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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Review: The Ren and Stimpy Show, Pt. 1 (Seasons One, Two, and APC)

NOTE: The first paragraph is taken from Homecinema's Michael Mackenzie's review of 'The Best of Ren and Stimpy', the rest are my words, completly.

The creator of Ren & Stimpy is one John Kricfalusi (popularly known as John K), a Canadian animator who became incredibly fed up with the stagnant state of the animation industry, which in the 1950s had been taken over by bureaucrats and sitcom writers. Ren & Stimpy was designed from the outset as a show that would break all the taboos that had been enforced on the industry. John K's goal was simple: to make cartoons funny again. Rather than writing scripts, he returned to the technique used on almost all animation until the 1960s (and still used by Pixar, Spumco and some Cartoon Network shows today): developing the stories on storyboards, eliminating the scriptwriting process altogether. This was radical at the time, as such a practice had not been used for nearly 30 years (studio executives, according to those in the know, can't understand storyboards and don't like the amount of freedom it gives the cartoonists). It is this, more than anything, that gives Ren & Stimpy its sheer energy and fusion, and is the reason why almost all scripted animation is lifeless and sterile, with little or no cohesion between the writing, artwork and voice acting.




To be honest, I think that The Ren and Stimpy Show, for the first third of its run, was the greatest cartoon show ever produced on television.


Here's a little history, besides what you read: John Kricfalusi had drawn a psychotic chihuahua based off a postcard that contained a chihuahua in a sweater, and Stimpy was based off Bob Clampett and Tex Avery cats, with round, interest-piquing bulbous noses. So, John Kricfalusi gathered up a few friends and founded Spümcø in 1988.

The Ren and Stimpy Show had certainly smashed through all kinds of boundaries that cartoons back then (and most nowadays!). Without them, cartoons like the torpid 'Doug' and the always uneven and stupidly designed 'Barney The Dinosaur'. Without the insane chihuahua and the mentally challenged manx cat, animation would be at a stand-still. The drawings and expressions were all the more untamed, shot on film and animated like none other.

It was basically a message to all animation studios back then, basically saying 'Hey! Crawl out from under your rock already!' and showing them what they were missing. The incredible, sheer, painstakingly schizophrenic nature and energy of the show had, and yet, the true nature of the show had never been realized until Nickelodeon bought it. Channels like VH1 Classic, TNN, all kinds of channels, had turned it down.

Unaired Spumco episode
 But, honestly, The Ren and Stimpy Show, despite all of the university students and younger audiences singing its praises, Spumco's time with Ren and Stimpy was rather short-lived. Nickelodeon decided for them to finally turn off the lights in September 25th of 1992. The Ren and Stimpy Show then slowly made its way to the electric chair. The Games Animation run -- Nicktoon's then-original name -- was taken over by Bob Camp, but some Spumco employees (in particular artists Bill Wray and Scott Wills, John K announces) decided to stay true to the mediocrity the show became: a torpid, tedious, uninteresting excuse for a cartoon was what Ren and Stimpy became, and what the critics said before, their opinions were more or less worse. Finally, Ren and Stimpy pulled the trigger in 1995.

Eventually, Ren and Stimpy was revived in 2002 - 2003 by The National Network (now Spike TV) in a series of episodes entitled 'Adult Party Cartoon'. My review of said season should come up (an episode's image up above!)

SEASON 1 REVIEW:

Writing: ****
Humor: *****
Production: ***
Replay: *****

Opinion: Highly Recommended

It all started in August of 1991. That was the true start of The Ren and Stimpy Show, the second of the three original Nicktoons.

The first season was, in its wholeness, experimental. However, these twelve episodes are very unique, staggeringly hiliarious, and wholesome because you get a different kind of story, gag, and (of course) drawing every single time.

Seeing as though that the initial season was shot on low-quality film, the visuals were not as top-notch as it would seem in the later episodes. The digital ink-and-paint mastering system was never introduced until the banned episode, 'Man's Best Friend', which you can consider part of the first season or the second season, since it was never aired. Your choice.

It's pretty hard to pick a favorite, but some of the particularly great classics include "Stimpy's Invention", an immoderately funny, screamingly psychotic episode based on Stimpy's attempts to make a clear invention to make Ren happy (which he does succeed) and Ren's hell going through it (including having to dance to the infamous 'Happy Happy Joy Joy'), 'Untamed World', where Ren and Stimpy are nature show hosts, featuring animals that are similar in features to the duo, and 'Space Madness', where Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy go crazy from boredom.

IMAGES FROM THE FIRST SEASON


Just to watch a few.

SEASON 2 (1992 - 1993)

Writing: *****
Humor: ****
Presentation: ****
Replay: ****1/2

The first season DID contain quite a few classics (that I'll watch over and over again, but, in my opinion, it was the second season where Spumco's run really improved.

