The Ren & Stimpy Show

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The Ren & Stimpy Show
The Ren and Stimpy Show Title Card.jpg
Also known as Ren & Stimpy
Genre Off-color humor
Slapstick
Created by John Kricfalusi
Developed by John Kricfalusi
Bob Camp
Jim Smith
Lynne Naylor
Written by John Kricfalusi
Vincent Waller
Bob Camp
Bill Wray
Jim Gomez
Richard Pursel
Chris Reccardi
Ron Hauge
Vince Calandra
Michael Kim
Peter Avanzino
Directed by John Kricfalusi
Richard Pursel
Bob Camp
Ron Hughart
Steve Loter
Tom McGrath
Jim Gomez
Chris Reccardi
Jim Smith
Bill Wray
Michael Kim
Creative director(s) Bob Camp
Starring John Kricfalusi (1991–93)
Billy West
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 5
No. of episodes 52[1] (List of episodes)
Production
Executive producer(s) Vanessa Coffey
Mary Harrington
Producer(s) John Kricfalusi
Bob Camp
Jim Smith
Christine Danzo
Jim Ballantine
Editor(s) Sam Horta
Michael Bradley
Timothy J. Borquez
William Keane
Bill Griggs
Ultra Film
Running time 22 minutes
Production company(s) Spümcø (1991–93)
Games Animation (1993–96)
Broadcast
Original channel Nickelodeon
Audio format Dolby Stereo (seasons 1–4)
Dolby Surround (season 5)
Original run August 11, 1991 (1991-08-11) – December 16, 1995 (1995-12-16)[2]
Chronology
Followed by Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon"
External links
Website

The Ren & Stimpy Show, often simply referred to as Ren & Stimpy, is an American animated television series, created by Canadian animator John Kricfalusi. The show premiered on August 11, 1991, on Nickelodeon as part of its Nicktoons block along with Rugrats and Doug. The series focuses on the titular characters: Ren Höek, an emotionally unstable chihuahua, and Stimpson J. Cat, a good-natured, dimwitted cat.

The show ran for five seasons on the network, received critical acclaim, and developed a cult following. Some critics credit it along with The Simpsons for leading the way for satirical animated shows like Beavis and Butt-head and South Park, and for playing a significant role in television animation. Throughout its run, The Ren & Stimpy Show was controversial for its off-color humor, sexual innuendo, and violence which were rare for television animation of the time. This controversy contributed to the production staff's altercations with Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices department. A spin-off for adult audiences, Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon", aired in 2003 on Spike, but was cancelled soon after its debut.

Characters[edit]

Ren Höek is a hot-tempered, "asthma-hound" Chihuahua.[3] Kricfalusi originally voiced Ren, styled as a demented Peter Lorre.[4][5] When Nickelodeon fired Kricfalusi, Billy West, already the voice of Stimpy, took the role using a combination of Burl Ives, Kirk Douglas and a slight "south of the border accent" for the rest of the Nickelodeon run.[6] Stimpson "Stimpy" J. Cat is a three-year-old[7] dim-witted and happy-go-lucky cat.[3] West voiced Stimpy for the Spümcø and Games Animation episodes, basing the voice on an "amped-up" Larry Fine.[5]

Ren and Stimpy play various roles, from outer-space explorers to Old West horse thieves to nature-show hosts,[8] and usually the duo were constantly at odds with each other. While the show was sometimes set in the present day, the show's crew tended to avoid "contemporary" jokes that reference current events.[9]

The show features a host of supporting characters; some only appear in a single episode, while others are recurring characters, who occasionally appear in different roles. Some of the supporting characters factor directly into the storyline, while others make brief cameos. Other characters, such as Mr. Horse, are exclusively cameo-based, appearing in many episodes in scenes that have little bearing on the plot, as a running gag.[10] Some notable artists and performers who voiced incidental characters on the show are Frank Zappa, Randy Quaid, Gilbert Gottfried, Rosie O'Donnell, Dom DeLuise, Phil Hartman, Mark Hamill, Alan Young, Frank Gorshin and Tommy Davidson.[11]

