"Ren & Stimpy" Seasons Three and a Half-Ish: Are You Game?
Games Animation. The name sends shivers of rage down the spines of John K. devotees. Remember when John Kricfalusi, the mastermind behind the infamous Ren & Stimpy, was fired from his own show, along with his studio, Spumco? And how Nickelodeon created their own domestic animation studio to take over the reins in Spumco’s absence? If so, then you’re familiar with the content included on the latest Ren and Stimpy box set, titled “Three and a Half-Ish,” released earlier this year.
As the name implies, it’s all of season three and half of season four, 17 half-hour episodes from the time when Games took over and many former fans of the show felt R&S took a dip in quality without John K.’s supervision. While I disagree with that to an extent, as there are some outstandingly funny episodes on here, by disc 3 it’s clear that the show was running out of ideas. Here’s the breakdown by disc:
- To Salve or Salve Not: Stimpy is constantly tempted to purchase the new wonder item, salve, from a loudmouth salesman. Plenty of funny moments in this one, especially the finale with Ren on the toilet.
- No Pants Today*: Stimpy finally realizes he’s naked, and he goes searching for pants, but not before undergoing abuse from the neighborhood bully and getting lost in the woods.
- A Yard Too Far*: An episode that Spumco started and Games finished. Excellent episode, with Ren & Stimpy trying to sneak into a yard to grab some hog jowls, only to be thwarted by the pet baboon. Very reminiscent of old school cartoons with simple premises but hilarious execution, and some great animation and designs to boot.
- Circus Midgets: Weak episode with Ren & Stimpy bumming a ride from two psychotic circus midgets. Aside from the classic fireman ending and some GoodFellas parodies, not much to laugh at here. And the backgrounds were fairly boring to look at.
- Ren’s Pecs*: Started at Spumco, finished at Games. You can tell, too– the emphasis on wildly varying emotions depending on the scene (something John K. often brings up in the commentaries) is evident. Still a very funny episode, particularly the operating room scene and the method that beefy Ren uses to thwart the beach bully.
- An Abe Divided: Ren & Stimpy cut off the Lincoln Memorial’s head to see what’s inside. Another favorite of mine, not only for the fast pace but for the good sight gags and voice acting.
- Stimpy’s Cartoon Show*: Another Spumco holdover, this one deals with Stimpy making a cartoon and Ren being the producer (aka big jerk). Then they take the finished film to decaying cartoon legend Wilbur Cobb. A fine satire on making a cartoon, and Stimpy’s end product is so bad it’s good.
- Jiminy Lummox*: Parody of Jiminy Cricket, except Lummox beats Ren whenever he does bad things.
- Bass Masters: Parody of all those fishing shows. Wilbur Cubb makes another appearance, as an escaped convict who joins them. Great episode, because Ren’s advanced fishing techniques don’t work and Stimpy/Cobb get all the fish.
- Ren’s Retirement*: Ren realizes he’s 70 years old and starts to act it. It’s decided that he will be buried, so he and Stimpy go pick out a deluxe coffin. One wonders how dark Spumco would’ve made such an episode, but this is actually comparatively light-hearted material given the subject matter.
- Jerry the Bellybutton Elf: The episode starts off as a subversive nod to drugs (or masturbation maybe), as Stimpy incessantly plays with his bellybutton. When he enters his own bellybutton and meets an elf (voiced by Gilbert Gottfried), havoc erupts. One of the strangest episodes of Ren & Stimpy, complete with a psychedelic sequence with trance music. Not a laugh riot, though; too weird to be funny.
- Road Apples: Ren & Stimpy climb aboard an RV, only to find it inhabited by the suburban squares that we’ve seen in other episodes like Big Baby Scam and Rubber Nipple Salesmen. Some funny moments here and there, like the skunk milk and “Who’s driving the RV?!?!”, but overall very average.
- Hard Times For Haggis: A personal favorite, about a stereotyped scotsman (a big star on TV) who is kicked out of his mansion when Ren & Stimpy strike it big. He wanders the streets and eventually plots his revenge, which doesn’t exactly work out. Has the feel of a Spumco episode, from the wide range of emotions to the music choice to the joke timing. And I dunno, I always liked Haggis McHaggis as a character. He cracks me up.
- Eat My Cookies*: Ren & Stimpy join the Girl Scouts (??) and compete for merit badges, under the watchful eye of the scoutmaster (Rosie O’Donnell). So-so, but I love the twist ending where everyone in the camp turn out to be men in women’s body suits.
- -Ren’s Bitter Half: Another great one, with Stimpy creating a formula that splits DNA in half. Ren accidentally spills it on himself, and he splits into his aggressive side and his indifferent side. Very dark and well-crafted episode, marred only by a confusing and contrived ending.
- Lair of the Lummox*: This was also a Spumco episode, but Nick later green-lighted it under the Games banner. It’s an Untamed World episode, with Ren & Stimpy exploring the rituals of the rare lummox (aka disgusting humans). While it plods in places, there are plenty of clever moments to keep you interested, like the face-off for the female lummox.
