Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story Sept 17, 2020 11:05:45 GMT -5
Post by StevePulaski on Sept 17, 2020 11:05:45 GMT -5
Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story (2020)
Directed by: Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood
Directed by: Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood
Even as wacky as early nineties Nickelodeon could be, The Ren & Stimpy Show was out of the realm for the fledgling children's network. Despite being someone who grew up on Beavis & Butt-head at a more tender age than I'd like to admit, I keenly remember finding the show offputting. I've grown to appreciate it more over the years in spite of its toxic creator, John Kricfalusi (known as "John" or "John K"). Moreover, The Ren & Stimpy Show didn't fit within Nickelodeon's realm of cartoons at the time. Sandwiched between the likes of Rugrats and Doug to name a few, it was surreal in its rubbery animation style that prominently featured gross-out gags, reprehensible archetypes, and a litany of innuendo you'd never be able to sneak by a network in the modern day.
Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story is a documentary worth making because without Ren and Stimpy and its subversive style, there's a good chance we would've never seen the likes of Ed, Edd n Eddy, Spongebob Squarepants, or Adventure Time. Made with a clear love and infatuation with the material, Happy Happy Joy Joy is a fanboy's look at the show, evident not only in content but the way its filmmakers can't help but subtly vindicate the series' problematic creator — a thorn that will stick in the sides of many who will view this documentary expecting something remotely resembling a (justifiable) evisceration of Kricfalusi.
John — who is a prominent part of the documentary, mind you — is described as everything from "the Andy Warhol of animation" to the sole reason why production on The Ren & Stimpy Show was upended after three years. Interviewed over the course of 100 minutes are former producers, network executives, and storyboard artists who recall the thrill, creative energy, and torment they experienced while working at/around Spümcø, John's animation studio.
The Ren & Stimpy Show began its run in 1991 following what can be summarized as a creatively stagnant period for children's animation. Shows aimed at children were lifeless adventure programs or colorful drivel that was made more to sell toys than to produce art. John was captivated by the medium at a young age, and got inspiration from Disney shorts of the 1930s and 1940s, adopting his own squash-and-stretch style. The end result produced elastic characters that appropriately defied gravity and logic, and humor you could call "absurdist" before such a term became common in animation. Ren was a hot-headed dog inspired by comically overacting Hollywood stars in the "Golden Age," namely Peter Laurie, while Stimpy was an "abject retard" (John's words) who served as the emotional core of the program. Together, they formed a contentious duo that prolifically recognized that they needed one another in order to coexist.
Once a deal was inked with Nickelodeon, John founded the aforementioned Spümcø and hired a legion of versatile animators and artists to further his vision. Among them was Lynne Naylor, just as much a part of the show as John but sadly sidelined for much of the documentary. Also instrumental was Bob Camp, a creative director on the program, who saw John as a beacon of ingenuity in animation. Happy Happy Joy Joy details the arduous labor that went into every episode, which often began with John acting out the entire episode in a storyboard meeting and culminated with hours upon hours of drawing and re-drawing to match the vision of the show's outlandish creator — on top of numerous missed deadlines.
John's behavior was and is nothing short of sociopathic, despite the word never being used in the film. If you've ever worked around someone like John, you know the type. The one who can't compromise. The one who needs to get the last word. The one who will suck the positive energy out of the room and tell everyone in it that he or she's doing it for the greater good of the project at hand. You can recognize their genius while loathing the human being, but once you remove them from your life, you realize a source of nasty negativism has been nipped in the bud. Oh, what a relief that is.
Happy Happy Joy Joy, however, does too much vindicating of John's actions by fellating his ego. It's as if every scene where a former colleague of John's speaks negatively, the subsequent scene has to remind us of his inventive animation. The fact of the matter is that John was a pedophile, who caustically preyed on underage interns during the height of his power at Nickelodeon. Much of this information was revealed when Robyn Byrd, a former intern at Spümcø and one of John's lovers (at age 16, mind you), took to Buzzfeed for a tell-all article that detailed his misconduct. Byrd is given time in the documentary, but her testimonial is heavily edited versus scenes with John, which run long and do not appear to be chopped as frequently as others. This shows, even if inadvertently, where filmmakers Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood's loyalty lies. They can't help but prop up this contemptible man who, despite all his inventiveness, was and is a pedophile. Giving John the last word in the documentary to boot is an offense that could be considered documentarian malpractice.
Happy Happy Joy Joy's structure is adequate, but too often is it sidetracked by asides such as "Scotty P," an impassioned collector of all things Ren and Stimpy, who in his own right deserves a mini-documentary of his own. Cicero and Easterwood do get in the weeds when they have former Spümcø employees discuss how the most important part of every episode of The Ren & Stimpy Show was the final card in the opening credits that read "Created by John Kricfalusi." Such a statement was a landmark in auteurism in animation, where the artist was the golden property, not the characters.
However, if the colossal artistic and commercial failure of John's brain-child Ren and Stimpy: Adult Party Cartoon — the revival show that premiered on Spike TV in the mid-aughts only to be cancelled after three episodes aired — proved anything, it wasn't solely him who made the show great. It was the army of animators and writers who are seen throughout Happy Happy Joy Joy but are still somehow grappling for morsels of credit.
NOTE: Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Show is available to rent on Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube.
NOTE II: Check out my review of Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story on my web-show Sleepless with Steve. Catch the show Wednesday evenings at 8pm CST at twitch.tv/sleeplesswithsteve!
Directed by: Bob Cicero and Kimo Easterwood.