Development and reception[edit]

Conception[edit]

According to cartoonist Bill Wray, John Kricfalusi created the characters Ren and Stimpy around 1978 for "personal amusement" during his time in Sheridan College.[9] He was inspired to create Ren by an Elliott Erwitt photograph, printed on a postcard, called "New York City, 1946", showing a sweatered chihuahua at a woman's feet. Stimpy's design was inspired by a Tweety Bird cartoon called A Gruesome Twosome where the cats in the animation had big noses.[12] When Nickelodeon approached Kricfalusi, he presented three shows, among them a variety show titled Our Gang or Your Gang, with a live action host presenting different cartoons, each cartoon parodying a different genre. Ren and Stimpy were pets of one of the children in Your Gang, serving as a parody of the "cat and dog genre". Vanessa Coffey, Nickelodeon's Vice President of Animation Production, was dissatisfied by the other projects but did like Ren and Stimpy, singling them out for their own show.[5][9]

Spümcø (1991–93)[edit]

The show's pilot began production in 1989, after Kricfalusi pitched and sold The Ren & Stimpy Show to Nickelodeon.[4] The pilot was done by Kricfalusi's own animation company, Spümcø, and screened at film festivals for several months before the show was announced in Nickelodeon's 1991 line-up.[13] The first episode of the show premiered on August 11, 1991 alongside Doug and Rugrats. Spümcø continued to produce the show for the next two years while encountering issues with Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices.[9] The show was noted for its lack of early merchandising;[14] Wray cites the initial lack of merchandise as "the unique and radical thing" about The Ren & Stimpy Show, as no toy company planned ahead for any merchandise for the show, and Nickelodeon did not want to use "over-exploitive" merchandising.[9]

Kricfalusi described his early period with Nickelodeon as being "simple", as he got along with Coffey, the sole executive of the program. When another executive was added, he wanted to alter or discard some of the Ren & Stimpy episodes, but Kricfalusi says the episodes stayed intact since he did a "trade" with Coffey: he would have some "really crazy" episodes in exchange for some "heart-warming" episodes.[15] According to Kricfalusi, The Ren & Stimpy Show was the "safest project [he] ever worked on" while explaining the meaning of "safe" as "spend a third of what they spend now per picture, hire proven creative talent, and let them entertain". He estimated Spümcø's run of The Ren & Stimpy Show cost around $6,000,000 to produce.[16]

The show received mixed reviews.[17] Terry Thoren, former CEO and president of Klasky Csupo, said that Kricfalusi "tapped into an audience that was a lot hipper than anybody thought. He went where no man wanted to go before – the caca, booger humor".[18] The Morning Call called it "high voltage yuks and industrial-strength weirdness".[19] Even as the show came to garner high ratings for Nickelodeon[4][17][19][20] and developed a cult following,[21] the relationship between Kricfalusi and Nickelodeon became strained, eventually leading to Kricfalusi communicating with Nickelodeon solely through his lawyer.[19] Several of the show's staff attribute the tension to episodes that were not produced in a timely manner.[22][23][24][25] Andy Mangels of Wizard magazine commented that "Kricfalusi's lax treatment of deadlines pissed off not only the networks, but his loyal viewers as well."[21] However, some of the delays were attributed to Nickelodeon's prolonged approval process[19] and withdrawal of approval from scenes and episodes that had been previously approved.[9][21][26] Another issue of contention was the direction of the show. Nickelodeon later asked the new studio to make it lighter and less frightening.[9] Kricfalusi cites the primary reason for his dismissal as the episode "Man's Best Friend", which features a violent climax where Ren brutally assaults George Liquor with an oar.[27]

Games Animation (1993–95)[edit]

Nickelodeon terminated Kricfalusi's contract in late September 1992[25] and offered him the position of consultant for Ren & Stimpy, but he refused to "sell out".[26] Nickelodeon moved production from Spümcø to its newly founded animation department, Games Animation, which later became Nickelodeon Animation Studios.[28] Bob Camp replaced Kricfalusi as director,[6] while West, having refused Kricfalusi's request to leave along with him,[22] voiced Ren in addition to Stimpy.[9][24][29]

