The Ren & Stimpy Show, often simply referred to as Ren & Stimpy, is an American animated television series, created by Canadian-born 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, a psychotic chihuahua, and Stimpson J. Cat (Stimpy), a good-natured, dimwitted cat. The show ran for five seasons on the network. The show was rated TV-Y7 on Nickelodeon/Nicktoons, MTV2, and MTV, or TV-PG on the Spike TV uncut repeats. On TeenNick's The Splat, it has a TV-G rating (as of 2012, it has its original TV-Y7 rating).
The show has received very positive reviews and developed a cult following during and after its run. Some critics credit it for leading the way for satirical animated shows like Beavis and Butt-head and South Park, while also playing a significant role in television animation. Throughout its run, The Ren & Stimpy Show was controversial for its off-color humor, sexual innuendos, and violence, each of which contributed to the production staff's altercations with Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices department. Simpsons/Futurama/Life in Hell Comics creator, Matt Groening even praised this one for its outrageous-ness according to Wikipedia.
According to Bill Wray, John Kricfalusi created the Ren and Stimpy characters 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 Klasky Csupo, Film Roman, Kricfalusi's own animation company, Spümcø, and screened at film festivals for several months before the show was announced in Nickelodeon's schedule. 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.
Kricfalusi describes 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, such as "Son of Stimpy". Kricfalusi described The Ren & Stimpy Show as the "safest project I 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 The Ren & Stimpy Show cost around $6,000,000 to produce.
The show received mixed to positive 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". Even as the show came to garner high ratings for Nickelodeon, the relationship between Kricfalusi and Nickelodeon became strained. Several of the show's staff attribute the tension to episodes that were not produced in a timely manner. However, Kricfalusi blamed Nickelodeon for the delays, for withdrawing the channel's approval to scenes and episodes that they had 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 attributes 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 (1993–1996)
Kricfalusi was dismissed by Nickelodeon in late September 1992. Nickelodeon moved production from Spümcø to its newly founded animation department, Games Animation, which later became Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Bob Camp took the role of director, while West, having refused Kricfalusi's request to leave along with him, voiced Ren in addition to Stimpy. At this point there were many changes to the show's style and tone. It went from having hilariously crazy episodes like "Sven Hoek", to having some softer episodes like "A Scooter for Yaksmas". Ted Drozdowski, resident critic of The Boston Phoenix, stated that "the bloom faded on Ren & Stimpy." Michael Barrier, an animation historian, 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 two segment episode from the final season, "Sammy and Me/The Last Temptation", remained unaired.
Almost a year later after production ended in 1995, the last two episodes aired on Nickelodeon's sister network, MTV, on October 20, 1996. "Sammy and Me" finally aired on Nickelodeon during reruns in 2000, four years later, and "The Last Temptation" finally aired on Nickelodeon's NickSplat on January 2018 (oddly along with "Reverend Jack"), twenty two years later after airing on MTV in 1996 instead of Nickelodeon due to the religious themes presented in the episode.
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 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. Bill Wray describes 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 didn't want to use "over-exploitive" merchandising. Kricfalusi notes that 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 or specific acting, and strong character. 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 couldn't 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". 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. 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, with lyrics 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, while the song is first played in episode six. It's 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 a surreal air.
Controversy and censorship
The creators of Ren & Stimpy didn't want to create an "educational" series, a stance which bothered Nickelodeon. As the show grew in popularity, parent groups complained that Stimpy was subject to repeated violence from Ren. Other sources for the other complaints 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 (all ages) ratings from the BBFC, while the "lighter" Games episodes received PG ratings. However the subsequent DVD releases the Spümcø episodes were re-rated PG. In the United States, all episodes were given the rating TV-Y7.
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 U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which was removed for the aforementioned reason later on. In another episode, the last name of the character George Liquor was removed. Several episodes had violent, gruesome, or suggestive scenes shortened and 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", never aired in the show's original run because of the episode's violent scene where Ren beats up George Liquor with an oar. Apparently, this scene caused the show's creator to become fired by Nickelodeon from his own creation along with his company Spumco in 1992 just before they could even finish the cartoon. The show's spin-off, Adult Party Cartoon, debuted with this "banned" episode.
VHS, LaserDisc, UMD
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 re-release 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.
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 time code 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".
In February 2016, Nickelodeon stated that they were going to reboot Ren & Stimpy. Three months later, John Kricfalusi was going to bring back Ren and Stimpy after the disastrous Adult Party Cartoon. Bob Camp and William Wray stated that in April 2016 in a panel discussion with John Kricfalusi that they were developing Ren & Stimpy shorts along with a third SpongeBob movie. Later they said, "They were not invited to that party" and not involved in any production. However, John Kricfalusi denied the reports that he would have been making "such a cartoon" on Twitter.
