  Chuckie apologises, but says that he couldn't help but laugh on being reminded of all the happiness that Melville brought into his life.  Here, Chuckie indicates that he's finally arrived at the Acceptance stage, stating that he feels reassured knowing that he can think of Melville and actually take joy and comfort in those memories.  He thanks Phil and Lil for helping him to realise this and, suddenly, they too feel overwhelmed with emotion and burst into tears.  The episode ends by panning upwards and showing one final, reassuring glimpse of the sun shining down upon the Pickles' neighbourhood, a reminder of the continuing cycle of life and of the promise of renewal brought by each new day.

Oh yes, and "I Remember Melville" is paired with a Rugrats story called "No More Cookies" in which Angelica asks the babies to help her kick her binge-eating addiction.  It's an odd combination, not least because "No More Cookies" is something of a weird episode, period.  Angelica fails to kick the habit, yells at the babies for allowing her to fail, and then the episode abruptly ends with nobody any the better or wiser.  It's possible they were going for something entirely lightweight to counterbalance the heartbreak of the Melville story, only "No More Cookies" manages to be downright unsettling, both in the sheer grotesqueness of Angelica's eating habits and in the fact that nothing actually gets resolved in the end.  The message seems to be that you can get through grief, but with addiction you're essentially doomed to keep on repeating the same cycle of self-destructive behaviours over and over.  Ah well, as I stated earlier, Rugrats was nothing if not skin-crawlingly freaky, and all the more distinguished for it.