Category Archives: Ren & Stimpy

Pecking Holes in Poles

woody posterThe oddest feature on the DVD of Woody Woodpecker, the newest live-action/CGI animation hybrid based on a classic cartoon character, is a hidden bonus feature: Niagara Fools, one of the better ’50s Woody Woodpecker cartoons, looking nicer here than it did on the 2008 Woody Woodpecker & Friends Classic Cartoon Collection Vol. 2. And it’s hidden well—no mention of it anywhere and no chapter stop—so I’m at a loss for its inexplicable inclusion. I say “better” because as most cartoon fans know, cartoons in the theatrical era didn’t get much worse than when the credits read “Directed by Paul J. Smith.” He presided over the last two decades of the Walter Lantz studio’s output and while there were occasional bright spots in the first few years, like Niagara Fools, Smith was an auteur of inept cartoon comedy and crude drawing and animation.

In that respect, Woody Woodpecker lives up to its source material very well. It’s no better or worse than what you’d expect by now in a world that’s birthed Looney Tunes: Back in ActionYogi BearAlvin and the Chipmunks, and whatever other “reprisals” I’m forgetting. You have the paint-by-numbers plot (Woody’s forest faces demolition; the new kid is having trouble with his dad; villains kidnap Woody and his new friends); the bland human leads (although one of the film’s villains, a poacher, is a dead-ringer for Dapper Denver Dooley); and the smattering of fart and shit gags. (As the Chipmunks movie established, coprophagia is now an accepted staple of children’s entertainment. In one scene, Woody defecates on a villain’s ice cream cone, which apparently makes it tastier. It’s the second time Woody shits in the movie.)

The CG animation, done by Cinemotion in Bulgaria, is serviceable even if it’s inappropriate for as manic and elastic a character as the woodpecker to be anything but hand-drawn animated. Woody does at least maintain his anarchic/amoral personality for most of the picture, causing everything from construction site mishaps to gas explosions, which does wear thin over some 80 minutes. If there’s anything redeemable about the movie, it’s that voice actor Eric Bauza did an excellent job recreating the circa ’40s Woody. Pity he wasn’t in every minute of it.

The choice of director Alex Zamm (Inspector Gadget 2Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2) is proof enough that Universal execs had no intention of this being anything more than forgettable cookie-cutter filler for the Wal-Mart and Netflix family sections after it was released in the film’s intended market of Brazil. There, Woody (as “Pica-Pau”) has remained incredibly popular with all ages, and still broadcasts daily, something that obviously can’t be said for the character’s home country. Why intentionally craft a formulaic babysitter movie for a market where the original Woody cartoons are still popular with teens and adults? It’s a missed opportunity, and film reviewers in Brazil have noticed, as exhibited here and here.

Paul Smith fortunately wasn’t the only guy to handle the character. Many fine Woody cartoons came from Shamus Culhane, Dick Lundy, and Don Patterson, as did some great comics from John Stanley, Dan Gormley, and Freddy Milton. Unlike Mighty Mouse or Casper the Friendly Ghost (characters nobody honestly likes but have still been around and known forever), there are real gems to be found in the Woody series and the Lantz cartunes in general (I should know, I co-ran a website devoted to them for many years) and that has inevitably helped the cartoons’ longevity in Brazil. Ergo, a new movie with Woody should celebrate and pay homage to what people liked about the old cartoons—right? Apparently not.

It’s not as though the people that could do the job are hard to reach. Woody Woodpecker gives a “special thanks” credit to David Feiss (Ren & StimpyCow & ChickenI Am Weasel), whose highly recognizable frenetic style would’ve been a perfect match for the character, but there’s no sign of his influence here. Not that the right people being there would’ve probably made a difference. The last reprisal of the Lantz characters in 1998, The New Woody Woodpecker Show, was headed by Ren & Stimpy‘s Bob Jaques in its first season and staffed with many of the talented and distinctive artists from the Nickelodeon series. Yet it was still as unwatchable as anything else on TV (getting progressively worse in the former R&S artists’ absence, of course). It’s obvious the badness of these reprisals all comes down to control from the top, regardless of who’s making the product. It doesn’t matter who does Woody any more than it matters who does Bugs (see Joe Dante’s interviews regarding Looney Tunes: Back in Action), unless these guys are allowed to do what they do best.

After decades of this behavior, and with our culture immersed in reboots of all shapes and sizes, the time is ripe for improvement—let talented people rebirth these things the way fans want to see them; chances are, they’re fans too, so they’ll know. Disney seems to have struck a chord with its DuckTales revival; Tom and Jerry are reused by Warners so many times a year they’re bound to hit a target occasionally. But that’s about it. With the news that Animaniacs! is being revived with an ex-Seth MacFarlane producer as the showrunner and without a single writer from the original show, it seems most of Hollywood is determined to remain set in its alienating ways. It’s a shame even from a financial perspective; even $21 a day once a month is better than a billion dollar boner.

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Filed under classic animation, crap, Ren & Stimpy, TV

Chugging On

A frame from Svën Höek, the cartoon in postproduction at Spumco when the split between Nickelodeon happened in September 1992. Or was it?

A frame from “Svën Höek”, the cartoon in postproduction at Spumco when the split between Nickelodeon happened in September 1992. Or was it?

I guess it’s because I wrote a book trying to clear up misinformation about The Ren & Stimpy Show that further misinformation annoys me. The Huffington Post article published over the summer is of the most common sort: John Kricfalusi is in the news for some reason (this time for animating a backdrop for Miley Cyrus’s concert tour), so give him another soapbox. Easy click-bait, little work.