- -Hermit Ren: Another favorite of mine, with Ren becoming a hermit after he gets tired of life in general. He eventually goes crazy in the cave he secluded himself in, and is kicked out because he inadvertedly created fictional friends.
- House of Next Tuesday*: This one seemed funnier when I first saw it; now, it just seems half full of good ideas. The best moment is probably the channel-changing device where you enter the TV, though the fat man heating a toilet seat with his butt was pretty funny, too.
- A Friend in Your Face: A parasite invades Ren’s head, and he psychotically tries to get rid of it. Disgusting, and very few jokes succeed.
- Blazing Entrails: If you notice the animation looks different on this one, you’d be right. Instead of outsourcing to their usual Rough Draft Studios, they decided to try a new studio: Mr. Big. The plot: Ren must journey inside Stimpy to find out why he’s been acting EXTRA stupid lately. Some funny moments here and there, like the subway scene or Ren mating with some parasite and forgetting about the mission, but somewhat average. But I love Dr. Brainchild, and it’s a shame he’s a one-shot character.
- Lumberjerks: R&S become lumberjacks. The very fact that they need a manual to know what a tree looks like makes this episode a winner. Twist ending, too.
- Prehistoric Stimpy: Another Mr. Big-animated episode. R&S visit the museum and are told by Wilbur Cobb about the dinosaurs. A favorite of mine, especially his constantly-changing theories of how the dinos went extinct.
- Farm Hands: R&S work on a farm. Meh, overall. Plus, the ending with Ren going insane because they’re all alone at the bottom of the outhouse seemed forced.
- Magical Golden Singing Cheeses*: Absolutely abysmal. Gross sight gags, lazily drawn backgrounds and characters, and a dumb plot. Paired with another truly bad episode….
- A Hard Day’s Luck: Haggis McHaggis returns, braving tests to get a lock of hair. Another terribly written, unfunny episode with bad comic timing that should’ve never been approved past the script stage.
- I Love Chicken: Eeeewwwwwww…. Stimpy loves a grocery chicken. Once you get that sexual oddity out of the way, this is a pretty funny episode, especially when Ren makes the chicken into sausage.
- Powdered Toast Man vs. Waffle Woman: Classic episode, with PTM letting down Little Johnny after he accidentally incinerates the president, and arch-nemesis Waffle Woman taking advantage of his retirement to further her product. Another Spumco-style episode, although not the case with the overly simplified character designs.
- It’s a Dog’s Life: Ugh, thick lines. Wang animated this one, along with Egg Yolkeo, and it moves really lumpily. If you can overlook that, this is enjoyable, with the duo being rescued from the pound by a religious old lady with a shifty butler.
- Egg Yolkeo*: Parody of Pinocchio. Not very good, that’s all I’m gonna say.
So there you have it. Quite a few great episodes, some that are middle-of-the-road, and a few bad ones. Not quite as consistent as the Seasons 1 & 2 set in quality, and trust me, it’ll only get worse with the remaining set. Season 5 was, despite a few exceptions, a train wreck. But overall this set contains a fun batch of episodes with many laughs to be had.
Special Features: The only feature is commentary for 11 episodes, which I’ve highlighted above with asterisks. Spumco man John Kricfalusi is heard on most of them, and honestly, when he’s absent the commentaries are lacking. I may not always agree with what he says, but atleast he has some interesting stuff to say, which is more than I can say for such episodes as “No Pants Today” and “Ren’s Pecs,” which has the crew just laughing at the cartoons and saying very little relevant information. John K., however, addresses the differences between the Spumco and the Games cartoons (particularly in the jokes and the emotions, though he admits that the Games episodes look good for the most part), the storyboard vs. script debate, and the cartoon that “A Yard Too Far” was modeled after. Well worth a listen.
Cuts: If you bought the first two seasons, you’ll know that there were several edits, because they were unknowingly using SpikeTV versions, which had commercial fades and needless time cuts. This was especially frustrating since it was labeled as an uncut release. And while Seasons 3 and Half-Ish reduces the number of edits, there are still a few present. The episodes missing scenes are “Jiminy Lummox,” “Prehistoric Stimpy,” and “Magical Golden Singing Cheeses.” This is very annoying. I distinctly remember a scene where Ren drops crabs into the bath with Stimpy during “Jiminy Lummox” and it was nowhere to be seen. For shame. Double shame that they’re trying to make people double-dip with the upcoming Ultimate set, which apparently contains the originals.
Overall: If you can handle a few edited and some below-par episodes, there’s much to like on the Seasons 3 and Half-Ish set. The Spumco touch is still present in some cases, the animation is solid, and there are plenty of jokes that hit the mark.
See also Speedy Boris’s review of the Ren & Stimpy Seasons 4 and 5 set.