The Ren & Stimpy Show: The First and Second Seasons review by Mike Long

By their very nature, cartoons are weird. They exist in worlds where the laws of physics don't apply and animals can talk -- in short, anything can happen. And although most cartoons fits this "weird" description, there has always been a sub-set of even weirder cartoons which lie somewhere outside of the mainstream. In 1991, a very odd thing happened, The Ren & Stimpy Show, what may be one of the weirdest cartoons ever, was brought to the mainstream, on Nickelodeon, a channel for children, of all places, and squirmed its way into cartoon history. This troubled show has left a lasting mark on animation and can now be viewed in a new DVD set, The Ren & Stimpy Show: The First and Second Seasons.

The Ren & Stimpy Show was the brain-child of one John Kricfalusi, an animator who had worked for years on short-lived TV shows such as a revival of The Jetsons and Mighty Mouse, The New Adventures. With The Ren & Stimpy Show, Kricfalusi was able to bring his twisted visions to a national audience (did I mention that it was on Nickelodeon?). The show features two main characters. Ren (voiced by Kricfalusi) is an Asthma-hound Chihuahua (I’m pretty sure that’s not a real breed.), who is very cantankerous and impatient by nature. On the other hand, Stimpy (voiced by Bill West), is a good-natured, but dim-witted cat who tries to find the positive side of any situation. In the tradition of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, there is no continuity in The Ren & Stimpy Show. In one show, they may have a house and Ren a job, while in another, they are in the old West. They have adventures as Canadian Mounties (although, not the kind that we’re used to) and space explorers. It’s rarely the setting of the show which is important -- it’s the incredibly bizarre and gross situations that The Ren & Stimpy Show presents that make it memorable, or unwatchable, depending on your tastes.

Due to a falling out with Nickelodeon executives, Kricfalusi pulled his company, Spumco, from The Ren & Stimpy Show sometime in 1993 (I don’t know the exact details of what happened.), and the show was never the same after that. Thankfully, Paramount Home Entertainment has released The Ren & Stimpy Show: The First and Second Seasons to DVD so that we may re-live some of the most vile cartoons ever shown on national television. The DVD box art for this set proclaims the shows to be “Uncut”. It has been revealed that this isn’t necessarily true, as about two minutes of footage is missing. While this will surely infuriate hardcore fans, it doesn’t diminish the fact that this is a nice set which completely nullifies the 3-disc set released by Time-Life last year. That set contained random episodes, while this new DVD set contains the shows as they were aired (less those aforementioned cuts). This will allow us to re-visits all of those wonderful nose-goblins and tooth-beavers from the past. Looking at the show today, The Ren & Stimpy Show reveals itself to have a certain timeless quality. Despite the fact that “mainstream” cartoons have gotten consistently weirder over the years, none are quite as weird as this one. (For an example of the influential nature of The Ren & Stimpy Show, compare Ren & Stimpy to Spongebob & Squidward.) The good news is that the show is still very funny in spots, if you can handle the very strange and often awkward pacing of the show. Ren’s spastic fits never fail to make me laugh and oddities such as “Untamed World” show just how far imagination can take you. The Ren & Stimpy Show: The First and Second Seasons certainly isn’t for everyone, but long-time fans will like this set and those who wonder how Nickelodeon’s shows got to be so weird should check this out.

The Ren & Stimpy Show: The First and Second Seasons comes to DVD courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. This 3-disc set contains all of the episodes from the show’s first two seasons. The shows are presented in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The images are sharp, and for the most part, clear, although some episodes look quite soft. The picture does show defects from the source material, such as scratches and white spots. The animation shows some stuttering and the digital transfer reveals mistakes such as incomplete lines. The colors look good, although The Ren & Stimpy Show was always known to look washed-out. The discs carry a Dolby Digital stereo audio mix which brings home clear dialogue with no distortion. The show’s music sounds very good as well.

The DVDs contain several extras, including audio commentaries from various members of the Spumco crew. On Disc 1, we have commentary on “Untamed World” (Jim Smith, Vincent Waller, and Eddie Fitzgerald) and “Stimpy’s Invention” (the same trio). Disc 2 has ”Rubber Nipple Salesmen” (John Kricfalusi, Vincent Waller, and Richard Purcell) and “Sven Hoek” (Kricfalusi, Jim Smith, Eddie Fitzgerald, and Katie Rice). On Disc 3, we have chats on “Powdered Toast Man” (John Kricfalusi, Richard Purcell, and Jim Smith) and “Son of Stimpy/Stimpy’s First Fart” (Richard Purcell, Vincent Waller, Eddie Fitzgerald, and John Kricfalusi). These commentaries are very entertaining, informative, and funny. The speakers give kudos to the artists and give no-holds-barred comments on how they deal with Nickelodeon.

Disc 1 contains “Ren & Stimpy: In the Beginning” (12 minutes). This featurette offers interviews with series creator John Kricfalusi and layout & storyboard artist Eddie Fitzgerald. Here, Kricfalusi shares the origins of his characters and describes their odd journey to TV. He also talks the troubles that he had with the network. This segment contains rare sketches and original test drawings of Ren & Stimpy. Disc 2 features the entire “Sven Hoek” episode (14 minutes) done in pencil test form. There is a “Storyboard & Spumco Image Gallery”. The “Banned” Episode: “Man’s Best Friend” (20 minutes) is offered here in it’s uncut glory, along with the uncut version of “Big House Blues”. (The “cut” version of this episode also appears on the disc so that you can compare them.)

8 out of 10 Jackasses

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