Tag Archives: billy west

Dec. 24 – Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas

crock o xmas

Released by Sony Wonder on September 21, 1993

In 2018, it feels like the novelty music genre is mostly dead. Back in the day when radio was the primary vehicle for delivering new music the novelty song had a place. Usually they would be part of commutes or morning shows when producers thought a laugh was in order. I know where I grew up the local rock station had the Free-ride Funnies in the late afternoon when novelty tracks would be played along with stand-up routines and prank calls. Weird Al had a place on MTV along with other novelty acts and songs (remember Green Jelly’s rendition of The Three Little Pigs?) that would be played along with more “legitimate” music. As such, novelty albums were more popular though I feel like the general experience with novelty albums was hearing a funny song on the radio, buying the record, then kind of regretting it. Even some Weird Al albums couldn’t shake that feeling.

It should come as no surprise, or maybe a little surprise, that The Ren & Stimpy Show got in on the novelty Christmas album game when it released Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 1993. This album arrived during the height of Ren and Stimpy’s popularity and after the departure of series creator Jon K. It was the second album attributed to the dog and cat duo following You Eediot! which was released just a month prior. That album contained mostly music from the show, while this one was all new.

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A brief bit from the show called Yak Shaving Day is the originator for all of this extra content.

The album is called Crock O’ Christmas, but it’s not really about Christmas and is instead about the fictional holiday of Yaksmas, which was referenced in a prior episode. Many of the songs are parodies of popular Christmas songs and usually just reading the title will clue you in on what the song is going to parody. As the voice of both Ren and Stimpy, Billy West is called upon to do the heavy-lifting in both singing and speaking roles. Bob Camp illustrated the cover which depicts Stinky Wizzleteats and the Gilded Yak piloting Stinky’s sausage cart while Ren and Stimpy pull it dressed as reindeer. This album is a precursor to the “Scooter for Yaksmas” episode, which we covered last year, and a lot of the lore for the holiday found in that episode originates here. Bob Camp and Jim Gomez provided the lyrics for most of the music while the whole thing was overseen by Vanessa Coffey and Charlie Brissette.

Since the format of this advent calendar styled journey through Christmas media is to provide a synopsis and walk the reader through the episode, we might as well just go with a song by song breakdown of this interesting piece of largely forgotten media.

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The reverse cover for the original release.

The first track is “Fleck the Walls,” and it’s to the tune of “Deck the Halls” as Stimpy and Ren introduce the listener to Yaksmas Eve. They talk about flecking the walls with dirty diapers and detail the events of Yaksmas Eve such as filling your uncle’s boots with coleslaw, wearing rubber nipples, and licking up shaving scum left behind by the Gilded Yak. It’s quite gross, but par for the course with The Ren & Stimpy Show which really started to double-down on the gross aspects of the characters during the Games Animation era.

The second track is “Cat Hairballs” which is a parody of “Jingle Bells.” It’s basically Stimpy bragging about the wonders of his hairballs and how useful they are. Ren chimes in he has had enough hairballs which provokes Stimpy into coming up with more uses for them like making cigars and underwear from them. Gross. They then venture to their neighbor’s house to sing for them, and because the guy who lives there owes Ren five bucks. They encounter the husband and wife (Cheryl Chase) and wish them a Merry Cobbday so we apparently have two holidays to celebrate. They then are introduced to a goat, who is the pet I suppose of the neighbors. The husband then confesses he’s depressed because he never gets what he wants for Yaksmas. When Ren asks what it is he wants, he replies “a hairy chest.”

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The album was re-released in 97 with re-arranged artwork.

This takes us into song three, “We Wish You a Hairy Chestwig” (“We Wish You a Merry Christmas”) as Ren and Stimpy wish a chestwig for their neighbor. Shelly Williams takes over as the wife as the duo sing with Ren and Stimpy (Billy West is the husband) about wishing for a chestwig. It’s the most simple of the parodies so far and not very disgusting, just silly. At the end of the song they find themselves at The West Pole which is where Stinky Wizzleteats lives. They knock on the door and meet the old man, but find he’s not too kind. He demands Ren act like a dog then calls for his wife to get his dog wallopin’ 2×4. When Ren explains they want to sing him a Yaksmas carol, he calls for his dog wallopin’ guitar.

This takes us into the next song, “It’s a Wizzleteats Kind of Christmas” which is an original tune. It explains Stinky’s role in the holiday introducing us to his sausage cart and detailing the traditions of the holiday including falling down the stairs and eating pre-chewed gum. It will be recycled for the Yaksmas episode of the show and it’s amusing enough and it’s nice to have some added visuals in that case. When Stimpy finishes the song, Stinky gives him some praise then goes into a song of his own about a chicken getting eaten by giant worms. It seems to unnerve Stimpy and the two slip away deciding to go to the mall.

That’s where our next song takes place, “We’re Going Shopping” which is another original song, though it’s pretty dialogue heavy. Stimpy has dragged Ren to the mall and is a compulsive shopper. We also get a circus midget joke which is a reference to the fire chief from the show; a joke that hasn’t ages well. Ren doesn’t want to shop and complains about his feet hurting while Stimpy tries to sell him on a glass diaper pale (“You can not only do your duty, you can see it too!”), but he’s not interested. The song ends with them arriving at the Royal Order of Yaks where Stimpy explains how the Gilded Yaks are selected to pilot the enchanted canoes on Yaksmas Eve.

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Back cover of the 97 re-release.

This leads into “Yak Shaving Day,” where the characters sing about, what else, Yak Shaving Day. If you saw the bit in the show then you know what to expect. It might be the most basic song so far and least entertaining. It’s also an original tune. It ends with Ren and Stimpy back home to welcome Stinky (the fart, not to be confused with Stinky Wizzleteats) and his bride Cora from “Son of Stimpy.” Stinky and Stimpy then recount how they spent their first Christmas after thumbing through a photo album which brings us to…

“What is Christmas?” where Stimpy and Stinky basically refresh us on the events from Stinky’s debut episode. The song (another original) is actually rather sweet, even if it’s about a cat’s affection for its fart. Because it’s actually executed quite well as a sentimental track, it’s not very funny. The humor really needs the visuals of Stimpy hugging his fart cloud to work. Interestingly, our characters are now openly singing about celebrating Christmas making this whole holiday season really confusing

That song ends with dialogue about Stimpy introducing All Cobb’s Eve. It apparently coincides with Yaksmas Eve and it’s a custom from Stimpy’s native Gibberland. He then sings “Cobb to the World” (“Joy to the World”) detailing how Wilbur Cobb visits you in the night to pass out on your lawn (a trait that will be given to Stinky Wizzleteats later). The song describes Wilbur Cobb, a character from the show, in all of his gruesome glory. It’s all about how his body parts fall off with some other old man traits described as grossly as possible. The parody nature of the song limits it, but it gets its message across. Meat, corn, and cheese logs are apparently all part of this “holiday’s” celebration.

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Wilbur Cobb is the subject of his own holiday, though it may be one only celebrated by Stimpy.

