By People Staff
December 01, 2003 12:00 PM

Nickelodeon (Saturdays, 8 p.m. ET)

After 12 years as toddlers, the animated Rugrats kids are having an overdue growth spurt. They make a fairly successful move to middle school in this spinoff series, which opens with four back-to-back episodes Nov. 29.

The strength of Rugrats (still airing on Nickelodeon, occasionally in new episodes) is its originality: The tots turn precocious when their adult guardians aren’t around. All Grown Up is more a matter of inevitability. Well, they had to get older sometime. In depicting the gang as “tweens,” the writers have showbiz too much on their minds: Susie (voiced by Cree Summer) dreams of a singing career, and Tommy (E.G. Daily) is an aspiring movie director. But some of the character development is funnier and more interesting. Milquetoast Chuckie (Nancy Cartwright) now longs to rebel. “I’ve never felt so alive!” he cries after risking punishment by mischievously photocopying his tush. And Angelica (Cheryl Chase), while as overbearing as ever, can’t conceal her social insecurity.

Many of the early laughs are produced by former pro wrestler Estes “Slam Bang” Pangborn (Carnivàle‘s Clancy Brown), the school’s vice principal. He’s a comic combination of poet, child psychologist and blustering muscleman.