Fans and critics felt this was a turning point in the show, with the new episodes being a considerable step down from the standard of those that preceded them.[28][30] Ted Drozdowski, resident critic of The Boston Phoenix, stated that "the bloom faded on Ren & Stimpy."[31] Animation historian Michael Barrier writes that while the creators of the Games episodes used bathroom humor jokes that were similar to those used by Kricfalusi, they did not "find the material particularly funny; they were merely doing what was expected."[32]

The show ended its original run on December 16, 1995 with "A Scooter for Yaksmas", although one episode from the final season, "Sammy and Me/The Last Temptation", remained unaired.[33] Almost a year later, the episode aired on Nickelodeon's sister network, MTV on October 20, 1996.[2]

Production[edit]

Production system[edit]

The animation production system used in The Ren & Stimpy Show was similar to those found in Golden Age cartoons, where a director supervised the entire production process from beginning to end.[10][34][35] This system is in contrast to cartoon production methods in the 1980s, where there was a different director for voice actors, and cartoons were created with a "top-down" approach to tie in with toy production.[4][36]

Animator Vincent Waller compared working on Ren & Stimpy and SpongeBob SquarePants in an interview: "Working on Ren and Stimpy and SpongeBob was very similar. They're both storyboard-driven shows, which means they give us an outline from a premise after the premise has been approved. We take the outline and expand on it, writing the dialogue and gags. That was very familiar."[37] According to Kricfalusi, Ren & Stimpy reintroduced the layouts stage, and reemphasized the storyboard stage.[38][39][40] Eventually, artists drew larger storyboard panels, which allowed for the stories to be easily changed according to reactions from pitch meetings, and for new ideas to be integrated.[41]

Animation style[edit]

The show's aesthetics draw on Golden Age cartoons,[10][17][42] particularly those of Bob Clampett in the way the characters' emotions powerfully distort their bodies.[32] The show's style emphasizes unique expressions, intense and specific acting, and strong character poses.[5][43] One of the show's most notable visual trademarks is the detailed paintings of gruesome close-ups,[5] along with the blotchy ink stains that on occasion replace the standard backgrounds, "reminiscent of holes in reality or the vision of a person in a deep state of dementia".[44] This style was developed from Clampett's Baby Bottleneck, which features several scenes with color-cards for backgrounds.[27] The show incorporated norms from "the old system in TV and radio" where the animation would feature sponsored products to tie in with the cartoon, however in lieu of real advertisements, it featured fake commercial breaks advertising nonexistent products, most notably Log.[45]

Carbunkle Cartoons, headed by Bob Jaques and Kelly Armstrong, is credited by Kricfalusi for beautifully animating the show's best episodes, improving the acting with subtle nuances and wild animation that could not be done with overseas animation studios.[43][46] Some of the show's earlier episodes were rough to the point that Kricfalusi felt the need to patch up the animation with sound effects and "music bandaids," helping the segments "play better, even though much of the animation and timing weren't working on their own."[47] KJ Dell'Antonia, a reviewer for Common Sense Media, describes the show's style as changing "from intentionally rough to much more polished and plushie-toy ready."[48]

Music[edit]

The Ren & Stimpy Show features a wide variety of music, spanning rockabilly, folk, pop, jazz, classical music, jingles, and more. The opening and closing themes are performed by a group of Spümcø employees under the name "Die Screaming Leiderhôsens".[49][50] Three Ren & Stimpy albums have been released: Crock O' Christmas, You Eediot!, and Radio Daze. In addition to music written specifically for the show, a number of episodes utilized existing works by composers such as jazz musician Raymond Scott, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven, Alexander Borodin, Antonín Dvořák, Rossini (particularly The Thieving Magpie), and a host of "production music" by composers such as Frederic Bayco, which fans later compiled into several albums.[51][52] In 1993 a compilation album, "You Eediot!", was released as a soundtrack album. The album's front cover is a parody of The Beatles' 11th studio album Abbey Road.