After that lesson on All Cobb’s Eve, Ren just wants to go to bed, but Stimpy reminds him they have somewhere to be. It’s Muddy Mudskipper’s Holiday Hop, which is the subject of “Happy Holiday Hop,” a fun little rockabilly jam. Ren and Stimpy aren’t on the guest list, but they politely ask to crash the party while singing about Muddy. It’s not a direct parody of anything, but it’s pretty generic 50’s rock in its presentation which makes it probably the most danceable of the album so far. It’s just about a party so there isn’t anything gross. If you wanted to add a track from this album to a generic Christmas mix, this is probably the song you’d go for.

Our next song is “I Hate Christmas” where Ren acts more like the Ren we know from the show as he confesses his disdain for all of this holiday stuff. He does it after Stimpy goes to bed who recounts all of their Yaksmas Eve activities thus far before doing so. He playfully asks Ren if he’ll be joining him in bed, a some-what subtle gay joke. Ren says he’s going to “tickle the ivories” instead which is a metaphor for playing the piano I had never heard before and is rather clever. Ren’s song starts off kind of mopey, then he gets angry, as it turns into more of a lounge type of song. He particularly hates Christmas music, which is deliberately ironic, I presume. It’s the most relatable track so far if you find yourself getting run down by the holiday.

Our penultimate track is the “The Twelve Days of Yaksmas,” and I assume you can figure out what it is a parody of. It begins with Ren getting a package in the mail (“Wow, that’s the biggest package I’ve ever seen!”) from Ignoramia, home to cousin Sven. The song is them going through the package of gifts from Sven which is mostly gross stuff:  jars of spit, used bandages, golden hairballs, etc. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” is quite possibly the worst of the traditional Christmas songs and it’s pretty annoying. They manage to run through it in about 4 minutes, so this isn’t too bad, but it still over-stays its welcome.

Our final track is “Decorate Yourself,” another original tune. The title is rather self-explanatory. It’s basically a rock ballad and comes in at over 5 minutes making it the longest song on the album. It has some silly lines, but isn’t very gross and the prior forty minutes of sillier stuff dampen the comedy element of the song. It mostly feels like putting a bow on the whole album. It ends with the duo saying goodbye to the audience as Stimpy tries to wish a happy holiday for every made-up holiday they cited on this album as well as some new ones prompting Ren to just tell him to shut up so they can leave. An appropriate ending for a Ren and Stimpy production.

So you want to get a novelty Christmas album to spin at your party this year? This would probably work out all right if your audience is familiar with The Ren & Stimpy Show. It’s more childish in its humor than other novelty albums, so it might only work on nostalgia really. If you’re counting on it being a memorable part of your holiday then you may be let down. As a little supplement to the show and its other holiday episodes, it’s kind of fun. If my kids ever get into the show I’ll probably try this on them and see what they think, though it is somewhat handicapped by the fact that the show skews a bit older than this probably would.

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An interview disk was distributed with the promo version of the album.

The album was first released by Sony on its Sony Wonder label. The production is actually really well done and there’s a band, choir, and orchestra utilized. Some talented people put some time into the compositions and it shows. The lyrics could be better as there is perhaps too much that is just nonsensical. A 90s trait of Nicktoons was just to make something like cheese funny all by itself, when it never really was in the first place. It’s a tactic that works on kids (just watch the show All That which is almost entirely what I call unhumor that somehow worked on children of the era) but less so on older audiences. The booklet is pretty nice and includes original art on the cover as well as stills from the show inside. It’s festive, and there are lyrics printed inside as well along with transcripts of the character dialogue. West does a nice job with what he’s given and his level of performance is on par with the producers and musicians who participated. The album was re-released by Kid Rhino in 1997. It features some cosmetic differences like re-arranged artwork and a different layout for the booklet, though content wise it’s the same. I’d say the presentation is a bit louder visually, though not necessarily better or worse.

If you want to hear Ren & Stimpy’s Crock O’ Christmas in 2018 your best bet is to just head to eBay. There the CD version of the album will only set you back a few bucks with the Kid Rhino re-release apparently commanding a bit more money. There is a cassette version as well if you want to go that route. If you consider yourself a big fan of the show and you like Christmas then I think this is probably worth a look considering it’s relatively cheap to acquire. If a Christmas album by Ren and Stimpy sounds like something you would not like then you should probably trust your instincts there. You can hear most of this stuff on YouTube if you’re just curious and not eager to add any physical media to your Ren & Stimpy collection. If you’re expecting this to be the funniest Christmas album you’ve ever heard, then once again you may be let down. It’s just okay, but very much in the spirit of the show which makes it charming for fans.


Dec. 23 – A Very Woody Christmas

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A Very Woody Christmas/It’s A Chilly Christmas After All/Yule Get Yours all from The New Woody Woodpecker Show first aired December 25, 1999.

If you were a major motion picture studio in the 1940s and you didn’t have a mascot cartoon character then you really weren’t a major motion picture studio. The big ones were at Disney and Warner while Tom and Jerry reigned at MGM. Universal was one of the later entrants, but they struck gold with their own creation of Woody Woodpecker. Woody was the creation of Walter Lantz, and like seemingly every major cartoon character from the era who didn’t originate at Disney, he was originally voiced by the great Mel Blanc. Woody debuted in the cartoon Knock Knock in 1940 and would go on to become a star. And like most cartoon stars of those days, he would make the move to television in the 1950s where his cartoons would be packaged together and shown in a half hour format. These shows were on television in some form or another well into the 1980s and even into the 90s in some places when they eventually faded out for one reason or another.

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Woody’s original and seldom seen first look.

In the late 90s, Woody received a makeover and a new show. The New Woody Woodpecker Show would air from 1999 to 2002 and it typically followed a format similar to the old show of three shorts shown together. Usually you got a new Woody cartoon, a Chilly Willy, and then another Woody cartoon. Woody was now voiced by Billy West and most of his friends and foes returned like Buzz Buzzard (Mark Hamill) and Wally Walrus (West). It tries to capture the spirit of the old cartoons, while also toning down some of the violence. In the first season it produced a Christmas episode among it’s 26 season order and it actually premiered on December 25, 1999. Was this the last new Christmas special to air before the new millennium? I’m not sure, but it must be rather close.

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This is the look most probably associate with the character and his friends.

Like most episodes of the show, this one contains three cartoon shorts and all three are Christmas themed. The first is A Very Woody Christmas which naturally stars Woody Woodpecker himself. It opens with Woody walking down the street talking to himself about what people are getting him for Christmas and what he got them in return. He realizes he forgot to get gifts for Knothead and Splinter, his nieces, or nephews, or something. He dashes into a store just before it closes and snags a couple of robots while passing the owner a few bucks. He then notices a dilapidated looking stand offering free gift-wrapping (too good to be true, Woody).

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And Woody’s redesign for this show, though his feet should be orange.

The stand is being run by Buzz Buzzard and his lackey Tweaky (Hamill). Their scheme is to take the gifts and replace them with rocks as they wrap and then return them to the patron. Woody picks up on this, but Buzz just launches him into a nearby Christmas tree. Decorated as an angel as a result, Woody swings down from the tree in Tarzan style and kicks Buzz into a snowman decoration, causing Tweaky to confuse him for an abominable snowman. The two then jump in their getaway sleigh, leaving Woody behind.

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Tweaky has a pretty crappy tree.