Technically, it improved. The digital-ink-and-paint system was introduced in the following episodes: Son of Stimpy, Haunted House, Royal Canadian Yaksmen, Man's Best Friend, Out West, and Sven Hoek. (To name a few)

Storywise, it quite improved. Some of the highlights of the second season are 'Stimpy's Fan Club', a two-parter on Ren becoming president of answering Stimpy's recent swarm of letters (with a great psychotic scene), 'Sven Hoek', with features Ren's Swedish (and quite idiotic) cousin, Sven, coming for a visit, and who also instantly befriends Stimpy, 'Powdered Toastman', which features the insane (and controversial) adventures of Powdered Toastman, and 'Son of Stimpy', a heartwarming two-parter that stole fans: Stimpy farts, and thinks he has given birth.

However, it was the second season when Nickelodeon began to issue new censors. 'Son of Stimpy' is a particularly bad episode, because it contains a 20-second clip where Ren pushes Stimpy's christmas present towards a picture of Stimpy. (Image somewhere below) It's missing from the Spike TV 'Digitally Remastered Classics' run, the VHS tape, AND the 'Seasons One and Two' run. (However, it aired in Nicktoons UK and Nicktoons US' re-run of The Ren and Stimpy Show) It appears that John K had issued censors on The 'First and Second Seasons' set, in particular 'Ren's Toothache' and 'Haunted House', both of which contain censors that last up to longer than 2-3 minutes.

Nonetheless, I think The Ren and Stimpy Show's second season is a crowning achievement in animation.





Son of Stimpy cut moment

REN AND STIMPY: THE APC (ADULT PARTY CARTOON OR SEASON 6) - (2002 - 2003)

Writing: ***
Production: *****
Humor: ***1/2
Replay: ***1/2

Advice: Recommended

Ever since Spumco left The Ren and Stimpy Show, and it continued on for three more bland, monotonous seasons until finally pulling the plug. Since then, I've been wondering, when will the REAL Ren and Stimpy return?

Well, Ren and Stimpy: The Adult Party Cartoon (arguably, for me, I think it's the sixth season), is both a near-perfect blend of humor and adult themes, and a disaster.

There are currently six episodes available for either download on iTunes or Amazon, or you can probably buy them on DVD or watch them on instant streaming for Netflix. Anyhow, out of the three episodes that aired on television, only one really struck me as 'great': and that was 'Ren Seeks Help'. It stuck to the original schizophrenic formula of the old show, but blended it in to make Ren even more a sociopath, and you will never look at the old Ren and Stimpy era with any real blessed innocence.

The other two for me were a real bust. 'Onward and Upward' was absolutely terrible, a complete gross-out episode. If you've puked your guts out, you're not even close to being ready to what this episode has in store for you. Firedogs 2, an oblivious sequel to the 1991 Firedogs (I certainly wouldn't of chose it to have a sequel, but, hey! When in Rome!), and the best thing I say about it was featuring legendary animator Ralph Bakshi as the fire chief.

The last three episodes, though, are much more better in terms of pacing, scriptwriting, AND humor. Out of the six, 'Altruists' is, far and away, in my opinion, the second greatest Ren and Stimpy episode ever produced
for a DVD. (The three episodes I'm going to list never aired.) The first being Stimpy's Invention. It has so many gags-a-minute, it handles the long length well (40 minutes), and has a great Three Stooges-inspired story.

'Stimpy's Pregnant' is still pretty good, but I'd say it's more like the 'in-the-middle' episode. For starters, it was supposed to be the pilot (image up above), but Bob Camp, using his all-powerful veto skills, denied it along with Nickelodeon. So, fifteen years later (it was that long since the start), Stimpy's Pregnant pops up on the 'Lost Episodes'. Really, I think that the voice acting was the best in this episode, but only in the power of the vocals. Really, I think that the line-reading was far more superb in 'Ren Seeks Help'.

Aaaand, 'Naked Beach Frenzy'. Honestly, watching this for the second time, this seems closer to a decent sex film than a Ren and Stimpy episode with cute naked girls. Granted, this is pretty generic, and kind of lame at a couple of points, but the entire 'Showers' sequence was brilliant, and I'd more than like say no to seeing cute girls. I just think that this episode pushed its TV-MA rating a little too far.

One of the things I hated about this was the choice of Eric Bauza as the role of Stimpy. Granted, it does take some time for him to reach his mark, but in the further episodes like 'Stimpy's Pregnant' and 'Altruists', he sounds like a really good Billy West impression, kind of like identical twins. John K makes Ren sound older,
but, then again, I'm glad Billy West isn't voicing Ren anymore! (Come on, laugh.)

Despite the praise I've given it, this is for hardcore fans only. Honestly, others just might be a little shocked for Ren and Stimpy to go R-rated like this (and further). And I haven't even mentioned the groundbreaking expressions and extraordinary coloring yet. Still, I do think that 'The Lost Episodes' is great.

Here's some images I shot:

From the particularly better episodes.

-Alec Martin, Signing Out

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