Stimpy's rousing anthem titled "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy" was composed by Christopher Reccardi[10] and written by Charlie Brissette and John Kricfalusi. A cover of this song, performed by Wax, is included on the 1995 tribute album Saturday Morning: Cartoons' Greatest Hits, produced by Ralph Sall for MCA Records. The line "happy, happy, joy, joy" is first used in episode three of the series; the song is first played in episode six. It is sung by a character introduced as "Stinky Whizzleteats",[53] who is named in the episode's script as Burl Ives.[54] Several references to Burl Ives's songs and movie quotes are sprinkled through the song, giving it its surreal air.[talk]

Controversy and censorship[edit]

The creators of Ren & Stimpy did not want to create an "educational" series, a stance which bothered Nickelodeon.[9] Sources for complaint were the toilet humor and harsh language.[55][56] Despite these sentiments by Nickelodeon and parental groups, UK CIC Video home releases of the Spümcø episodes received U (all ages) ratings from the BBFC, while the "lighter" Games episodes received PG ratings. However in later DVD releases, the Spümcø episodes were re-rated PG.[57] In the United States, each episode was given the ratings TV-Y7 on Nickelodeon and Nicktoons, TV-G on TeenNick, and TV-PG on Spike.[citation needed]

Some segments of the show were altered to exclude references to religion, politics and alcohol. The episode "Powdered Toast Man" had a cross removed from the Pope's hat and the credits changed to "the man with the pointy hat". The same episode had a segment featuring the burning of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights which was removed, while in another episode the last name of the character George Liquor was removed. Several episodes had violent, gruesome, or suggestive scenes shortened or removed, including a sequence involving a severed head, a close-up of Ren's face being grated by a man's stubble, and a scene where Ren receives multiple punches to the stomach from an angry baby. One episode, "Man's Best Friend" was shelved by Nickelodeon for its violent content. The show's spin-off, Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon", debuted with this "banned" episode.[27][58][59][60][61]

Episodes[edit]

The series ran for five seasons, spanning 52 episodes.[1] The show was produced by Kricfalusi's animation studio Spümcø for the first two seasons. Beginning with season three (1993–94), the show was produced by Nickelodeon's Games Animation. The episode "Man's Best Friend" was produced for season two, but the episode was shelved and debuted with the show's adult spin-off. Another episode, "Sammy and Me / The Last Temptation", aired on MTV on October 20, 1996, almost a year after the original Nickelodeon run ended.[2]

Legacy[edit]

The immediate influence of the show was the spawning of two "clones": Hanna-Barbera's 2 Stupid Dogs, in which Spümcø employees including Kricfalusi had some limited involvement after their departure from Ren & Stimpy; and Disney's The Shnookums and Meat Funny Cartoon Show.[3] However, the show had a wider influence on the future of animation.[5][44] Mike Judge places MTV's willingness to commission Beavis and Butt-head on the success of Ren & Stimpy on the network.[62] Writer Larry Brody credits Ren & Stimpy for leading a new golden age of animation, as other networks followed Nickelodeon and invested in new cartoons, opening the way for more adult-oriented satirical shows like Beavis and Butt-head and South Park.[63] Writer/animator Allan Neuwirth writes that Ren & Stimpy "broke the mold" and started several trends in TV animation, chiefly the revival of credits at the beginning of each episode, the use of grotesque close-ups, and a shift in cartoon color palettes to richer, more harmonious colors.[5] A direct influence can be seen in the series SpongeBob SquarePants with physically extreme drawings that contrast with the characters' usual appearance, the "grotesque close-ups".[64]

Ren & Stimpy placed 31st in TV Guide's list of "Top 50 Greatest Cartoon Characters of All Time" in 2002.[65] The cover story of the October 2001 issue of Wizard, a leading magazine for comic book fans, listed the 100 Greatest Toons ever as selected by their readers, with Ren & Stimpy ranked at number 12.[66] Other entertainment journals similarly hold Ren & Stimpy as one of the best cartoons of the '90s and cartoons for adults.[67][68][69][70]

They have also appeared in The Simpsons episodes "Brother from the Same Planet" and "The Front".