The pair arrive at their warehouse hide-away. Tweaky is worried that Santa won’t come to visit them because they aren’t asleep yet (even though it’s still daylight) while Buzz informs him that they just stole a bunch of gifts so Santa isn’t coming. He takes off to get a celebratory pizza. Outside, Woody was watching from a window and Tweaky’s Christmas spirit gives him an idea. He puts on a Santa costume and enters much to Tweaky’s delight. Woody convinces Tweaky to go to bed, but while he does he lists off all of the stuff he wants for Christmas. If you were feeling bad for Tweaky, since he’s bullied by Buzz, then you don’t have to anymore as all of the stuff he wants from Santa are crime-aiding devices. He knows what’s doing.

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I pretty much assumed Woody would dress-up as Santa at some point in one of these shorts.

As Woody tries to reclaim the goods, Tweaky keeps interrupting him causing Woody to have to put him to bed, only for him to re-emerge and get put to bed in a more comically restrictive fashion. It’s exhausting, and Woody seems like he may lose his tempur and blow his cover, but he’s able to convince Tweaky to pull the sleigh of stolen goods for him. As they’re ready to leave, Buzz returns and is incensed to see what his cohort is up to. Unlike Tweaky, he knows that this isn’t Santa and he tells Tweaky he’ll get him whatever he wants for Christmas if he’ll just stop, but Tweaky isn’t satisfied. Unless the gift is from Santa, he doesn’t want it. He takes off acting as Woody’s lone reindeer while Buzz is eventually run over by the sleigh. As Tweaky pulls the sleigh through town, Woody laughs and tosses out the stolen goods to their rightful owners.

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Penguins apparently are not happy in the cold.

The second cartoon is It’s a Chilly Christmas After All and it stars the mute penguin Chilly Willy. Chilly Willy is a classic cartoon star and he still is here. His segment opens with him freezing in his igloo at the South Pole. He’s watching a weather report remarking how cold it is which also goes into a little detail on Santa’s upcoming voyage that night. The weatherman (Billy West) points out all of the warm climates Santa visits which apparently gives Chilly an idea. He races out of his igloo to the literal South Pole which is poking out of a hole in the ice. He slides down the pole and into the hole and re-emerges at the North Pole! There he finds Santa’s workshop, and inside is old foe Smedley (West doing a pretty good Daws Butler impression) the hound dog. Smedley has apparently taken up a job as Santa’s elf and he’s trying to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for tonight. If all goes well, he hopes to be brought along as Santa’s exclusive Christmas delivery helper.

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Better check it twice, Smedley.

As Smedley narrates his existence for our viewing benefit, Chilly slips in and dashes for Santa’s sack of toys. Smedley intercepts him and lightly admonishes him for trying to sneak a peek in Santa’s sack before tossing him outside. Chilly will then make further attempts to get into that sack, only for Smedley to catch him. Chilly in turn uses some violence to escape, at one point dropping a bowling ball on Smedley’s toe. Santa himself then enters and he seems pretty joyful and oblivious to what is going on here. He has Smedley go inspect the toy assembly line in preparation for departure and Smedley obliges. You would think this would present an easy opportunity for Chilly to just jump back into Santa’s sack, but comedy demands that he jump into the toy assembly line. He doesn’t escape Smedley’s notice though and is promptly tossed away.

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It is cartoon law that all toy planes are pilotable provided there is a character small enough to fit in it.

Chilly is forced to sneak back in where he finds Smedley putting the finishing touches on a model airplane. Chilly hops in and takes off forcing Smedley to ground the airplane. Apparently having enough, Smedley then breaks-out a home chemistry set to whip up some kind of adhesive to catch the penguin. As he does his thing, Chilly sneaks in behind dressed in a lab coat and blastshield and mixes up something dangerous looking. As Smedley continues adding ingredients to his concoction, he grabs the beaker containing Chilly’s mixture, informs us it’s nitroglycerine, and casually explodes. Santa sees Smedley all covered in soot and remarks that he looks in need of a rest and tells him to take the night off. Before Smedley can explain he doesn’t want that, Santa takes off (with only two reindeer – preposterous!) with Chilly along for the ride. Smedley tries to hang onto the sleigh, but that just results in him taking a nasty spill. As the sleigh flies away, he shouts for Santa to make sure that Chilly Willy gets nothing but coal!

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Poor Smedley just wanted to be a good elf.

Back at Chilly Willy’s igloo, the little penguin is standing outside bouncing a lump of coal off his flipper while Santa flies away. Don’t feel bad for old Chilly though, he heads back inside and tosses the coal into his fireplace. Santa left him with a mountain of the stuff which is apparently just what he wanted for Christmas.

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That’s a lot of coal.

Our final segment is another Woody Woodpecker cartoon titled Yule Get Yours. It opens with Woody at a toy store waiting in a line to see Santa. He’s impatient and the line is long, so he burrows under the carpet to emerge on Santa’s platform to get the big guy’s ear. This Santa is a lot rounder than the one we just saw in the previous cartoon, and he has an elf attendant voiced by Rob Paulsen. After Santa confirms that Woody is the bird who lives in a tree and laughs obnoxiously (my word, not his), the elf steps in to let him know he’s been very selfish this year. In fact, he’s been so bad he’s not only getting coal but also having his previous Christmas gifts repossessed.

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Woody is a bit of a dick in this one, which I actually prefer.

Dejected, Woody slumps his way down the street until he notices a video camera in a storefront. He decides if he video tapes himself doing good deeds tonight, it will be enough for Santa to put him on the good list. We then jump to Woody outside his neighbor Wally’s house where he removes a panel from Wally’s fence. He then turns the camera on to show him repairing the fence, but he ends up knocking the whole thing over by accident. Moving along, he heads to his other neighbor’s house, a Ms. Mimi, and tries to get himself on tape clearing her walkway of snow. As he uses a snowblower to tidy up, a delivery man shows up with a package. Seeing another opportunity for a good deed, Woody films himself signing for it. The package turns out to be a giant, decorated, Christmas tree and as  Woody carries it to the house he accidentally turns on the snowblower. It goes haywire and chases Woody around the yard. Eventually, he turns to smash it with the tree, but the snowblower just grinds the tree up.

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I don’t recommend using your own snowblower as a substitute wood chipper.

Failing once again to do a good deed, Woody decides to decorate Wally’s house with more lights. In order to do so he steals lights from the other houses in the neighborhood. When he turns on the lights, the circuitry gets overloaded and Wally’s house catches fire. Woody then grabs a hose from Ms. Mimi’s yard and races to her roof to water Wally’s house and put out the fire. Once the fire is out, he loses track of the hose which covers Ms. Mimi’s house in water. It freezes, then crumbles, and Woody is left under a pile of ice. The elf from earlier then walks in to point out the obvious – Woody is just trying to look good without actually being good, and in doing so he’s done a lot of harm. As Woody tries to plead his case, the elf tells him Santa will be by in five minutes and he can take it up with him.

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I hope Wally isn’t home.

Woody realizes he has to act fast if he wants to save his own Christmas. He scoops up the wood from Wally’s ruined fence and hastily reconstructs both houses out of it. They look like shit, and Santa soon arrives (still with two measly reindeer). He tries to land on one of the houses, but the wood breaks under the weight of the reindeer causing Santa to tumble out of the sky. Woody races to catch him and succeeds, but of course gets flattened by the bulbous man in the process. Nonetheless, Santa thanks him and is impressed with Woody’s selfless act. He goes on a bit about how wonderful an act it was or something before remarking he was wrong about Woody. As he flies away, he puts a finger to his nose. Suddenly, the houses are rebuilt and Woody’s house is flush with presents causing Woody to proclaim that Santa is “da man.” As Santa flies past the moon, he calls out a merry Christmas and laughs in a manner similar to Woody, who waves and returns the laughter. The end.

