Animation buffs will tell you that there have been landmarks throughout the history of cartoons which have broken boundaries and set a new standard for the animated creations to follow. Most of these are easy to track, such as the Looney Tunes shorts, or the computer generated creations from Pixar. But, some evolutionary steps get lost to history. For example, when Ren & Stimpy debuted in 1991, most had no idea what to make of it, and following the shows "flash in the pan" success, it quickly went away. But, now many cartoons, especially Spongebob Squarepants bear the mark of Ren & Stimpy-style animation. Now, Time-Live Video has collected many of the classic Ren & Stimpy shorts on DVD so that a new generation can experience this weird, weird show.
Summarizing Ren & Stimpy is more easier than trying to explain it. Ren (voiced by John Kricfalusi) is a dog (he kind of looks like a chihuahua) and Stimpy (voiced by Billy West) is a cat. Ren considers himself to be worldly and intelligent, and enjoys bossing around Stimpy, who is simple-minded and naive. Often, Stimpy's peculiarities cause Ren to be very anxious or angry. As with the old Looney Tunes characters, there is little continuity on Ren & Stimpy. Sometimes they live in a house together, and at other times, they are homeless. They live in the old West, or travel through space. No matter what the case, they are always involved in something strange. In the episodes contained in The Best of Ren & Stimpy DVD set, Ren & Stimpy get rich, join the army, search for exotic animals, become firemen, and enter a dog show. And are just examples of the crazy things that this duo does.
Ren & Stimpy was a ground-breaking show. Despite the fact that the program was originally broadcast on Nickelodeon, Ren & Stimpy is very adult in nature. When a horse answers the door wearing fetish gear and holding a frightened walrus, you know that the show isn't aimed at kids. Ren & Stimpy was never as crude as South Park or Beavis & Butt-Head, but it did offer some very subversive humor that probably went over the heads of youngsters and shocked adults. The show offered gross-out humor on a level that hadn't been seen on many TV shows. The episode in which Ren gets a toothache may be one of the most disgusting things ever shown on television. And what can you say about a show in which the main characters become door-to-door rubber nipple salesman? But, Ren & Stimpy wasn't just about being vulgar. Creator John Kricfalusi infused the show with a manic energy, which was usually released when Ren would freak out. Ren and Stimpy has distinct characters traits, and it was their behavior which would usually make or break the show with viewers, as people usually hated one or the other (and many times both). (Personally, I could always identify with Ren's high-strung demeanor). Ren & Stimpy certainly isn't for everyone, but if you've ever thought that Spongebob Squarepants would be a great show if it just went a little bit farther, then you may want to check out Ren & Stimpy.
The Best of Ren & Stimpy comes from Time-Life Video in a 3 DVD set. But, this isn't a boxed-set, merely three individual keepcase DVDs. When asked why there wasn't a box, Time-Life replied, "The titles included in this set are cased individually to allow for any needed replacements. There are no plans to put all three DVDs inside one case. We apologize for any disappointment." I'm not sure that answered my question. Anyway, there are 42 cartoons in all here, including Ren & Stimpy shorts as well as the interstitials from the show, such as the "Log" commercials and "Ask Dr. Stupid." The episodes come from Seasons 1 & 2 (1991-1993), but they are comprehensive and aren't in chronological order. This truly is a "Best of" set, as the DVDs offer a random sampling of episodes. (But, to be fair, there are many classics here.) Several of the shows have been edited for content, and some questionable images from the original airings, such as Powdered Toast Man burning the Bill of Rights, have been excised. Also, oddities, such as the very blurry image of the Yak from "Untamed World" are hold-over from the show's VHS releases.
The Best of Ren & Stimpy was my first exposure to DVDs offered by Time-Life Video, and I must say that I'm underwhelmed. The episodes offered on these DVDs are all presented in their original 4:3 aspect ratio. The quality of the cartoons varies, but it's safe to say that none of them look perfect. The colors are fairly well-balanced throughout, but some segments do look washed out. Many of the episodes show significant defects from the source print, mostly in the way of white specks, but there are also scratches and I swear I saw a thumb-print at one point.. At times, it's like we're watching a cartoon from the 50s. The elements used for these transfers appears to have been in pretty bad shape. There are also many shots which are blurry. On top of that, the digital transfer has created artifacting and shimmering on the image, which adds to the inadequacy of this presentation. Ren & Stimpy was never the most technically advanced show, and these DVDs have only managed to make the show look worse.
The episodes found in The Best of Ren & Stimpy feature 2-channel digital stereo audio tracks. These tracks provide clear dialogue and music. There are perceptible stereo effects at times. Still, these tracks sound very hollow and lifeless. Given the manic nature of the show, the audio should have some sort of power, not this dull offering. A simple 2.0 surround track would have added so much more the the presentation of these episodes.
The only extras found on The Best of Ren & Stimpy are sing-alongs. Each disc contains one sing-along -- Disc 1: "Muddy Mudskipper Theme", Disc 2: "Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy", Disc 3: "The Lord Loves a Hangin'". Each of these sing-alongs simply takes a song from one of the episodes and adds sing-along subtitles to it. Therefore, there is nothing new here. I would have preferred liner-notes or some sort of extra which addressed the origin and history of the show.
The Best of Ren & Stimpy is the epitome of taking the good with the bad. It's great that this great show is finally seeing a DVD release. But, the overall quality of the DVDs themselves is poor, as the transfers look pitiful and the content has been edited. Die-hard Ren & Stimpy fans may want to pick up this set, but other may want to wait to see if a future release fixes the problems found here.