|“Happy Happy Joy Joy,
Happy Happy Joy Joy!”
The mother of all 90’s gross-out cartoons. Nose goblins, Gritty Kitty litter, hairballs, trouser coughs… no bodily function was too gross, no booger too large, and audiences ate it up (the show, not the boogers).
Ren & Stimpy was the brainchild of animator John Kricfalusi, a lifelong cartoonist and a former animator on Beany and Cecil and Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. Tired of working with pre-packaged characters, Kricfalusi teamed up with fellow animator Bob Camp to form Spumco Productions. The fledgling company went from network to network, trying to sell the adventures of scrawny, angry chihuahua Ren Hoek and his obese, nose-picking cat friend Stimpson J. “Stimpy” Cat. After being rejected by nearly every network in town, the show was picked up by Nickelodeon, who wanted to branch out into original animation.
What Nickelodeon got was a cartoon that pushed the boundaries of the disgusting to new heights (or lows, depending on your point of view). Aside from the above-mentioned ickiness, Ren & Stimpy featured screeching voices, bloodshot eyes, exposed tooth nerves, and anything else Spumco thought they could get away with.
Had Ren & Stimpy simply presented a parade of goo, however, very few would have watched. What set the show apart from the rest of the pack was its insane energy, packing the screen with some of the most bizarre characters on television-bad-tempered fish Muddy Mudskipper, Mr. Horse, superhero Powdered Toast Man (with a head made of…you guessed it), and The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen.
Plots were similarly strange-Ren's trying to get pectoral implants, Stimpy's looking for his escaped fart, etc.-with two 11-minute stories presented per episode. The show also delivered a string of hilarious parodies, from the nature spoof “Untamed World” to a series of commercials for a product called “Log” (set to the tune of the old “Slinky” commercials).
Ren & Stimpy debuted on Sunday mornings in 1991 and became a cult favorite among college students. As word spread, Ren & Stimpy grew into a major hit, getting airtime on sister network MTV and spawning a very successful merchandising line. The second season was eagerly anticipated, but creative differences delayed its debut. The problems only got worse between Kricfalusi and Nickelodeon, culminating in the creator’s firing in the fall of 1992 (the network owned the property). Bob Camp stayed on, continuing to produce new episodes through September 1995 before retiring into reruns.
Love them or loathe them, Ren & Stimpy helped chart the course of cartoons in the 90’s. Dozens of R&S-influenced shows sprang up in the years that followed, from Hanna-Barbera’s 2 Stupid Dogs to Kricfalusi’s own reworking of Jellystone Park’s favorite citizen, Yogi Bear, in a 1999 Ranger Smith special. Despite the imitators, the original show has lost none of its putrid luster and continues to entertain gross-out fans around the world.