Home releases[edit]

VHS, LaserDisc, UMD[edit]

Sony Wonder initially distributed collections of episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show on VHS, which were not grouped by air dates or season.[71] Eventually, the rights for Nickelodeon's programming on home video transferred from Sony to Paramount Home Video. Paramount only released one video of The Ren & Stimpy Show, "Have Yourself a Stinky Little Christmas", which was actually a rerelease of a Sony video from several years earlier. Like all of the other Paramount cassettes of Nickelodeon shows, they were recorded in the EP/SLP format. Tapes released by Sony were recorded in SP format.[original research?]

During the mid and late 1990s, a themed selection of The Ren & Stimpy Show episodes were released in a number of VHS releases in Australia by Nickelodeon and Paramount Home Entertainment. Most of the videos were G-classified due to some scenes that were cut but other certain videos were classified PG. The Ren & Stimpy Show was also released on LaserDisc in the United States by Sony Wonder. There was only one release, "Ren and Stimpy: The Essential Collection", which featured the same episodes as the VHS release.[citation needed] On September 25, 2005, a compilation entitled The Ren & Stimpy Show: Volume 1 was released in the U.S. on UMD, the proprietary media for the PlayStation Portable.[citation needed]

DVD[edit]

United States[edit]

Time–Life released several episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show in a "Best of" set in September 2003.[72] This set is now out of print.[73] On October 12, 2004, Paramount Home Entertainment released the first two complete seasons in a three-disc box set. Although the cover art and press materials claimed the episodes were "uncut", a handful of episodes were, in fact, edited, due to the use of Spike TV masters.[74] One of the episodes from the second season, "Svën Höek", did have footage reinserted from a work in progress VHS tape, but with an editing machine timecode visible on-screen; the scene was later restored by fans.[75] A set for Seasons Three and a Half-ish, containing all of season three and the first half of season four up to "It's A Dog's Life/Egg Yolkeo", followed on June 28, 2005.[30][76] Season Five and Some More of Four completed the DVD release of the Nickelodeon series on July 20.[77] Like the previous DVDs, some scenes were removed in these releases.[citation needed]

A two-disc set dubbed The Lost Episodes was released on July 17, 2006, featuring both the aired and unaired episodes from Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, as well as clips from unfinished cartoons.[78]

United Kingdom and Europe[edit]

In October 2006, Paramount UK released The Ren & Stimpy Show – Unleashed: The First and Second Seasons on DVD.[79] The distributors heavily edited some episodes; most notably the episode "Out West" has the entire song "The Lord Loves a Hangin'" removed and cuts directly to the end of the episode after Ren and Stimpy steal Mr. Horse. In addition, all commentaries and the "banned" episode "Man's Best Friend" are completely absent, even though they are mentioned as present on the DVD packaging.

The Australian DVD similarly excised the episode "Man's Best Friend", but also removed all mentions of it from the packaging. Like the UK release, it was also brandished "Unleashed", rather than the American title of "Uncut". Season 3 and a half-ish was released to both areas in 2007,[80] while Season 5 and some more of 4 and the Adult Party Cartoon Lost Episodes only came out in Australia.