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This elf seems to delight in Woody’s failure.

I have some conflicting emotions about this one. First of all, I think it’s great Universal tried to bring Woody and the gang back in a new show. Woody mostly looks pretty good, and West is fine in the role. His voice may be pitched a touch too high, but the character is supposed to be annoying. The look of the show is pleasing enough. There are lots of bright, solid, colors on simple backgrounds. The animation is largely fine, save for maybe the reindeer which looked kind of shitty. My main issues are more with the creative direction. The first cartoon just wasn’t very funny and none of the gags were memorable. The second Woody cartoon was a bit more interesting, and I prefer a more rascally Woody, but the resolution was pretty stupid. Santa even says Woody’s heart was in the right place – no, it wasn’t, you dope! I probably liked the Chilly Willy segment the best. It didn’t contain any physical comedy bits that haven’t been done before, but the general look was better and the format lended itself well to the gag-centered pace.

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You were bad and you should feel bad, Woody!

Before this I had never watched this show for more than a minute. I don’t feel like I missed out, but it does make me want to revisit some classic Woody shorts as I haven’t seen those in decades. I’ve never really heard anybody talk about this show, and I can kind of see why. I don’t want to judge it on one episode, but it didn’t leave me with a great impression.

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Needs more deer.

The New Woody Woodpecker Show hasn’t received a home video release outside of the first 13 episodes. It was on Netflix for a time, but now is not. If you want to watch this one though, there’s an official Woody Woodpecker Show channel on YouTube and it streams a lot of content for free, including this one. There are a bunch of ads inserted into it, but you get what you (don’t) pay for.


Dec. 19 – The Ren & Stimpy Show: A Scooter for Yaksmas

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Original air date December 16, 1996

The Ren & Stimpy Show seemed to delight in being absurd and perverse. It’s then no surprise that it’s two Christmas specials center around farts and a drunk who delivers pre-chewed gum and sausage. “A Scooter for Yaksmas” is from the Bob Camp era of the show and is the final episode to premiere on Nickelodeon. As the title implies, this is a parody of Christmas and not a true Christmas episode, but it counts for the purposes of this countdown. It’s also a call-back to an earlier filler short of Yak Shaving Day from the show in which a yak pilots a canoe through the night air and enters the home of children to shave. And it’s also a re-debut of sorts for Stinky Whizzleteats, the singer of “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy.” As we shall see in this episode, the concept of Yaksmas has been expanded to more closely resemble Christmas.

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The object of Stimpy’s desires.

The episode opens with Stimpy working at the Cobbco factory making tongue depressors, or popsicle sticks if you prefer. He uses an absurd amount of wood to create just one stick, then discards it when it contains a crack into a comically high pile of rejected sticks. When the whistle blows he happily races to payroll where he is paid in popsicle sticks and gets a bonus half a stick (in addition to his usual one) for Yaksmas. As he giddily leaves work he admires the Yaksmas decor and seasonal traits:  soot in the air, children building soot-men, a street vendor selling roasted rubber bands. I’m not sure if this is supposed to just be seen as weird and the opposite of Christmas or if it’s a commentary on factory life in middle America and how those once wrecked the local ecosystem. It’s probably the first one.

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He really wants that scooter.

Before heading home, Stimpy stops at a store window to gaze longingly at a scooter. He promises the scooter that they will soon be together before heading home. There he covers the house in obvious hints for his pal Ren that he wants a scooter for Yaksmas. He lays a note across the toilet seat, puts up neon signs, and even wears a giant one on his head when he sits across from Ren at dinner. Ren doesn’t acknowledge the “hints” and even emerges from the bathroom with the sign stuck to his butt. Stimpy does not appear phased or disheartened in the least, being the eternal optimist. He tells Ren they need to get ready for bed or else Stinky Whizzleteats won’t visit their house and leave them sausage and pre-chewed gum. Getting ready includes making the house valuables easily accessible, leaving a place for Stinky to pass out on the front lawn, and decorating the Yaksmas stump and hanging long underwear. Ren admonishes Stimpy for being childish, but still lets Stimpy dress him in the appropriate sleeping attire – a bunny costume (Stimpy sleeps beside him in a tuxedo).

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The traditional Yaksmas stump.

During the night, Stimpy’s faith is rewarded as the Yak, piloting a magical sausage cart, brings Stinky to the house. Stinky is clearly drunk and vomits more than once. They clear out the fridge of mayonnaise, pickles, and other stuff that shouldn’t be combined with those before passing out on the lawn. Stinky and the Yak deliver though and fill the pair’s underwear with cooked sausage and pre-chewed gum. When morning arrives, Ren and Stimpy giddily bounce down the stairs, landing on their heads as the song commands (this whole sequence is set to music), and enjoy a heaping helping of their goodies. Stimpy suggests they exchange gifts and Ren agrees. For Yaksmas, Stimpy gives Ren exactly what he wanted (which he threatened with death) – a jewel-encrusted golden statue of the Queen of England. Ren is delighted and Stimpy is ever eager for his gift. Before Ren can produce it, Stimpy runs off-camera to grab his helmet and straps it on. As he trembles with anticipation Ren produces a box much too small to house a scooter. Stimpy’s demeanor immediately changes, but he’s much too polite to actually say anything mean to Ren. Instead he shakes violently as he opens the box and every soft curve of his body is now a squiggle. Inside the box is another box of popsicle sticks. Stimpy remarks it’s a thoughtful gift, as the background reveals an entire wall in their home lined with the things. He says he needs to step out for some gum, and disappears, Ren is completely oblivious to his friend’s distress. This entire sequence is easily the episode’s highlight in terms of animation as Stimpy’s disappointment, rage, and conscience wage war across his body.

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The yak and Stinky hard at work.

Stimpy returns to the store window to apologize to the scooter that they are not together. He’s illustrated in a real rough manner and even has nipples and man-boobs briefly. He loses his cool and pounds on the glass in despair, only for it to break and the scooter land in his arms. An elderly woman nearby sees it and immediately accuses Stimpy of thievery. A cop shows up and Stimpy panics, choosing to flee via scooter. The cop and old lady chase after him with the cop remarking that Stimpy will be taken dead or alive for stealing a $39 scooter. This feels depressingly topical right now.

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Stimpy on the run from the law.

Stimpy is able to escape the lawman and hides out under a bridge with his ill-gotten scooter. He falls asleep and has a nightmare about being caught and forced to sit in an interrogation room. There he’s accused and humiliated by the police, Ren, Stinky, and others. A cop says he stole the scooter he was going to buy for his sick daughter, and commands Stimpy “and now look at her,” and a decrepit looking marionette falls into view. I wonder if this was supposed to be a corpse or something and the censors wouldn’t allow it as it’s pretty weird as-is. I do appreciate how child-like Stimpy is portrayed, and his internal fears seem to be exactly what a kid would fear if in this otherwise implausible situation. Stimpy awakes from his dream in distress, and decides to go seek help from Ren as he’ll know what to do.

