Paramount Home Video
Cast: John Kricfalusi, Eric Bauza
Extras: Introductions, Interviews, Pencil Tests, Storyboards, Character Drawings
In 1991, "The Ren & Stimpy Show" first aired on Nickelodeon and went on to become a booming success for the next five years. Created by John Kricfalusi, the animated program followed the misadventures of a grouchy chihuahua named Ren and his "eeediot" feline sidekick, Stimpy. Kids and young adults alike tuned in regularly to see what bizarre and frequently gross mishaps the pair would find themselves in next. Kricfalusi updated the show in 2003 for Spike TV, adding some decidedly more mature elements to the stories, in hopes of attracting an adult audience. Re-titled "Ren & Stimpy 'Adult Party Cartoon,'" six episodes were filmed but the show was abruptly pulled from the air after only three. All six episodes are now available on DVD from Paramount Home Video.
I must say from the beginning that I was never a fan of "The Ren & Stimpy Show," and this new collection has done nothing to change my opinion. There have been several adult-oriented cartoons to reach mainstream success over the years, from "The Simpsons" to "South Park," and although this show exhibits much better animation than the other two, it lacks their clever writing and biting satire. What we are left with is a series of crude gags that quickly becomes repetitive and ultimately leaves us with a bad aftertaste. There is no story to engage us, and what little humor can be found is overshadowed by the monotony of the situation. Also, in spite of the risqué nature of the new episodes, they are no more sophisticated than the originals. While the initial program was aimed primarily at pre-teens, the new version seems to be aimed at 30-year-olds with pre-teen mentalities.
The episodes are spread over two discs. Disc 1 contains "Naked Beach Frenzy," "Stimpy's Pregnant," and "Altruists." Disc 2 features "Ren Seeks Help," "Fire Dogs 2," and "Onward and Upward." In general, all of these episodes consist of the same brand of crass humor, involving big-breasted chicks, a variety of bodily fluids, and some not-so-subtle gay innuendo between the two main characters (not to mention interspecies sex). The only episode that boasts any sort of innovation is "Altruists," a genuinely bizarre parody of "The Three Stooges." In this episode, Ren and Stimpy meet a buxom widow who lives in a hole with her, um, "handicapped" son. The unlikely heroes go out of their way to provide her with a new home and food, usually by illegal means. This episode actually retains a consistently sardonic mood that is enhanced by, not replaced with, the gross-out moments. Aside from this, I found little to laugh at and quite frankly became bored.
Paramount's DVD release gives the episodes a proper transfer, preserving their original fullframe aspect ratio and exhibiting virtually no dirt or artifacts. The animation is rendered beautifully, with good brightness and bold colors. Black levels are decent, and contrast is excellent. Only the opening sequences are flawed, obviously taken straight from the original series without being remastered or touched up. As a result, they exhibit some ghosting and look faded and dull. Otherwise, the picture quality is quite pleasing.
Audio is presented in Dolby Digital stereo with fine results. The original soundtrack is a little manic, and the dialogue and music come through with appropriate balance and clarity. There are lots of weird music cues and foley effects throughout that are represented well on this track, and there is not a hint of distortion. No subtitle options are offered.
Starting off the special features department, the first disc contains separate video introductions by 'Weird Al' Yankovic (?) and John Kricfalusi. Yankovic is funny, but Kricfalusi comes off rather sleazy. His physical appearance doesn't help, with his tight jeans and bowl haircut making him look not unlike a 1970s porn star. Each episode is preceded by an additional introduction by Kricfalusi and followed by interviews with the voice actors and animators. None of these are particularly interesting, with the interviewees appearing uneasy or drunk (or both), often with beer bottles in their hands. Storyboard artist Eddie Fitzgerald piles on the praise for John K. as if he were the Ingmar Bergman of animation. I honestly couldn't tell if he was being sarcastic or just off his nut.
On Disc 1, "Naked Beach Frenzy" is accompanied by some other (aptly labeled) "bonus crap." A few pencil tests and character drawings are provided, as well as a side-by-side comparison between the episode and the storyboards. "Ren Seeks Help" on Disc 2 is also followed by pencil tests, drawings, and a storyboard/episode comparison.
Finally, there are lots of Easter Eggs, so get your remote ready. You can access most of them simply by pressing the arrow keys in various directions. In all, there were at least five that I counted.
I would recommend "Ren & Stimpy: The Lost Episodes" only to diehard fans of the original series. As it is, even some of them may feel uncomfortable watching their beloved characters engaging in some of the more raunchy behavior. The humor is sophomoric and crude, and there is little else of interest. Paramount's release will most likely appeal to those who already have acquainted themselves with the mischievous furballs, or to frat guys who get a kick out of animated nipples. If you do not fall into either of these groups, then this DVD is probably not for you.