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Ripping Friends, The
The Ripping Friends Volume 1 and 2:
To modern animation fans John Kricfalusi (known as John K.) is something of a legend in his own time. His distinguished career has featured some stunning highs and a series of rather startling lows, all of which were visited upon him by executives who had little understanding of his art.
John K's first major impact on the contemporary zeitgeist occurred while working with Ralf Backshi on The New Adventures of Mighty Mouse. John, a young and inspired artist, had already developed a keen sense of humor that featured a love for innuendo. He worked on the scripting and animation of several episodes but when Mighty Mouse appeared to sniff some white powder John K's stint on the show was abruptly cut short.
The next high profile appearance for Kricfalusi was perhaps his best known project. The Ren & Stimpy Show was John's brain child and proved to be a run away hit for Nickelodeon. The fat cat and neurotic dog had a series of strange, crude adventures that paved the way for such popular programs as Bevis and Butthead and South Park. Nickelodeon executives couldn't stomach the over-the-top humor though and John K. was removed from the show. Once John was gone Ren & Stimpy lost its edge and swiftly sank into obscurity and cancellation.
The demise of Ren & Stimpy gave rise to Kricfalusi's Canadian based animation studio Spumco and he quickly returned to the airwaves. Spumco projects included several rock videos (for Bjork and Tenacious D), TV ads for Old Navy and a series of Web based cartoons. But these small projects were only the beginning. Two full length Yogi Bear cartoons followed (The Ranger Smith Show and Boo Boo Goes Wild, both of which are much more entertaining than the Hanna Barbara show that they pay tribute to) and this year's Fox Kids program The Ripping Friends.
The Ripping Friends follows a group of super heroes billed as The World's Most Manly Men. The four friends (a strange combination of the Super Friends, professional wrestlers, Kirk Douglas and Buck Rodgers) face a series of villains that only John K. could have created. From their headquarters in Ripcot Center the friends defend the town of Haplessville from sentient bubble gum, a megalomaniac flat worm and a creature made of excess friction taken from the Friends themselves. In classic Spumco style the cartoon is full of gross outs, double entendre and an adult subtext that's reminiscent of the best of Ren & Stimpy.
The scripting and animation for The Ripping Friends is a little more reserved than Ren & Stimpy, cleaving a tad closer to the main stream without compromising Spumco's integrity. It's hardly milquetoast though. The jokes come fast and furious while appealing to both children and adults making for great replay value. Of particular note is the fantastic score by Steve London, which brings to mind the work of Carl Stalling for Warner Brother's. London has provided what may be the best cartoon scoring since the late 50s.
Presented in the original full-frame aspect ratio, The Ripping Friends has a workman like transfer. The colors are fully saturated without being overly bold, the black levels are deep without sacrificing detail and there are no noticeable digital artifacts. Considering the inconsistent nature of broadcast signals it's a fairly sure bet that The Ripping Friends looks better here than it did in its original run on Fox.
The Ripping Friends includes both English and Spanish stereo tracks. Both of these have a surprisingly broad dynamic range and a good deal of left/right panning. The high range is crisp and clear and the bass rich and velvety. Considering the frenetic nature of the music and sound effects a good audio transfer is key to the enjoyment of any cartoon. This is quite an impressive treatment for a Saturday morning kid's show.
Extras on this release are very limited. You'll find the original broadcast trailers for each episode and a brief gallery of storyboards. As a John K. fan and a graphic artist I was very interested in the storyboard presentation. You can see the hard work that goes into the layouts and character design by looking at these very detailed studies. My only complaint is that more weren't included.
If you're a Ren & Stimpy fan who wants more (and can't wait for the forthcoming new Spumco versions being produced for TNN) you should go right out and get The Ripping Friends. The show is for kids but it appeals to adults who respond to John K's unique brand of humor. Fox and Lion's Gate have done a fine job with this DVD release. Recommended.