4 Nickelodeon Cartoons That Overtly Reference Classic Movies

Rugrats/Lawrence of Arabia

Rugrats / Lawrence of Arabia
Rugrats / Lawrence of Arabia

As I watched Peter O’Toole brave the desert in the sweeping epic Lawrence of Arabia, I had only one thought: “Oh my God. This was an episode of Rugrats.” The episode in question was “Heatwave,” in which the gang attempts to cross the blacktop to reach an oasis of functional water fountains, because their parents are terrible and do not supply their children with the basic necessities of life. Of course, Tommy is the Lawrence stand-in, heroically going back for Chuckie, who has hallucinated a deflated volleyball into an igloo and is mentally unstable enough to stay in his imaginary paradise. In the movie, Lawrence later shoots and kills the man he rescues, which gives “Heatwave” a much darker tone on rewatch.

Hey Arnold!/The Grapes of Wrath

Hey Arnold! / The Grapes Of Wrath
Hey Arnold! / The Grapes Of Wrath

The “Pigeon Man” speech from Hey Arnold! is something that stuck with me well into my teenage years. It’s genuinely affecting; Arnold tries to convince Pigeon Man that humans can offer the same comfort as pigeons, but after kids trash his sanctuary, Pigeon Man decides to stick to animals he can trust. Also affecting: its source material, the classic Tom Joad “I’ll be there” speech from The Grapes of Wrath. The speeches offer two disparate messages. Tom focuses on standing by the downtrodden masses and the resilience of the human spirit, whereas Pigeon Man talks about how humans as a whole are too cruel to ever understand him. But both made me cry a little.

Spongebob Squarepants/Nosferatu

Spongebob / Nosferatu
Spongebob / Nosferatu

The ending of “The Graveyard Shift,” identifiable as the Hash-Slinging Slasher episode of Spongebob, used to confuse the crap out of me. Squidward realizes that a dork who wants a job application was the one terrorizing the Krusty Krab by calling and hanging up. “But who was flickering the lights?” he asks. Then, a horrifying black-and-white picture of some deformed creature emerges from the wall, everyone says a jumble of syllables as though everything is cleared up, and whatever the thing is retreats back into the wall. As it turns out, the word they are saying is “Nosferatu,” an off-the-wall reference to the 1922 unauthorized German adaptation of Dracula. The image is of Count Orlok, the hideous and terrifying vampire in the silent classic. Of course! Now everything makes sense!

Avatar: The Last Airbender/Apocalypse Now

Avatar: The Last Airbender / Apocalypse Now
Avatar: The Last Airbender / Apocalypse Now

Avatar: The Last Airbender is eight and a half million times better than either Avatar or The Last Airbender. Sorry – that just kind of came out. But one of the reasons I feel so strongly about A:TLA is that it had the audacity to do an episode paying homage to the Francis Ford Coppola masterpiece Apocalypse Now. The episode is “The Deserter,” and master firebender Jeong Jeong is a less insane but still pretty philosophical version of Colonel Kurtz. A:TLA’s battle scenes are always stunning, but this episode’s river fight is especially impressive, managing to seamlessly embed imagery from a Vietnam war movie into its universe without sacrificing plot or character development. I love the smell of firebending in the morning. TC mark

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