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The Ren & Stimpy Show: Seasons Three and a Half-ish

This second set of Ren & Stimpy cartoons offers a fascinating look at the decline of a creative enterprise once the mastermind behind the project has left the building. After Nickelodeon fired creator John Kricfalusi due to matters of missed deadlines, disregarded budgets, and material that Nick execs disliked, "The Ren & Stimpy Show" continued onward under the direction of co-creator Bob Camp. Watching these post-John K. episodes in order, one can witness the creative energy slowly leaking out of the series, as the leftover Kricfalusi material dries up and Camp & Co. attempt to keep the flame alive. Disc One of the set offers the best cartoons in the bunch — particularly "No Pants Today," wherein Ren makes Stimpy go about sans pants, a development that leads to some truly unexpected encounters; "Ren's Pecs," in which the intrepid Asthmahound Chihuahua has Stimpy's butt-fat implanted in his chest; "An Abe Divided," with the pair exploring the inside of Lincoln's head; and "Jiminy Lummox," with Ren receiving the questionable gift of Stimpy's sadistic, musical conscience. And Disc One also offers a hilarious, none-too-subtle commentary on the Spumco gang's experiences with their overlords at Nick — in "Stimpy's Cartoon Show," written by Kricfalusi, the dim-witted cat wants to make an animated film in honor of his hero, cartoon legend Wilbur Cobb. Ren wants to help but he can't draw, he can't write — in fact, he admits despondently, he has no talent whatsoever. So Stimpy tells him he can be the producer — "the guy who tells the artist what to do and later makes all the changes and then, when the cartoon's done, he takes all the credit!" Ren, of course, takes long vacations while Stimpy works himself into exhaustion, charging him money for fresh pencils and forcing Stimpy to carve his own paper from logs. When the two finally show their cartoon to Stimpy's idol Cobb (voiced with psychotic senility by legendary comic Jack Carter), the septuagenarian animator rants about the "good old days" as his body parts slide off, one by one. Stimpy's cartoon, by the way, is terrible, and stunningly funny. There are some fine moments to be found on the other two discs, as well — especially the "Untamed World" episodes — but as the shows progress they become less genuinely humorous and more desperately weird as the writers and producers try to replicate John K's special sort of madness but only coming up with ideas that either bizarre or simply disgusting. "I Love Chicken" features Stimpy falling in love with Ren's chicken dinner and marrying it; the Pinocchio parody "Egg Yolkeo," one of the fairy-tale stories that became too common in the later seasons, features Renwaldo the Egg Smithee creating a "real boy" out of egg yolk; and "A Friend in Your Face," is about the duo having, well, friends in their faces. Unfortunately, self-conscious weirdness is no substitute for real creative genius, and many of these cartoons are flaccid and unfunny. Add to that Stimpy actor Billy West's taking over the job of voicing Ren in Kricfalusi's absence, and overall Season Three (and a half) just doesn't live up to the work presented in the first box set.

*          *          *

The DVD release, produced by MTV Networks and released by Paramount Home Video, offers the same high quality as the first set. All the cartoons are presented full-screen in their original 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The colors are bright, the transfers are very good, and any softness or flaws are either those of the original animation or a natural consequence of transferring animated images to the DVD format. The DD 2.0 audio (with optional English closed-captioning) is excellent. There are commentaries on 11 of the episodes and, thankfully, they got John K. to do commentary here, too, even though he wasn't officially on the project at this stage. And he's allowed to speak his piece uncensored — these tracks are funny, bitter, and blazingly honest. During the commentary for "Stimpy's Cartoon Show" the animator calls the episode's subject as one "dear to my heart — it's about how stupid the animation business is… a satire on how modern cartoons are made." Besides getting to hear Kricfalusi comment on the direction of a cartoon he wrote that was handed to someone else to direct, there's also his general remarks about the business as a whole — which he calls "retarded" — and a discussion of the parallel between the creative arc of "Ren & Stimpy" and the Golden Age of animation in the 1930s though the '50s. There's also a commentary by Ren & Stimpy on themselves, which is so ultra-meta it has to be heard to be believed. Three slimline cases in a paperboard slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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