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Ren being Ren.

When Stimpy returns home he sees a news crew and they’re interviewing Ren. Predictably, Ren has turned on his best pal in order for his five minutes of fame in front of the camera. Stimpy is forced to run before anyone sees him and decides he needs to disguise himself if he’s to be a fugitive and dresses in a leopard-print vest and a wig that resembles Moe of the Three Stooges. Now disguised, Stimpy asserts that only one person can help him now:  Stinky Whizzleteats.

While on the run, Stimpy crashes into an oaf. Fearing he killed the poor guy, Stimpy weeps only for the large lad to declare he’s fine. They strike up a quick friendship in which Stimpy convinces the lad he’s a CIA agent that needs to deliver the scooter to Stinky. As the oaf, riding on the handlebars despite his monstrous size, gazes back at Stimpy a wanted poster collides with Stimpy’s face and the image on the poster perfectly aligns with Stimpy’s actual face. He screams and runs off shouting for the police and Stimpy is forced to forge on ahead – alone. As he races on, the front tire blows out on his scooter and Stimpy loses control crashing into a pole. Stimpy arises from the wreck only to see he has crashed into The West Pole Motel! Joy! This is the apparent home of Stinky Whizzleteats, but Stimpy’s joy is turned dark when he sees his beloved stolen scooter in shambles.

Stimpy lovingly gathers the poor scooter into his arms and heads into the motel to find Stinky and his yak passed out inside. He then spies a gift in the corner. Upon closer inspection it bares a tag reading “To: Stimpy, From: Ren.” Stimpy immediately tears the paper off to reveal a brand new scooter! Ren didn’t ignore the pleas of his friend, Stinky simply forgot to deliver it! Then Stimpy turns to his stolen scooter, and assuring it Stinky can fix him, he giddily climbs atop his new scooter and rides off. Just as he leaves, the police show up at the motel smashing into it and find Stinky asleep inside with the stolen scooter.

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All’s well that ends well.

Stimpy and Ren are then shown happily enjoying a scooter ride with Ren’s gigantic statue of the queen. Stimpy remarks he has his new scooter and his good name back and wishes everyone a merry Yaksmas. The yak and Stinky then go screaming past on their busted up scooter and the holes through their bodies imply some police brutality as our special comes to an end.

“A Scooter for Yaksmas” is an incredibly silly parody of Christmas with a little dash of A Christmas Story tossed in for good measure. Stimpy, being a pure-hearted soul, is actually a good protagonist for a Christmas special and even though he spends half of it on the run from the law it’s still nice to see him a bit happier than he was in the previous Christmas special, “Son of Stimpy.” Ren is barely in it, but when he is he serves his role of just being a mostly unkind jerk who takes his friend for granted, but he is some-what redeemed by the end even though he wasn’t at all concerned with the missing gift on Yaksmas morning. The sequence with the oaf feels like padding, I guess the only purpose he serves is to show us that the cops are still on Stimpy’s trail? He knew where Stimpy was heading, not that this show really needs to explain how the cops show up at the motel in the end. The musical number depicting Yaksmas is probably the episode’s highlight. While it isn’t on the same level as “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” it’s still pretty entertaining. Speaking of that song, I did appreciate them using Stinky Whizzleteats in the Santa role, as I don’t recall seeing him in-between the debut of his now classic song and this episode. As for low points, the backgrounds in this episode are particularly bare. The show often went minimalist with the backgrounds as a matter of style, but here it seems like they went way too far with that.

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Oh, God what is that?!

Overall, I’m not sure which of the two Christmas specials I prefer when it comes to The Ren & Stimpy Show. This one is better than I remembered as it aired when I had kind of lost track of the show, though I did see it when it was originally broadcast. “Son of Stimpy” basically plays the story straight with the humor coming from the fact that we’re talking about a lost fart (also named Stinky) trying to get back to the cat that dealt it. This episode is just silly, which might make it more entertaining. If you want to watch either this holiday season, you may have better luck tracking down the DVDs or streaming them. Nickelodeon’s retro block The Splat seems to rarely play The Ren & Stimpy Show, perhaps feeling it’s just too controversial (which seems ridiculous for a late night block that happily plays Rocko’s Modern Life, even if it chooses to censor some of the episodes) so it unfortunately can’t be counted on to play the christmas specials from this show.


Dec. 12 – The Futurama Holiday Spectacular

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Presented by Gundersons!

Back before the advent of home video, when a show aired you either saw it or you didn’t. Miss something all of your friends were talking about the next day and you were at the whim of re-runs until your favorite show hit syndication – if it hit syndication. When VCRs were popularized you had the option of recording television shows for later use, but re-watching a show was a great deal more difficult than it is now. When children’s shows were sold on VHS they were usually obnoxiously expensive costing upwards of twenty dollars for an episode or two. The home video market for television just wasn’t something studios paid much attention to, at least not until DVD made it a whole lot easier, and cheaper, to sell television shows to fans.

Futurama owes a great deal to home video and syndication. When the show originally debuted on the Fox Network it struggled to find consistent air time. Often banished to that time-slot before The Simpsons on Sunday nights, it was the first thing bumped if an NFL game ran too long. Many blame the poor time-slots of the show on its lack of success, because once the show was cancelled and appearing in syndication on Cartoon Network’s adult swim block, it suddenly found an audience. DVDs of the first few seasons sold well enough that Fox brought the series back, as it did with Family Guy before it. The only change was that Fox declined to broadcast the new shows and instead optioned the series to Comedy Central, who would eventually gain control of the first four seasons from Cartoon Network. After four direct-to-video Futurama movies were released, the show returned with “Re-birth” in 2010 and would run for two more seasons totaling 52 episodes.

During its original run, Futurama gave birth to two Christmas specials – “Xmas Story” and “A Tale of Two Santas.” For the return season we were gifted with “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular.” The general opinion by most fans is that the post-cancellation episodes are inferior when compared with the pre-cancellation ones. There are of course those who feel the show came back better than ever, or at least as good as it always was, but I tend to agree with those who feel the post-cancellation episodes were lacking when compared with the others. In that sense, “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” is similar because it’s not as good as the previous two Christmas specials (I guess I should say Xmas Specials), but it’s still an enjoyable episode with some good holiday jokes and puns.

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The crew preparing for Xmas, with an obvious Gundersons tie-in to keep that joke running.

Unlike the first two Xmas specials, this one is a non-canon anthology episode like the Anthology of Interest episodes and the anthology ones that followed. It’s broken up into three segments that focus on three holidays. Only the first one is an Xmas story and the homicidal Robot Santa makes a return in this segment. The second segment concerns Bender’s made up holiday, Robanukah, which he came up with as an excuse to avoid work in the season one episode “Fear of a Bot Planet.” And the third segment is about Kwanzaa with Hermes being a celebrator of that holiday. It also features the return of Kwanzaa-bot, voiced by Coolio, who first appeared in “A Tale of Two Santas.”

Our first segment opens with an ad for Gunderson’s Nuts – they’re “nut” so good, as we pan around the Planet Express headquarters. Inside the crew is decorating for Xmas and Fry is feeling blue, much like he was back in “Xmas Story.” He’s just down because the future version of Xmas is more about survival than good cheer, and we’re soon visited by Robot Santa after Fry asks for everyone to, once again, explain this crazy holiday and do it preferably through song. A little song is sung and we get some visual gags of fruit cake bombs and egg nog molotov cocktails. Robot Santa enters and departs just as quickly, letting them know that to properly celebrate Xmas they need a “tree that’s coniferous.” Also, Scruffy dies.

