This won’t likely make you feel good or full of youthful vigor, but it was 25 years ago that Nickelodeon rolled out its three original Nicktoons: Rugrats, Doug, and Ren & Stimpy. From the start, Ren & Stimpy was the black sheep of the bunch. The cartoon about a cat and dog didn’t shy away from the bizarre or controversial humor. Which is, of course, part of the reason why kids and adults loved it. To mark this momentous anniversary and celebrate Nickelodeon’s most warped cartoon, here’s some trivia that should guide you as you take a trip down the ’90s nostalgia wormhole.
Ren And Stimpy Were Born In The 1970s
Ren and Stimpy may have come into the mainstream spotlight in the early 1990s, but they were born in the late 1970s. Creator John Kricfalusi had the idea for Ren while attending Sheridan College in 1978, after seeing a postcard titled “New York City, 1946.” The photograph, taken by Elliott Erwitt, showed a chihuahua wearing a sweater and standing by a woman’s feet on the streets of Manhattan. Kricfalusi decided that Ren needed a sidekick and found the inspiration for Stimpy’s appearance in an old Tweety Bird cartoon that featured a pair of cats; one in particular with a very large nose and speaking voice parodying Jimmy Durante.
Kricfalusi later to revealed to AWN that he didn’t want to be confined to keeping the characters in one place, and looked to old comedy troupes like The Three Stooges and Laurel and Hardy for inspiration with the team. “You can do any kind of situation, tell any kind of story,” said Kricfalusi. “You could do a philosophical story, a purely gag story, or a science-fiction satire.”
The Show’s Original Concept Included Live-Action Elements
The Ren & Stimpy that we all know and love started out as a far different concept from the final product that found its way onto our TV sets. In 1989, Kricfalusi learned that Nickelodeon was in need of some original cartoon programming and approached then-Nick creative exec Vanessa Coffey about a show called Our Gang. The show was going to have a live-action host presenting various cartoons, one of which included Ren & Stimpy, to a group of kids in the studio. Coffey liked the cartoon characters and asked Kricfalusi if he could shift his focus to developing a program centered around the agitated chihuahua and mentally challenged cat.
However, getting Nickelodeon’s president at the time, Geraldine Laybourne, to sign on for the off-color cartoon was a challenge. Coffey told Variety that the show made Laybourne “uncomfortable” and that she initially wasn’t going to sign off on it. “I said if it doesn’t work, she can fire me. She said, ‘Okay, I’ll give you six episodes.'”
The Show’s Animation Serves As A Tribute To The Merrie Melodies Cartoons
From the colorful backgrounds to the detailed close-ups, the aesthetics of Ren & Stimpy‘s animation style owes a debt to the chaotic energy of the Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies cartoons of the 1930s and ’40s. Just like his heroes, Tex Avery and Bob Clampett, who were known for their work during the “Golden Age” of cartoons, Kricfalusi insisted that the writers also be animators and rejected Nickelodeon’s suggestion that the animation be done overseas, requesting instead that it be done by Canadian studio Carbunkle Cartoons.
Besides going the old school route with its animation, Kricfalusi worked in made-up products like LOG as a nod to the advertisements featured in the cartoons he loved so much as a kid. Via The Hollywood Reporter.
“I did it in the original Ren & Stimpy, but I made up fake products, like ‘Log,’ because the (Federal Communications Commission) wouldn’t let you put real commercials in the show. People loved the ‘Log’ jingle — it was a real fan favorite. That’s what I want to do for sponsors now on the DVDs. Kids will love the corn flakes song or whatever it is we put in the show. They’ll end up associating a sponsor’s name with joy instead of irritation.”
Ren & Stimpy Stirred Up Controversy From Day One
The gross-out humor in cartoons like South Park might seem commonplace in today’s adult-oriented animation, but that wasn’t the case in 1991. Especially for a cartoon that was essentially aimed at children. Kricfalusi ran into problems with Ren & Stimpy‘s penchant for incorporating bodily functions into the episodes from the start, with Nickelodeon expressing a distaste for all those wonderful fart jokes, according to an interview with The AV Club.
“When Ren & Stimpy first came out, we did all the stuff that you couldn’t do in cartoons before that now seems really innocent, like boogers and farts. That was considered outrageous in 1990, which to me is amazing because every kid in the world makes booger and fart jokes all day long. I had to do quite a bit of convincing at Nickelodeon to get them to let me to do it.”
The Infamous Banned Episode Changed The Show Forever
Part of what made Ren & Stimpy such a cult hit was its reputation for pushing the envelope in order to create heightened melodramatic peaks in an episode. There’s no better example of this than the season two episode “Man’s Best Friend,” which didn’t air until 11 years after its creation when Spike revived the show for a short run under the name Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon. The episode centered around Ren and Stimpy being adopted by an abusive owner named George Liquor — loosely based on Kricfalusi’s own father — and concluded with Ren beating George to a pulp with an oar. Nickelodeon had expressed displeasure with the George Liquor character early on, according to an Animation Scoop interview with show animators Bill Wray and Bob Camp. The network decided to pull the episode, leading to a clash with Kricfalusi that resulted in him getting fired from the show.
The Possibility Of More Ren & Stimpy Doesn’t Look Good
We got a brief Ren & Stimpy revival 13 years ago on Spike TV, but that unfortunately only included six half-hour episodes. Kricfalusi has said that he always wanted the show to continue on, but it was Nickelodeon who had the final say in the matter.
“Had I owned Ren & Stimpy, we’d still be making them today. There’d be 20 years worth of Ren & Stimpy and it would have naturally evolved. It was evolving from the first season to the second season and you could see that every episode was a little different from the previous episode. So it was progressing step-by-step.”
Nickelodeon has been in the process of rebooting some of its classic NickToons, so is it possible that Ren & Stimpy will get another go? Unfortunately, it’s probably not going to happen considering the network’s troubled past with the creator. When EW asked earlier this month about the possibility of returning to the network, Kricfalusi said, “Doesn’t look like it. At least not without the creator of this creator-driven show.”
For fans in need of a Powdered Toast Man fix, your best bet is probably going to be catching an old episode on the Nick classic channel, Splat.