The original series was released entirely as a 9-disc set in Germany on October 4, 2013. The set is available as a standard box set, containing an episode guide, while a limited edition set includes 3D cover, sticker set, postcards, episode guide and poster, as well as bonus features included on the discs and the episode "Man's Best Friend" in English with German subtitles.[81] After people claimed that two episodes on the second disc were not completely uncensored, Turbine Classics offered to send everybody who contacts them an uncensored disc.[82] The set comprises a mix of the known US airings and the German TV airings which included some exclusive scenes of various episodes. Since the set is the first to include all scenes ever broadcast worldwide, it is considered the first truly uncensored DVD release of the series.[83][84]

A new release will be available to the United Kingdom in March 2015.[85]

Adult Party Cartoon (2003)[edit]

In 2003, Kricfalusi relaunched the series as Ren & Stimpy "Adult Party Cartoon". The new version was aired during a late night programming block on Spike TV and was rated TV-MA. The series, as the title implies, explores more adult themes, including an explicitly homosexual relationship between the main characters,[86] and an episode filled with female nudity.[87] Billy West declined to reprise his role as the voice of Stimpy, saying that the show was "not funny" and that joining it would have damaged his career.[88] Eric Bauza voiced Stimpy, while Kricfalusi reprised the role of Ren. The show began with the "banned" Nickelodeon episode "Man's Best Friend" before debuting new episodes. Fans and critics alike were unsettled by the show from the first episode,[13] which featured the consumption of bodily fluids such as nasal mucus, saliva and vomit.[86] Only three of the ordered nine episodes were produced on time. After three episodes, Spike TV's entire animation block was removed from its programming schedule.[89]

Other media[edit]

Video games[edit]

Several Ren & Stimpy-themed games have been produced. Most of the games were produced by THQ.

Title Platform Year
Ren and Stimpy: Space Cadet Adventures Game Boy 1992
Ren & Stimpy Show: Buckeroo$ NES and Super NES 1993
The Ren & Stimpy Show: Veediots! Super NES and Game Boy 1993
Ren Hoek and Stimpy: Quest for the Shaven Yak Sega Game Gear and Sega Master System 1993, 1995
Ren & Stimpy: Stimpy's Invention Sega Genesis 1993
Ren & Stimpy Show Part II: Fire Dogs Super NES 1994
Ren & Stimpy Show Part III: Time Warp Super NES 1994
Nicktoons Racing PC, PlayStation, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance 2000, 2001
Ren & Stimpy Pinball Mobile
Nicktoons: Attack of the Toybots Wii and PlayStation 2 2007
Nicktoons MLB Nintendo DS, Wii, and Xbox 360 2011

Software[edit]

Ren and Stimpy were included in several Nickelodeon-themed activity and crafts software for computers. Ren and Stimpy were also created in full 3D for Microsoft's Nickelodeon 3D Movie Maker.

Comic books[edit]

Marvel Comics optioned the rights to produce comic books based on Nickelodeon properties in 1992. The initial plan was to have an anthology comic featuring several Nicktoons properties. Marvel produced 44 issues of the ongoing series, along with several specials under the Marvel Absurd imprint. Most of these were written by comic scribe Dan Slott. One Ren & Stimpy special #3, Masters of Time and Space, was set up as a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' and with a time travel plot, took Slott six months to plot out in his spare time. It was designed so that it was possible to choose a path that would eventually be 20 pages longer than the comic itself. Issue #6 of the series starred Spider-Man battling Powdered Toast Man. The editors named the "Letters to the Editor" section "Ask Dr. Stupid", and at least one letter in every column would be a direct question for Dr. Stupid to answer.[90]

Nick–Fox film deal[edit]

Nickelodeon and Twentieth Century Fox signed a two-year production deal in May 1993 for the development and production of animated and live-action family films, based on new or existing properties. Ren & Stimpy was mentioned as a possible property for development, along with Rugrats and Doug, however the show's "cynical and gross humor" was a poor fit for a conventional, "warm and fuzzy" family film.[91][92] The deal expired with no movies produced. Nickelodeon would later start its own film studio after parent company Viacom purchased Paramount Pictures.

Further reading[edit]

  • Thad Komorowski (2013). Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story. BearManor Media. ISBN 9781593932343. 

References[edit]

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  3. ^ a b c Martin "Dr. Toon" Goodman (March 2001). "Cartoons Aren't Real! Ren and Stimpy In Review". Animation World Magazine. 
  4. ^ a b c d Andy Meisler (August 16, 1992). "Ren and Stimpy's Triumphant Return". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-12-26. 
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