If you’ve never heard of The Ren & Stimpy Show, I don’t know what you’ve been doing with your life. This cult classic cartoon was one of my favorites, and was riddled with controversy; on and off screen.
Theseries was created by John Kricfalusi for Nickelodeon, and follows the adventures of title characters Ren, an erratic, unstable Chihuahua, and Stimpy, a good-natured, empty-headed cat. It premiered on August 11, 1991 as one of the original three Nicktoons. Throughout the shows run, it featured controversial off-color humor, sexual innuendos, dark humor, adult jokes, and violence; more so than any other cartoon of the era.
According to animatorWilliam Wray, John Kricfalusi created the two iconic characters Ren and Stimpy in 1978 for “personal amusement” while studying at Sheridan College.
Production of a pilot episode began in 1989 by Kricfalusi’s Los Angeles-based animation company, Spümcø, after he pitched and sold The Ren & Stimpy Show idea to Nickelodeon. For several months, the pilot screened at film festivals until it was announced that it would be part of Nickelodeon’s 1991 cartoons line-up.
Spümcø produced the show for two years, while encountering issues with Nickelodeon’s Standards and Practices. Kricfalusi, in his early period with Nickelodeon, got along with the sole executive of the program, Vanessa Coffey, but when another executive was added, the desire to alter or discard some of the episodes grew. Kricfalusi says the episodes stayed intact only because he made a deal with Coffey, in that he would keep some “really crazy” episodes intact in exchange for creating some “heart-warming” episodes too.
Looking past the controversial themes and actions sprinkled throughout the series, the show had some – for lack of a better word – unique characters besides Ren and Stimpy.
Mr. Horse was a straight-talking, thoughtful, and serious, full-sized male horse, who usually stood on two legs. He was one of the most common secondary characters, and played a part in a wide variety of non-continuous roles. Mr. Horse has been a victim of a fall from a skyscraper, a GI returning from war in love with a sheep, a dog-show judge, a neighbor hiding a dark past, a tester for Gritty Kitty cat litter, and even a psychiatrist. His iconic catchphrase was “No sir, I don’t like it.”
Another iconic character from the series is Powdered Toast Man. This character was a melodramatic, oblivious superhero, and spokesperson for Powdered Toast – a breakfast treat that “tastes just like sawdust”. Pastor Toastman by day, a “cool youth deacon”, this super hero had the ability to fly by releasing flatulence, or by inserting his head into a special toaster and launching himself from it. Importantly, he flies backwards.
Depicted as entirely made of Powdered Toast, he can produce Powdered Toast by flicking his wrist or by separating his head and scraping the interior with a butter knife. Each of the two pieces of bread comprising his head has a face of its own. He was alerted to danger by strange methods too, including his tongue phone, the inflation of his briefs, the dissipation of the toast particles in his head, or the reading of emergency messages encoded in slices of olive loaf.
His special superhero abilities were just as bizarre; high-velocity raisins shot from his mouth, hyper-corrosive croutons fired from his armpit, butter pats launched from the top of his head, and hyper-acidic marmalade shot from his navel.
Nickelodeon was not in favor of some of the characters and situations presented in the show, and censored or changed pieces. When the character George Liquor appeared in episodes on Nickelodeon, his family name was edited out; a record-scratchingsound effect in place of the word “Liquor”. In the episode “Powdered Toast Man”, a cross was removed from the Pope’s hat, and the voice actor’s credits were changed to “the man with the pointy hat”.
The direction of the series was questioned by Nickelodeon, and it was later asked the new studio to make it lighter and less frightening. The episode that drove them to this assertion is said to have been “Man’s Best Friend”, which features a violent climax where Ren brutally assaults the character George Liquor with an oar.
*The episode was shelved by Nickelodeon because of its violent content, and is now known as the “banned” episode. However, the show’s spin-off, Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon”, debuted with this episode in 2003 on Spike TV.
Eventually, the relationship between Kricfalusi and Nickelodeon worsened, coming to a point where Kricfalusi would only communicate with Nickelodeon through his lawyer. This caused delays. A Wizardmagazine article, written by Andy Mangels, stated that “Kricfalusi’s lax treatment of deadlines pissed off not only the networks, but his loyal viewers as well”, however, some of the delays were attributed to Nickelodeon. Approvals were prolonged at times, and Nickelodeon would withdrawal approval from scenes and episodes that had been previously approved.
I’m sure there were countless innuendos that Nickelodeon found inappropriate, but some of the imagery itself was just downright disturbing. Several episodes had violent, gruesome, or suggestive scenes that were shortened or completely removed. Some of these scenes include 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.
Nickelodeon eventually terminated Kricfalusi’s contract in late September 1992, but offered him the position of consultant for Ren & Stimpy. He refused. Production of the show then moved to Nickelodeon’s newly founded animation studio, Games Animation, which later became Nickelodeon Animation Studios. Fans and critics alike claim this was the turning point of the show. With Bob Camp as director, the new episodes were a considerable step down from the standard set by Kricfalusi. A resident critic of The Boston Phoenix, Ted Drozdowski, stated that “the bloom faded on Ren & Stimpy.”
The series ended its original run on December 16, 1995 with the episode “A Scooter for Yaksmas”. One episode from the final season, “Sammy and Me/The Last Temptation“, remained unaired until almost a year later, when the episode aired on Nickelodeon’s sister network, MTV, October 20, 1996.
Creeps like me are were just naturally drawn to the “outside-the-box” type of content that made this show so special. Attaining the status of “cult-classic” this series made a huge impact on my generations way of thinking. Though Ren and Stimpy is no longer airing on T.V., it will forever live on in all the hearts of its dedicated fans; not to mention a ton of bootleg videos on YouTube.
P.S. Here’s one of my favorite episodes of the Ren and Stimpy show; simply for the music video sequence at 2 minutes 50 seconds.