Later, at the Wizard World Cleveland Convention in March 2017 (as of March 2017 the third SpongeBob movie has been finished from production and is set to be released in 2020) Bob Camp said, "They're bringing back Nicktoons without Ren & Stimpy" and said that Paramount Pictures rejected a pitch for a Ren and Stimpy feature film, and a revival of the series because Paramount Pictures said they did not want "anything to do with Ren and Stimpy" as they might have refused to let Nickelodeon do anything with the duo. Consequently, Ren and Stimpy will not be rebooted and most likely won't be featured in the Nicktoons movie, nor even get their own revival of the series, this primarily is all because of the negative reception of Adult Party Cartoon. This news of Ren & Stimpy not returning has saddened or upset many fans of the show, old and new alike.
However, on August 5, 2020, many news sources confirm that Comedy Central greenlit a reboot for the show, with Billy West expected to return to voice the titular duo. John Kricfalusi is not expected to work on the reboot luckily due to allegations against him. The announcement caused divided opinions between fans. Some were happy and hopeful that things would be different from what Adult Party gave everyone, while some were skeptical or pessimistic of the idea.
Creator of Steven Universe, Rebecca Sugar, was against the reboot for Ren and Stimpy and criticized the studios for "not greenlighting original ideas instead of making revivals and reboots", which caused a protest on the internet called #bettercartoon. Coincidentally, all of the new adult cartoons from Comedy Central were not original. They were revivals (Beavis and Butt-Head) and spin-offs (Daria) from other ViacomCBS networks, like MTV.
Robyn Bird, one of the people from the #MeToo movement who was Kricfalusi's victim of pedophilia and sexual abuse, stood against the reboot and stated that the reboot "will cause trauma and endanger fans and crew" despite the petition having various inaccuracies like how almost none of the original crew of The Ren & Stimpy Show (save for Billy West and a few original writers of the original series) were contacted by ViacomCBS to be involved with the reboot (since a new team to the reboot was employed by ViacomCBS themselves). She even went as far as to get the Comedy Central revival cancelled via a petition on August 14th of the same year after it was just greenlit, but luckily failed. Vincent Waller commented in his Twitter he was aware of the Ren and Stimpy reboot, knowing it was in the works, but didn't see anything from the reboot.
The petition had 12,000 signatures in a few days and was shared by various artists like Rebecca Sugar and Lauren Faust.
On September 14, 2020, Bob Camp commented on his Facebook page that he heard that the reboot was shelved and talked with the supposed director (possibly Chris McCarthy) of the reboot who said the reboot was shelved. Days later on September 30, Byrd tweeted that multiple sources confirmed that the Ren and Stimpy reboot was officially shelved by Comedy Central despite the tweet's inaccuracy for not linking any source confirming that.
Billy West also responded by saying "the reboot is still in development, but production was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic".
- In 1993, Parody Press Comics produced a one-shot comic book entitled Rank & Stinky № 1. It starred a rabbit named Rank Hoax and a rat named Stinky, who looked almost identical to Ren and Stimpy. The three stories in the book lampooned Kricfalusi & Nickelodeon's falling-out, The Simpsons, and consumer culture.
- The Tiny Toon Adventures episode titled "Spring Break Special" features a scene in which parody versions of Ren and Stimpy (a Rooster and Squirrel also coincidentally named Rank and Stumpy) try to hitch a ride with the Tiny Toons. The same episode also featured parodies of Beavis and Butt-head (Beaver and Big-head). John Kassir voiced Rank and Jess Harnell voiced Stumpy.
- Ren and Stimpy was parodied on The Simpsons twice in its fourth season. In the episode "Brother from the Same Planet", a 15-second clip is shown where Ren starts sampling some of Stimpy's soup, which turns out to be hairballs and stomach acid. After, Ren yells at Stimpy, saying that he is trying to "kill" him, Ren's eyeballs pop out, spin a few times, and explodes into goo. Their voices were provided by Dan Castellaneta. In the episode "The Front", The Ren & Stimpy Show was nominated for an animation award against The Itchy & Scratchy Show. The viewing at the awards ceremony simply read "Clip not done yet", a comment on the slow production time of the show. The show was mentioned again in the episode "Another Simpsons Clip Show", while referencing Itchy & Scratchy's habit of recycling animation to make new episodes. When Lisa claims that Ren and Stimpy also did that, Marge replies "When was the last time you heard anyone talk about Ren & Stimpy?".
- Issue #87 of the X-Factor comic book, written by Peter David, has Wolfsbane describing to the group's therapist (Doc Samson) a dream in which she was part of the Rahne & Simpy Show (Stimpy being the mutant Feral).
- In "1 Angry Ghost", an episode of the Japanese anime series Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, there are two ghosts that closely resemble Ren and Stimpy in appearance. In the episode the ghosts are married, and then the one resembling Stimpy gets killed. The ghost that resembles Ren is even depicted having an accent similar to Ren's.
- In the manga Shaman King, the fox and raccoon-dog duo Ponchi and Konchi bear a striking resemblance to Ren and Stimpy.
- In the episode "Robotboy's Fifteen Minutes" of the Cartoon Network show Robotboy, a plush animal that resembles Ren Höek is thrown out of a box when one of the characters is looking for something. The plush Ren is blue.