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. The show has received critical acclaim and developed a cult following during and after its run, while some critics credit it along with The Simpsons for leading the way for satirical animated shows like Beavis and Butthead and South Park, and 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.
In the United Kingdom reruns of the series is shown on Nicktoons and 4Music.
The show was such a hit, it had vintage production music albums, music videos, VHS tapes, a UMD, a Laserdisc, and DVDs.
Ren Höek is a hot-tempered, "asthma-hound" Chihuahua. Kricfalusi originally voiced Ren, styled as a demented Peter Lorre. 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. Stimpson "Stimpy" J. Cat is a three-year-old dim-witted and happy-go-lucky cat. West voiced Stimpy for the Spümcø and Games Animation episodes, basing the voice on an "amped-up" Larry Fine.
Ren and Stimpy play various roles, from outer-space explorers to Old West horse thieves to nature-show hosts, 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.
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. 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.
Development and receptionEdit
According to cartoonist Bill Wray, John Kricfalusi created the characters Ren and Stimpy around 1978 for "personal amusement" during his time in Sheridan College. 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. 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.
The show's pilot began production in 1989, after Kricfalusi pitched and sold The Ren & Stimpy Show to Nickelodeon. 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. 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. The show was noted for its lack of early merchandising; 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.
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. 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.
The show received mixed reviews. 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". The Morning Call called it "high voltage yuks and industrial-strength weirdness". Even as the show came to garner high ratings for Nickelodeon, the relationship between Kricfalusi and Nickelodeon became strained, eventually leading to Kricfalusi communicating with Nickelodeon solely through his lawyer. Several of the show's staff attribute the tension to episodes that were not produced in a timely manner. However, some of the delays were attributed to Nickelodeon's prolonged approval process and withdrawal of approval from scenes and episodes that had been previously approved. Another issue of contention was the direction of the show. Nickelodeon later asked the new studio to make it lighter and less frightening. Kricfalusi cites his dismissal primarily to the episode Man's Best Friend, which features a violent climax where Ren brutally assaults George Liquor with an oar.
Games Animation (1993–95)Edit
Nickelodeon terminated Kricfalusi's contract in late September 1992 and offered him the position of consultant for Ren & Stimpy, but he refused to "sell out". Nickelodeon moved production from Spümcø to its newly founded animation department, Games Animation, which later became Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Bob Camp replaced Kricfalusi as director, while West, having refused Kricfalusi's request to leave along with him, voiced Ren in addition to Stimpy. 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. Ted Drozdowski, resident critic of The Boston Phoenix, stated that "the bloom faded on Ren & Stimpy." 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." 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. Almost a year later, the episode aired on Nickelodeon's sister network, MTV on October 20, 1996.
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. 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. 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." According to Kricfalusi, Ren & Stimpy reintroduced the layouts stage, and reemphasized the storyboard stage. 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.
The show's aesthetics draw on Golden Age cartoons, particularly those of Bob Clampett in the way the characters' emotions powerfully distort their bodies. The show's style emphasizes unique expressions, intense and specific acting, and strong character poses. One of the show's most notable visual trademarks is the detailed paintings of gruesome close-ups, 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". This style was developed from Clampett's Baby Bottleneck, which features several scenes with color-cards for backgrounds. 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.
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. 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." 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."
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". 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 Dvorák, Rossini, and a host of "production music" by composers such as Frederic Bayco, which fans later compiled into several albums. 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 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", who is named in the episode's script as Burl Ives. Several references to Burl Ives's songs and movie quotes are sprinkled through the song, giving it its surreal air.
Controversy and censorshipEdit
The creators of Ren & Stimpy did not want to create an "educational" series, a stance which bothered Nickelodeon. Sources for complaint were the toilet humor and harsh language. Despite these sentiments by Nickelodeon and parental groups, UK CIC Video home releases of the Spümcø episodes received U ratings from the BBFC, while the "lighter" Games episodes received PG ratings. However in later DVD releases, the Spümcø episodes were re-rated PG. 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.
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.
The series ran for five seasons, spanning 52 episodes. 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.
VHS, LaserDisc, UMDEdit
Sony Wonder initially distributed collections of episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show on VHS, which were not grouped by air dates or season. 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.
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. 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.
Time-Life released several episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show in a "Best of" set in September 2003. This set is now out of print. 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. 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. 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. Season Five and Some More of Four completed the DVD release of the Nickelodeon series on July 20. Like the previous DVDs, some scenes were removed in these releases.
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.
In October 2006, Paramount UK released The Ren & Stimpy Show – Unleashed: The First and Second Seasons on DVD. 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".
The complete series is set to come out in Germany on October 4, 2013. The Limted Edition 8-disc set includes a 3D card, sticker set, postcards, episode guide and poster, as well as bonus features included on the discs.
Adult Party Cartoon (2003-04)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, and an episode filled with female nudity. 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. 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, which featured the consumption of bodily fluids such as nasal mucus, saliva and vomit. 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.