The History of the Ren and Stimpy Show

The Ren & Stimpy Show is an American animated series originally broadcast from 1991 to 1996. It was the brainchild of John Kricfalusi (also known as “John K.”), a former animator who once worked for Filmator and Hanna-Barbera. It was one of the original animated series of the channel Nickelodeon. 

The Ren & Stimpy Show follows the adventures and misadventures of Ren, a scrawny, short-tempered, psychotic and asthma-hound Chihuahua, and Stimpy, a fat, dim-witted but good-natured Manx cat.

Although it had a relatively short run, The Ren & Stimpy Show was generally well-received, although it garnered some significant controversy due to its inappropriate and even violent content. Since during and after its original run, it has gained a status of a cult favorite.

Conception and development

Kricfalusi was mostly a self-taught artist who drew inspiration for the characters Ren and Stimpy from diverse influences. Among them include the work of photographer Elliott Erwitt, newspaper cartoons, comic books, and especially the Golden Age-era animation, with which Kricfalusi exhibited great interest. While at Sheridan College in the 1970s, he created Ren and Stimpy out of personal amusement. 

He drew the source of inspiration for Ren from Erwitt’s black-and-white photograph of a Chihuahua in a sweater. At the same time, he designed Stimpy after seeing a Tweety Bird cartoon called “A Gruesome Twosome,” where the cats had obscenely big and bulbous noses.

Kricfalusi co-founded an animation company, Spümcø, in 1989. Soon after that, Nickelodeon was looking for new creator-driven cartoons.  

Kricfalusi wasted no time. When Nickelodeon approached him, he pitched three shows, including Your Gang (or Our Gang), a variety show consisting of a live-action host presenting different cartoons, with each cartoon parodying a different genre. Ren and Stimpy were among the pets of the children in the show, acting as a parody for the “cat and dog” genre. While Nickelodeon was dissatisfied with Kricfalusi’s other projects, they liked Ren and Stimpy that they decided to single them out for their own series.

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Spümcø (1991 to 1993)

The Ren & Stimpy Show made its debut episode on Nickelodeon on August 11, 1991, alongside other Nickelodeon cartoons Doug and Rugrats. Kricfalusi himself provided the voice of Ren in the series’ first two seasons.

The Ren & Stimpy Show was never going to be the usual Nickelodeon cartoon. Over the next two years, Kricfalusi crossed swords with Nickelodeon’s Standards and Practices, as well as parent groups, over the nature of the series’ content. One of Ren & Stimpy’s episodes, “Man’s Best Friend,” featured a scene where Ren was beating another character, named George Liquor, to near-death using a canoe oar. Nickelodeon had to ban that episode, which wouldn’t appear until years later when the series was rebooted as Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon” in 2003.

Overall, the series received mixed to positive reviews. But even as Ren & Stimpy came to garner higher ratings for Nickelodeon, the relationship between Kricfalusi and the channel worsened to the point where he would only make contact with Nickelodeon through his lawyer. Kricfalusi’s failure to meet production deadlines angered not only Nickelodeon’s staff, but the series’ loyal fans as well.

On his part, Kricfalusi blamed the channel for the delays because they were now withdrawing their approval to some of the scenes that they had previously approved. He cited that the episode “Man’s Best Friend” was the main reason Nickelodeon terminated him and Spümcø from having any more involvement in the series.

Games Animation (1993 to 1996)

Following Kricfalusi’s dismissal in late September 1992, Nickelodeon moved from Spümcø to its own newly founded production company Games Animation (now Nickelodeon Animation Studio). Bob Camp was the series’ new director, replacing Kricfalusi. Billy West, already the voice behind Stimpy, had to voice Ren as well.

At this point, there were many noticeable changes to the show’s style and tone. The Ren & Stimpy Show went from having hilariously crazy episodes to having comparatively tamer and softer episodes. The “new” version of the series prompted one television critic to comment: “the bloom faded on Ren & Stimpy.” It also prompted an animation historian, Michael Barrier, to write that while the series still used the same bathroom jokes, they weren’t “particularly funny: they were merely doing what was expected.” Even the series’ loyal fans felt that the new episodes were a significant downgrade from the standard of the earlier episodes.

The Ren & Stimpy Show ended its original broadcast on December 16, 1996.

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Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon” (2003)

In 2003, Kricfalusi launched the Ren & Stimpy “extreme” reboot (or spin-off), titled Ren & Stimpy’s Adult Party Cartoon. It was aired during a late-night programming block on the cable channel Spike TV. Compared to the original Ren & Stimpy, the Adult Party Cartoon was even more inappropriate and vulgar.

The series began with the previously banned episode, “Man’s Best Friend,” although it wasn’t counted as one of the only three episodes it that did air in the U.S. This particular episode shocked and upset critics, audiences, and even loyal Ren & Stimpy fans.

Ren & Stimpy “Adult Party Cartoon”’s proper first episode, “Onward and Upward,” was aired on June 26, 2003. 

Just like the original Ren & Stimpy series, Kricfalusi apparently ignored production meeting deadlines, which resulted in only three of the ordered nine episodes completed on time. During its brief run, the series received mostly scathing reviews from critics and even fans of the original Ren & Stimpy series. After its third and final episode on July 24, the series was canceled. The other three unaired Adult Party Cartoon episodes were released straight to DVD.

A new Ren & Stimpy reboot?

On August 5, 2020, many news sources confirmed that the cable channel Comedy Central gave the green light for a new Ren & Stimpy reboot. Kricfalusi will not be involved in it this time around, but Billy West is expected to return to voice the titular characters.