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The White House Xmas tree isn’t very impressive in the year 3010.

Fry wants to get a real Xmas tree, but Professor Farnsworth explains that the pine tree has been extinct for generations and that they’ll need to head to a seed vault in Norway. Gaining access to the vault is surprisingly easy as the guard, surrounded by barking snakes in a callback to the first segment, is willing to let them in to rummage about. Next door to the vault is the germ warfare vault and Leela expresses concerns about cross-contamination with the seeds. Inside, the guard happily gives them some pine tree seeds and reveals the tree is extinct due to an emergency toilet paper need during the Fifty Year Squirts. Amy notices the seeds have traces of green crud, but no  one is overly concerned.

Back home, Fry plants his seeds and a year later we see he has a sickly looking pine tree for his efforts. Passer-by’s think it looks great, including President Nixon who is immediately advised by Vice President Dick Cheney that he needs to steal it to improve his poll numbers. He apparently does, because soon after The White House is hosting a tree lighting ceremony, and very much like A Charlie Brown Christmas, the sickly little tree suddenly appears a lot more full once decorated. Fry and the gang are there too, so apparently they weren’t too sore about their tree being stolen, but soon the tree grows massive. It was apparently mutated by being stored near the germ warfare containment vault (duh!), and at first Leela thinks it might be a good thing it mutated since it suddenly looks a lot more healthy than it did before. Soon it starts shooting off pine cones, pine cones that in addition to exploding also lead to massive reforestation.

Soon the entire planet is covered in pine trees. Leela, ever the optimist, still believes this could be a good thing and the Professor remarks that global warming has all but been eradicated as a result, and we get our required Al Gore cameo here. The Professor quickly realizes that oxygen levels are climbing dangerously high, and Bender remarks that he hasn’t done anything for awhile and lights a cigar. The air starts to sparkle before it catches fire and we get a view from space of the whole word being destroyed. Robot Santa flies into view laughing about how everyone is dead and tells us to stay tuned for more hilarity!

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Robanukah features six and a half weeks of fembot oil wrestling, let the good times roll!

The second segment centers on Bender’s made-up holiday Robanukah. It’s just after Xmas and Professor Farnsworth remarks they need to destroy all of the Xmas gifts they failed to deliver. Bender immediately gets salty about how they have to celebrate every dumb human holiday but not the robot ones. Everyone is well aware that Bender’s holiday was made up by him to avoid work, but that doesn’t stop Bender from singing a song about Robanukah in a bid to legitimize it. During that song we get a taste of the holiday and it basically takes all of the Chanukah customs and perverts them, most notably by including six and a half weeks of fembot oil wrestling. When Bender finds out they only have enough petroleum oil for four and a half weeks of wrestling, he makes the crew set out to acquire more.

At Mombil, they learn that petroleum oil is all gone, and Al Gore pops in again to reprimand the viewers that he warned this would happen. Bender isn’t satisfied and is determined to find more petroleum oil and he makes the crew head for the center of the earth. There they drill for oil, but the intense pressure kills everyone except Bender. Five-hundred million years pass and Bender, after apparently occupying his time by singing about how great he is, notices his friends have become petroleum oil. He heads back to HQ with his oil friends to find the two fembots still wrestling in oil – a Robanukah miracle!

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It wouldn’t be Kwanzaa without Kwanzaa-bot and beeswax candles.

Our third segment opens with the Planet Express crew arriving at the home of the Konrads and Leela is concerned her chocolate cake may be offensive in some way. They are there for Kwanzaa, and even Barbados Slim shows up shirtless and covered in snow, much to the dismay of Hermes. When everyone is gathered for dinner, it’s decided we need our third song of the episode to explain the holiday featured in the segment, so Kwanzaa-bot bursts in Kool-Aid style to rap about the holiday. The joke of the song is that even he isn’t completely sure about anything concerning the holiday, but he does know they need authentic beeswax candles to celebrate or else they might as well be white. It’s noticed that the Konrads do not have authentic candles, so Hermes takes the crew out to acquire some on the last night of Kwanzaa.

Like the trees and oil, beeswax proves hard to come by and the crew is forced to return to the hive from “The Sting” to get the necessary wax to create their candles. There they find the space bees have been infected by some kind of mite and they’re in some distress. The mites are causing the drones to crash and explode, and the workers are at odds with each other. The queen bee is the only one who appears unaffected, despite the presence of mites on her, and she explains the situation to Hermes. During this, Leela is able to acquire plenty of beeswax but Hermes can’t leave the bees like this, not on Kwanzaa! He explains the meaning of Kwanzaa to the bees, and his message of unity together with the spirit of Kwanzaa causes the bees to embrace each other and the mites to fall off and die. With their minds fully functioning once more, the bees turn their attention to the Planet Express crew. Kwanzaa-bot returns offscreen to save them, and is quickly killed, also offscreen. The bees attack and we fade to black and re-emerge to be wished a Happy Kwanzaa by Hermes who is encased in wax. The camera pans back to reveal the entire crew as wax candles and a curtain falls on the special.

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Al Gore is a reoccurring presence throughout the episode, and even gets to close the show.

Al Gore emerges, still as a floating head, to assure us, the viewers, that the crew will return next year in all new episodes. We get one final send-off from Gunderson’s, and the holiday special is ended. In re-watching it for this post I will say this episode is funnier than I remember. It still suffers from too much fan-service as many jokes exist just as a call-back to an older season (“My ice cream man-which!”) which just feels kind of lazy. There’s still plenty of witty dialogue and exchanges between characters, but the anthology format sacrifices pay-off as the stories are forced to be quick and concise with less room for everything, including jokes.

As a Christmas special, “The Futurama Holiday Spectacular” is mostly underwhelming because only a third of it is devoted to Christmas, and a bastardized version of the holiday at that. And with most of the Xmas parody handled by the past episodes, there’s little left for the show to tackle here. The inclusion of songs is the easiest form of parody, but they sometimes feel too much like padding as not a lot happens in these short segments. The best Futurama episodes are able to be funny while telling a meaningful story containing characters we genuinely care about. I suppose killing off these characters in three separate segments is kind of a play on holiday specials itself, but it’s not really as funny as it could be. It’s cool that they found room for more holiday lampooning, and not just Christmas, even if the Kwanzaa jokes felt a bit too easy. There’s always room for more holidays, as far as I’m concerned, and it’s the most obvious aspect of this special that makes it stand out. Criticisms aside, this one may do little to evoke the Christmas spirit, but it’s still a worthwhile inclusion in your annual holiday viewing.

If you want to watch this one this year, Futurama is shown on Comedy Central and they will play the crap out of the Christmas episodes (as of this update, the episode is scheduled to air Thursday December 21 at 5:20 PM EST). The show is also now syndicated on the Syfy channel and that channel is also set to air the Christmas specials this year. Syfy is showing a Christmas Eve marathon of Futurama including all of the movies and ending with the three Christmas specials. This one will be last to air at midnight, right when Santa is arriving!


