Wednesday, July 19, 2006

REVAMPED RAUNCHINESS



Ren and Stimpy: The Lost Episodes*

At the end of the day, Homer Simpson was the antihero phenomenon of fin de siecle pop culture, a character both absurd and familiar to middle class America in the 1990s. But if The Simpsons gentrified television animation by introducing primetime sitcom appeal to a format generally reserved for youngsters, it was The Ren & Stimpy Show that emboldened the precedent.

Its downfall was inevitable from the moment it caught on. Former Hannah Barbera animator John Kricfalusi’s crudely drawn cat and chihuahua pals engaged in silly romps that pandered to a childish fascination with toilet humor. Although the jokes mostly relied on visual quirkiness, Ren’s exaggerated Latino inflection and mean-spirited treatment of his dim-witted partner were a departure from Bugs Bunny innocuousness. In retrospect, it’s a miracle that Kricfalusi managed to sustain the program for two seasons before the network took it away from him.

Now his characters are back with no boundaries in Ren and Stimpy: The Lost Episodes, which is basically an FCC nightmare. The six stories contained on two discs are taken from ideas Kricfalusi pitched in response to fan letters during the early seasons. Three of them aired on Spike TV as Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon, but some were deemed too inappropriate even for that channel’s projected masculinity. Several of the animators on the new episodes grew up watching the show, and, as Kricfalusi explains in his introduction to the discs, the characters have grown up with them. The newcomers clearly had a blast introducing explicit sex, more bodily fluids, et al. to the seedy oeuvre, but frattish fun doesn’t translate into a consistently solid viewing experience.

Still, animation junkies will enjoy the behind-the-scenes bonuses featuring storyboards and the like, and most episodes have some redeemable qualities to please diehard R&N fans and Adult Swim insomniacs eager to tune out reality. “Naked Beach Party” finds Stimpy jousting for Ren’s attention while the wide-eyed dog glares hungrily at busty beachgoers. Their exaggerated breast motion recalls underground comic guru Robert Crumb’s titillating satiric imagery, with less anger and more sheer lunacy. “Ren Seeks Help” has an effectively unsettling noir vibe, and “Altruists” recycles some terrific Three Stooges material. Almost all the episodes spotlight a weird sexual tension between the lead characters that occasionally gets realized (they’re either a gay couple or, in “Stimpy’s Pregnant,” an interspecies hodgepodge), but how many times you can watch this unlikely pair engage in goofy coitus depends on your tolerance for inanity.

On bonus interviews, the eccentric Kricfalusi and his team of Spumco animators try to excuse their boorish wit by discussing the conceptualization of the storylines the way one might dissect a classic Looney Tunes short. But their reverence wears thin: On his blog, Kricfalusi claims that Warner Bros. legend Chuck Jones had difficulty channeling his visual technique into well-timed punchlines. This particular imbalance is exactly what limits Kricfalusi’s cartoons— a stream of engaging oddities without much insight. The revamped raunchiness is gleefully irreverent, but it’s also irrelevant.

*A version of this review was published this week in the New York Press.




1 Comments:

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5:30 PM  

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