DVD Review: Ren & Stimpy
By Glenn Abel
"No sir," says Mr. Horse, with a sniff. "I do not like it."
The sort-of beloved cartoon character speaks for the "Ren & Stimpy" constituency, currently in a lather over Paramount's DVD box set of the animated show's oldest and best episodes.
"The Ren & Stimpy Show Uncut: The First and Second Seasons" is full of cuts, they cry. Eeediots! Where is that shot of Ren grinding his teeth ... Stimpy licking his fur ... Grandpa whistling ...
Trying to bottle up the bad vibes, show creator John K. (Kricfalusi) took to the fans' message boards, pleading for support -- and for good customer reviews on Amazon. "We put back every scene that I was aware was missing," the boundary-busting animator wrote. "I put in as much cool stuff as I could for you."
The three-disc set is indeed packed with cool stuff -- all of John K.'s 32 cartoons, six high-energy commentaries, a "banned" episode, extensive image galleries, animated pencil sketches and censored bits. Video quality varies from worn to outstanding; audio is OK.
While Paramount's "Uncut" claim is unfortunate -- there are some jarring gaps, weird fadeouts and disappointing omissions -- this probably is as definitive a set as "Ren & Stimpy" fans are likely to see on DVD. Non-combatants revisiting one of TV's strangest shows should be pleased with the DVDs.
The featurette "In the Beginning" gives a short but delightful history of the show. Kricfalusi tells how he sired Ren, his crazed and deeply bitter chihuahua character, after seeing an old photo of a seemingly mad dog quivering in a little sweater. Ren's voice was "basically a ripoff of Peter Lorre ... who was very subtle, yet extreme at the same time."
Stimpy, Ren's blubbery and befuddled domestic partner, evolved from Kricfalusi's old idea for a cartoon about a retarded cat. The cat's voice aped Larry Fine of Three Stooges fame, an intentionally odd fit for a childlike character.
The duo produced some of the strangest expressions known to animation, largely because of Kricfalusi's mandate that his animators never produce a facial expression they've seen before. Otherwise, "you get sucked into the cliches," he says.
Are Ren and Stimpy gay? "I don't know," Kricfalusi says. "That's their own business."
Kricfalusi, who aided adult animation godfather Ralph Bakshi on the short-lived "Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures," spent a decade trying to sell the show. The project landed at basic cabler Nickelodeon, which had embraced the idea of creator-driven cartoons -- "as if this was some amazing invention." In the TV cartoon wasteland of the 1970s and '80s, it certainly seemed that way.
The show debuted in 1991, building an enthusiastic adult fan base already softened up by a few seasons of "The Simpsons." The stew of surrealism, pottie humor, Tex Avery adrenaline and good-old-fashioned cartoon violence delighted the Generation X demo -- and horrified Nick's censors.
Nickelodeon and John K. spent two seasons brawling over the "Ren & Stimpy" content, with the weary cabler finally taking over the show. The content wars take up much of the DVD set's commentary time, as Kricfalusi and his old pals from Spumco animation bemoan the cuts and try to find some logic in Nick's demands. (Too bad someone from Nick standards didn't join one of the commentaries.)
The set boasts four "unedited" episodes as well as the "banned" episode, "Man's Best Friend." Some of the cut material re-emerges via unfinished time-coded clips. None of the offending material seems all that big a deal in the context of "Ren & Stimpy" -- just more ultra violence and all-purpose weirdness in a show that was just born rabid.
Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter
Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter
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