#3 Best in TV Animation: Futurama

FuturamaWhen Futurama was first announced I didn’t think much of it. It felt like an unofficial spin-off of The Simpsons with a stupid title. The premise, a 20th century slacker getting cryogenically frozen to awake in the 30th century, probably should have interested me more than it did. As a result, I, along with most of America, mostly ignored the show during its initial run. Only when re-runs started surfacing on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block of programming did I truly give the show a chance. And what do you know? – I loved it!

Futurama follows the exploits of Fry, Bender, Leela, and the rest of the Planet Express package delivery crew as they parade around the universe getting into more trouble than a normal package delivery company would expect to. Like The Simpsons, Futurama relies on satire and a diverse cast of characters for its humor, and setting the series a thousand years in the future actually makes the satire come rather easy. It’s almost as if show runners Matt Groening and David X. Cohen watched Back to the Future Part II and decided a show that centers entirely on the future portion of that film would be a great idea. The future is a lot like our present, only America essentially rules the entire globe with President Nixon, now a head preserved in a jar, coming into power early in the show’s life. There’s also the Democratic Order Of Planets, or DOOP, which attempts to police the entire known universe with the incompetent Zapp Brannigan as its leading general. Robots handle a lot of the menial labor on earth with relations between humans and robots tenuous at best.

This picture essentially tells you all you need to know about Bender.

This picture essentially tells you all you need to know about Bender.

The principal cast revolves around the Planet Express crew itself. Fry (Billy West) is the main protagonist who is time-displaced due to a mishap in 1999 and doesn’t seem to mind it all that match. He’s a well-meaning but plainly stupid sort of character. His best friend is the robot Bender (John DiMaggio), who would rather chain smoke and steal than actually do any work around the office. Leela (Katie Sagal) is the pilot of the Planet Express ship and nominal love interest of Fry, a subplot that actually takes quite a while to fully develop. She also happens to be a one-eyed mutant. Professor Farnsworth (also voiced by West) runs the company (mostly incompetently) with the help of Hermes Conrad (Phil LaMarr), Amy Wong (Tress MacNeil)e, and Dr. Zoidberg (West). As you may have noticed, the voice cast is pretty well stocked with talented individuals, some who made a name for themselves with Groening’s Simpsons. West is the obvious star and one of the very best at his craft, but everyone is pretty top-notch making Futurama arguably the most well-voiced program in the history of animation.

Visually, the show is excellent and for most of its run was superior to its predecessor, The Simpsons. Fox clearly was pretty generous with the budget for the show’s first four seasons as traditional hand-drawn animation was blended well with computer-aided visuals where appropriate. The show is bright and vibrant and the setting helps to give it a unique look. As expected, there are some pretty standard tropes of the future setting like transportation tubes and laser weapons to go along the obvious hover cars. The show doesn’t make too many attempts at actually predicting the future, and given the setting is a thousand years away there’s little need to. The various aliens and robots are usually pretty fun to take-in and is where most of the show’s visual creativity ends up being on display.

Billy West lends his voice to many characters on the show.

Billy West lends his voice to many characters on the show.

Most importantly, the show is just plain funny. The characters tend to work well with each other. Fry and Bender are often the ones getting into mischief, and early in the show’s run, Leela was often left to play the straight man (woman). Bender is the unofficial star of the show as his general selfishness and law-breaking ways make him both hilarious and popular in the same way Bart Simpson did ten years prior, only with the debauchery and lewdness magnified considerably. Dr. Zoidberg, likely the universe’s worst doctor, is often a source of humor at the character’s expense considering he is both poor and foul-smelling. Professor Farnsworth is probably my pick for the most unsung hero of the cast. Whenever the show turns to him for a one-liner or a visual gag he seems to always deliver. The simple delivery of his “Tell them I hate them,” from “Fry and The Slurm Factory” gets me every time.

Where the show really found a way to separate itself from others is with its heart. It sounds sappy, but the show is surprisingly effective when it wants to make the viewer experience something other than laughter. The first episode where the show really successfully delivered on such was the Fry-centric “The Luck of the Fryish.” In that episode, Fry finds out his brother essentially stole his identity after he was frozen and basically lived out all of Fry’s dreams while becoming a national treasure. He owed it all to Fry’s lucky seven-leaf clover. Fry, in anger, wants his clover back and will go to great lengths to get it back, even if it means digging up his brother’s corpse. There’s a twist in the end and good luck keeping your eyes dry when it comes about. Of course, the show’s most infamous episode in this style is “Jurassic Bark,” in which we find out what happened to Fry’s dog, Seymour, after he was frozen and left him behind. I still remember the first time I caught the episode on television and the ending really snuck up on me and obviously made an impact. In general, the show does a really strong job of finding the humor in almost any situation. And even when the characters have to do something mean for laughs, the show is able to keep them from straying too far from a moral baseline so that the audience never turns against them. Even Bender has his moments where he does something nice.

Like The Simpsons, Futurama's cast became exceptionally large.

Like The Simpsons, Futurama’s cast became exceptionally large.

Futurama was originally unsuccessful during its initial run on Fox, though it did manage to last for the better part of four seasons. After the reruns performed well for Cartoon Network and DVD sales excelled, the show went the direct-to-video route with four feature-length films. They would eventually be chopped up into episodes that aired on Comedy Central, who picked up the show for an additional three seasons. Having the show come back from the dead was pretty awesome, but you would have a hard time finding a Futurama fan that felt the post-cancellation episodes were up to the same standards of quality as the first four seasons. Still, there were episodes here and there that stood out and subpar Futurama is better than most shows. The show ended with its 140th episode, a healthy run by any standard. In those 140 episodes the show made a bigger impact than all but two others, according to this list, and really stand among all television shows, animated or otherwise, as being among the very best.


#9 Best in TV Animation: The Ren & Stimpy Show

renstimpylogoThe thumping bass line leads into a frantic percussion section punctuated with a quick strike of a guitar and The Ren & Stimpy Show is on! The third and most unique of Nickelodeon’s early 90’s Nicktoons, the show was a throwback to the Golden Era of cartoons embodied by directors such as Chuck Jones and Tex Avery. This was a show for animators, for cartoon lovers, for people that wanted a show to just make them laugh. The process of creating an episode, from start to finish, was handled by one director and just a few writers who bounced ideas off one another. There was no rigid, segmented process where every aspect of the show had to be overseen by a specialist and there was no nefarious merchandizing gimmick turning the program into an extended commercial. The Ren & Stimpy Show simply existed for the love of it.

The early days of Nickeldeon consisted of live-action programming mixed in with educational programming for young children. The animation came from outside sources with the most notable being the Looney Tunes package program featuring classic cartoons. As the network grew, the desire to produce its own cartoons naturally arose and thus the Nicktoons were born. Consisting originally of Doug, Rugrats, and The Ren & Stimpy Show, the block first began airing on Sunday morning in 1991 and were so successful that they ended up being just the first in a long line of cartoons. While Doug and Rugrats were fairly tame in their approach to entertainment, Ren & Stimpy stood out for their crass, gross-out style of humor that would eventually land them on Nick’s late-night block of Saturday night programming and even a handful of MTV appearances.

Ren's rotting teeth, as seen here, are an example of the highly detailed (and often gross) still images the show would make use of.

Ren’s rotting teeth, as seen here, are an example of the highly detailed (and often gross) still images the show would make use of.

