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2012/08/19

Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy! The Ren & Stimpy Show

by Lisa Adamowicz Kless


I hadn’t realized how much my childhood was influenced by the things that I watched on TV until one day a couple of weeks ago, when I introduced my son to an old favorite of mine, The Ren & Stimpy Show.  When the reoccurring character Mr. Horse delivered his trademark line of “No sir---I don’t like it”, my son turned to me and said, “Hey, that’s how you sound sometimes.” It hit me that he was right.  Who’d have thought that almost twenty years later, a cartoon about a cynical chihuahua and his dim-witted cat friend would still have an effect on me?

The Ren & Stimpy Show has basically achieved cult classic status over those couple of decades, and is a series that people seem to hate, love to hate, or absolutely adore.  For those who aren’t familiar with the show, it’s important to have a basic understanding.  It revolves around the misadventures of two friends: Ren Höek, a jaded, sarcastic chihuahua, and his friend/roomate, Stimpson J. Cat.  Like an animated “Odd Couple”, the two have completely different personalities; Ren is the more intelligent of the two, but ornery.  Stimpy is optimistic and cheerful…just not that bright.  And while on the surface it seems that Ren always has the upper hand in their friendship (when Stimpy does something stupid, Ren often lashes out by yelling, “You eediot!”), the very first episode establishes that without the companionship of his “old buddy, old pal”, Ren is heartbroken and lost.

Series creator John Kricfalusi, Stimpy, and Ren
Created by John Kricfalusi, he and Bob Camp wrote most of the episodes through the show’s seven year run, and also directed many of them too.  Kricfalusi was the voice talent behind Ren, while Billy West spoke for Stimpy (after the series’ end, West would go on to be the voice behind Philip J. Fry on Futurama, beginning in 1999, among other gigs).  Highbrow entertainment it is not; fart jokes, “nose goblins” and other grossness are a regular part of each show.  But, every episode is also jam-packed with slapstick fun and unabashed silliness. There's a huge cast of crazy characters: Muddy Mudskipper, Stinky Wizzleteats, Jasper the Dog, Haggis McHaggis, Powdered Toast Man...the list goes on.  And all of them have a part in some kind of zany adventure in each show, be it celebrating Yak Shaving Day, saving the pope from certain doom, being a part of the order of the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen...again, the list goes on and on.

Powdered Toast Man, reminding the guys that "Vitamin F" is an important part of a balanced breakfast
One of the highlights is the fake commercials for ridiculous products, complete with catchy jingles, like the one for the “breakfast cereal“ Sugar Sod Pops: “If you like grass, if you like dirt, eat Sugar Sod Pops; it can’t hurt”.  Most have a 50s era vibe to them, with every product more outlandish than the last.  Yet despite the absurdity, there’s also a tongue in cheek allusion to truth in the faux ads; many of them start out with an enthusiastic voice over of “Hey, kids…!”, and riff on the way that advertising is (still) often aimed at children.



It’s the layers of sharp wit and references that might be lost on younger children that also gives the show a stroke of genius.  For instance: there’s a Hitchcock-like moment in the episode “Rubber Nipple Salesmen”. At one front door, in a tight-lipped, insistent whisper, they’re urged by a walrus to call the police, a hint that sinister things may be happening inside the homes of the orderly animated subdivision they’ve stopped in.

Maybe it’s that wit and those references that have earned the show such a devoted following over the years.  Maybe it’s all the ridiculousness that lets kids cut loose, and adults feel like kids again.  Really, the reasons are probably as individual as each fan.  Whatever the case, The Ren & Stimpy Show lives on, online, on DVD, and in the hearts of those of us who it has brought its own unique brand of happiness and joy to all of these years.

For more information on the series, visit the show's IMDb page here: www.imdb.com/title/tt0101178.

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