Lauren Duca, the writer of the article, never responded to my e-mail addressing how troublesome her piece was several months ago, but she has updated it today to incorporate a few quotes from Vanessa Coffey, the Nickelodeon executive who had to fire Kricfalusi in September 1992. Not September 1993, as Duca has it, regardless of her response to me on Twitter: “That’s not the information I have from John K. or Vanessa Coffey.”

I don’t know what John K. is saying these days, but Coffey and I spoke at length in December 2009 about the “nuclear fallout” (her words), and there was no question that it happened in the fall of 1992. (She also said in that phone interview that the plan to set up Games Animation to continue Ren & Stimpy went back to August 1992, probably around the time Nickelodeon saw a finished cut of “Man’s Best Friend,” the infamous ‘banned’ episode with George Liquor.)

As animation history has proved, memory can be fleeting. So why not look at a few primary sources? (Not the dumb Splitsider article Duca linked me to, citing a phony September 1993 date for Kricfalusi’s termination.)

The Hollywood Reporter
September 23, 1992
“Nick ticked by late Stimpys”
Paula Parisi

Nickelodeon is reportedly trying to separate animation whiz John Kricfalusi from his runaway hit “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” which has drawn high ratings and reams of publicity for the cable kids network since its premiere last summer. Kricfalusi’s reported inability to meet deadlines in delivering the new season’s episodes of “Ren & Stimpy” is said to be the primary source of discontent for Nickelodeon, which owns the show the independent animator created and produces through his Hollywood-based firm Spumco.

USA Today
September 24, 1992
Ren & Stimpy run into trouble at Nick”
Donna Gable

The future of Nickelodeon’s cult hit The Ren & Stimpy Show is in doubt after reports that creator John Kricfalusi was ousted for failing to produce new episodes in time.

Business Wire
September 28, 1992
“Nickelodeon and John Kricfalusi reach agreement on production of The Ren & Stimpy Show

Nickelodeon and Spumco’s John Kricfalusi, creator of The Ren & Stimpy Show, have reached an agreement to reorganize production responsibilities for the animated show.

“I felt confined by the rigors of this particular animated series and wanted to pursue projects with more artistic freedom,” said Kricfalusi. “I am thankful to Nickelodeon, especially Vanessa Coffey, for giving me my first break and I hope the show will continue to be a success.”

Those were three of a few dozen press clippings I have related to the Spumco-Nickelodeon split, and I could easily post several more. I spent an enormous amount of time sifting through the paperwork of Spumco, Games, Carbunkle Cartoons and Nickelodeon to figure out the minutiae of the series: when certain people were hired and left, how much a cartoon cost, when a cartoon was in animation, etcetera. You can have your debates on who’s insane and who sold out whom (for my own assessment, read my book), but facts are facts, and The Huffington Post has one wrong.

At times, I wonder if that research was worthwhile, and if correcting Ren & Stimpy misinformation is simply futile. Duca has not yet corrected the date error and seems clueless about the existence of Sick Little Monkeys, which I’m sure warms certain people’s hearts. But since she is actually writing for a widely read website, I feel compelled to keep at it. Any attention is good attention.

UPDATE: December 1, 2014: The article has been corrected with regards to the September 1992 date. No mention of where the correction came from, of course, but so be it.

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Filed under crap, modern animation, Ren & Stimpy

What IS it about Thad, anyway?

A model sheet for Tex Avery’s WAGS TO RICHES. For probably the only time in animation history, why would you WANT to go off-model?


Good lord, has it really been five months since I last posted here?

I’m finding I have less interest in maintaining a blog on my own time and server, though I’ll still keep it up for posterity, and maybe post something every so often. I’ve relocated to New York City (well, really New Jersey) to continue my graduate studies, so I haven’t been idly passing time. I’ve also written several pieces for not only Jerry Beck’s revived Cartoon Research, but his Animation Scoop blog on Indiewire, as well as monthly column on Stefan Blitz’s Forces of Geek. I’ve learned, quickly, that if I’m going to devote time to, say, interviewing Tod Polson about his amazing book on Maurice Noble, reviewing a new oral history of the Nickelodeon cable network, or putting out a warning about the Blu-Ray releases of Fleischer and Disney animation (link coming soon), I want as many people as possible to read my work.

Ergo, collaborating with and writing for what I’ve come to consider “hub-sites” is the most sensible way to proceed, as I make no mistake that my humble personal site doesn’t attract many visitors. The death of the blog happened some time ago, as evidenced by the fact that all of wonderful blogs that began in 2006-07 related to animation have fallen to the wayside. I think this is directly related to the rise of social media and the growing, prominent OCD of our culture. If it’s not a couple of sentences directly communicated in a span of minutes, it isn’t worth the bother to read.

I have a number of different projects going on, most pertaining to the art of animation, like a revised and expanded edition of Sick Little Monkeys, and I hope to post updates in the coming months. In the meantime, that capstone project of mine is still very much worth reading in even its imperfect form, if the reviews are any indication.

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Filed under classic animation, Ren & Stimpy, TV

Sick Little Monkeys Now Available!

You can now order my first of hopefully many animation books, Sick Little Monkeys: The Unauthorized Ren & Stimpy Story, directly from my publisher, BearManor Media, at this link. I don’t have much to say other than it’s great to finally purge this project after several years of working on it. And what better way to celebrate than sinking into a brand new animation book and subject! One hint: my next book involves entirely dead people, so it’s more in-tune with the regular topics covered on this blog. Okay, bye now.

1/27/12 UPDATE: I’m aware BearManor is only shipping to U.S. addresses. An Amazon link will be available in the next week or so, and non-U.S. readers can buy the book there.

1/30/12 UPDATE: The book is now available for order on Amazon.

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Filed under modern animation, Ren & Stimpy