Netflix has rebooted hit 90s cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life, and this time there is a transgender character included in the line-up of roles – much to the delight of fans.
The series, which originally ended in 1996, was known for pushing boundaries with its risque adult dialogue, however the newly-released 45-minute-long movie-style reboot, Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, is now breaking barriers after its creative team decided to introduce its first ever transgender character.
Named Rachel Bighead, the character is the child of the show’s original antagonist Ed Bighead, and she was born as Ralph, who featured as a male in the original series, before coming out as transgender in the new movie reboot.
Breaking boundaries: Netflix has been praised for introducing a transgender character in the reboot of popular 90s cartoon Rocko’s Modern Life
Meet Rachel: Named Rachel Bighead, the character is the child of the show’s original antagonist Ed Bighead, and she was born as Ralph before coming out as transgender
Transformation: In the original show, Rachel was known as Ralph (left), and was disowned by her father for not wanting to join the corporate world
According to early sneak peeks, Rachel’s transition will play a large part in the plot line of the movie, as will her father’s struggle to accept his daughter for who she really is.
However, the show’s creator, animator and director Joe Murray, 58, told Netflix that it was important that Rachel’s trans identity wouldn’t be ‘exploited as a punchline, unlike the long history of offensive and stereotyped representations of the trans community across film and TV.’
‘When I started writing, I really started latching onto the idea of change and how society has changed and what’s gone on in the last 20 years and the development of our characters and how they would react to change,’ California-native Murray added to Entertainment Weekly.
‘It felt natural, because it was not only about change, [it was] about somebody finding who they are and making that courageous choice to go through that change.’
The premise of the new installment is that Rocko, a wallaby, has returned after twenty years in space.
Message: The show’s creator, animator and director Joe Murray, 58, told Netflix that it was important that Rachel’s trans identity wouldn’t be ‘exploited as a punchline’
‘I’m Rachel’: Murray actually voiced the character of Rachel in the new movie too
He sets out on a mission to bring his favorite TV show, The Fatheads, back to screens after realizing it has been canceled – but no one can seem to find its original creator, Ralph Bighead.
Everything in ‘the future’ is different for Rocko, and he is exposed to cell phones and 3D movies for the first time.
In a bid to find Ralph, Rocko calls to the home of Mr and Mrs Bighead, his next-door neighbors. He is informed that Ralph had to ‘go away’ some time ago.
In a flashback scene, Ralph tells his folks, ‘he is just not happy’.
‘I need to get away for a while to do some real soul searching. Find the real me,’ Ralph added.
Rocko and his friends go on an adventure to find Ralph as they want to see The Fatheads series return to TV.
After looking all over the world for him, they finally find him as he drives up to them in an ice cream truck in the middle of a desert. After a discussion, Ralph agrees to bring back ‘The Fatheads’ but tells Rocko and his friends that since the last time he saw them, he had changed.
‘I’m not Ralph anymore,’ the character said, stepping outside the vehicle and letting down long hair. ‘I’m Rachel.’
Personal struggle: Rachel’s transition will play a large part in the plot line, as will her father’s struggle to accept it before realizing that it’s important to face change
Past: Another theme of the cartoon is that hanging on to the past will not further anything
Rocko’s friends tell Rachel that it’s ‘cool’ and ‘awesome’ that she’s found her true self. However, the reaction of Mr Bighead when they get home is less smooth.
Meeting her father for the first time since transitioning, she tells him, ‘I am not your son, I am your daughter.’
Mr Bighead responded by saying ‘this is crazy’ and yells, ‘No! I can’t do this. I have no daughter. No son, no show. There will be no fathead special. I quit!’
The characters try to console Rachel, and Rocko tells Mr Bighead that he can’t live without a relationship with his child. Ultimately, Mr Bighead sees the error in his ways and reconnects with Rachel after she creates an episode of the show.
‘Rocko, we can’t live in the past. We can be grateful for it. But life isn’t permanent and if we don’t embrace what’s now, we miss out on a lot of the important stuff,’ Mr. Bighead said in a memorable moment.
Murray worked closely with GLAAD, a non-governmental media monitoring organization founded by members of the LGBTQ community, to make sure he and the writers portrayed Rachel’s story correctly.
‘There were many discussions [about] how to handle her journey and her relationship with her father, and that Rocko, Heffer and Filburt treat it as a natural progression in life,’ Murray told Netflix.
Praise: People on Twitter have praised Murray for bringing a positive story about transitioning to a younger audience
‘The special was about change, [Rachel] went through a huge change, and the way this community has been represented went through a huge change as well. Both were worth celebrating,’ he added.
‘As a character in the 1990s she went through a lot of inner turmoil,’ Murray concluded.
‘The title itself, Static Cling, refers to the idea of “holding onto something that’s stagnant”. It wasn’t that we were trying to break any walls, or shock or be overly conspicuous in some radical storytelling.
‘But if it was smart and done well, I always wanted “modern life” to come shining through,’ he told the streaming platform.
The Netflix special’s inclusion of a transgender character drew the praise of the National Center for Transgender Equality, as well as countless people on Twitter and Tumblr.
‘This is very important [and] breaking news,’ a tweet from the organization shared. ‘One of our favorite characters on Rocko’s Modern Life is a trans!’
‘Thank you Joe Murray and the rest of the crew behind Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling for showing a positive portrayal of a transgender character. This is seriously a huge landmark in children’s animation,’ a tweet read.
Positive: The National Center for Transgender Equality took to Twitter to share their delight at the inclusive story line
Revival: Users on social media have shared their delight at the ‘woke’ plot featuring Ralph’s positive experience of transitioning to Rachel