Conceived primarily by animator John Kricfalusi, Ren and Stimpy were atypical characters existing in a fairly typical format. They were a natural odd couple, being a dog and cat, but broke the mold in a sense by being rather unappealing to look at. Ren, gangly and liver-spotted, resembled a mosquito more than a chihuahua at times while Stimpy was a cat in name only. Rotund with a big, blue nose, he had no worries of being mistaken for Sylvester or Tom. The show was a half-hour program but mostly consisted of two shorts that would drop Ren and Stimpy into completely new environments with no continuity from one episode to the next. In fact, several episodes ended with the characters in hopeless situations or even implied death

The show’s intention was to make the viewer laugh. There were some bits of sentimentality tossed in to appease the network, but mostly the show wanted to be funny in the most obnoxious way possible. The characters often screamed with Ren in particular prone to violent tirades. Stimpy was the dumb one with a good heart while Ren often abused him both physically and emotionally. The show was able to retain its humor because Ren usually got what was coming to him making the show feel like it earned the laughs that came at Stimpy’s expense. The show often resorted to gross imagery for its humor. Stimpy would frequently cough up a lumpy hairball or show viewers his collection of snot he kept under a coffee table. Kitty littler featured prominently in multiple episodes with characters even eating the stuff right out of the litter box. By far, the show’s most memorable gross gag was the long-running extreme and highly detailed close-up shots of characters. These still images usually depicted characters at their worst with bloodshot eyes and hairy moles. The most memorable may have been when Ren revealed a mouth full of rotting teeth in response to Stimpy’s proper dental hygiene.

Because of its penchant for violence and toilet humor, Kricfalusi often found himself battling with standards and practices at Nickelodeon. One very memorable episode featured the characters playing a board game called “Don’t Wiz on the Electric Fence” climaxing with Ren doing just as the box suggested he not do and all the characters being sent to Hell. Another episode, “Man’s Best Friend,” climaxes with Ren violently beating a man with an oar. The animation goes into slow-motion as Ren strikes the man and his head violently squishes and twists with each strike of the oar. It’s the episode often cited as being the last straw for Kricfalusi, who was fired by Nickelodeon in 1992, barely a year after the first episode aired.

Nickelodeon would turn to co-creator Bob Camp to head up the show for the remainder of its run through 1995. Voice acting dynamo Billy West, originally hired to voice Stimpy, took over as Ren and added to his impressive resume (though one wonders what lasting damage all of the screaming from this show did to his vocal chords). Still, without Kricfalusi the show was doomed. It was still capable of making people laugh at times but it often felt directionless, even pointless.

The background was often used as a tool to heighten the emotion and intensity of the onscreen action as opposed to merely being a set piece.

The background was often used as a tool to heighten the emotion and intensity of the onscreen action as opposed to merely being a set piece.

From an animated perspective, the show was quite excellent. Everything was hand-drawn and the backgrounds often popped with detail. The show was not afraid to borrow from several styles of art, even abstract. In addition to the detailed still shot the show was known for, there was also frequent use of emotive backgrounds, usually when a character screamed or was frightened. Instead of the standard background being present, it might be a splatter effect or just splotches of color. Music was a big part of the show as well. The jazzy theme song was unmistakeable, and some of the show’s most iconic scenes include song such as the “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” segment from “Stimpy’s Invention” or the theme for the Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen. The music and visual effects all came together to help give the show it’s off the wall vibe.

The Ren & Stimpy Show could be described as one of those programs, or events, that burned too hot for it to last long. It may have remained in production until 1995, but the show’s creative output was only at its peak for a year or so. For that reason, it’s inclusion on such a list as this one could be debated, but it left such a mark on the 1990’s that it felt too hard to exclude. Many shows would follow and try to imitate what The Ren & Stimpy Show started but virtually none of them succeeded. Even Kricfalusi tried reviving the show in 2003 as an adult-oriented comedy program but the magic was long gone. It’s possible Ren and his pal Stimpy were simply not meant to last as long as Bugs or Daffy, but for the short while they were around they made an impact and their cartoons stand the test of time.


The Ren & Stimpy Show: Seasons 1 & 2

51KRQ4AZ4SL._SY300_It’s probably safe to say that there has never been a more controversial Nickelodeon show than Ren & Stimpy. Conceived by John Kricfalusi and his team of writers/animators at Spumco, The Ren & Stimpy show was a throwback to the days of Tex Avery and Chuck Jones when cartoons didn’t need a message or contain any sort of educational content. Beyond the format, there were numerous controversies behind the scenes as well as Spumco was slow to deliver new episodes and John K. was constantly fighting with the censors at Nick over the content of his show, eventually leading to his firing with Nickelodeon/Viacom still holding the rights to the characters. Because of this, seasons 1 and 2 of The Ren & Stimpy Show are easily the seasons held in the highest regard by cartoon fans as they’re the only two series creator John K. worked on. The show would last another 34 episodes after John K’s firing and would eventually be revived in the new millennium when the rights reverted back to Kricfalusi as the short-lived Adult Party Cartoon. Kricfalusi’s right-hand man, Bob Camp, remained onboard with Nickelodeon and there were some good episodes released in season 3 and beyond, but the best was definitely contained in the first two seasons.

Ren & Stimpy was another take on the venerable cat and dog genre of comics and cartoons. The two were designed to play off each other with Ren being the smart, cunning, and less conscionable one, and Stimpy the dim-witted, good-natured character. There was no continuity from one short to the next allowing Ren and Stimpy to hold-down whatever kind of job fit the mood of the short, live in any part of the world, or just plain exist in a more ridiculous version of reality than the next. Sometimes they lived in a house, sometimes a trailer, sometimes a tree, though usually they were poor and sometimes even homeless (as was the case in the pilot). Spumco’s addition to the genre was more gross-out humor, more surrealist imagery, and just out and out lunacy. Save for perhaps Marvin The Martian, most Loony Tunes shorts occurred in reality with anthropomorphic characters. There were different rules for physics, and firearms certainly never functioned as intended, but there did seem to be clearly defined rules. The Ren & Stimpy show shunned such rules. Ren, in particular, seemed to lack a definite form as his face and body would constantly change shape to suit the scene. Expression was important to John K. and his characters often exhibited new and interesting expressions, with Kricfalusi allegedly demanding his animators not repeat expressions in subsequent cartoons. The backgrounds often lacked form and were more interested in surrealism. The pilot, “Big House Blues,” is probably the best example of this. Whether it was by design or to keep costs down, I’m not sure, but it added a unique dimension to the show.

Backgrounds weren't always clearly defined and often used to evoke a certain emotion.

Backgrounds weren’t always clearly defined and often used to evoke a certain emotion.

Aside form the presentation aspects, The Ren & Stimpy Show differentiated itself from other programs of its day and past with its own brand of humor. Violence was a staple of the program with Ren often getting irritated with Stimpy and resorting to slapping him across the face while berating him for being a “fat, bloated, eeeediot!” Even the characters would react to a situation in a violent fashion with their eyes bugging out impossibly far and their brain smashing through their skull. The show also delighted in poking fun at its audience by creating parody commercials for children’s products that really weren’t that far off from the real thing (I bet 90% of the viewing audience wanted some powdered toast). There was also plenty of gross gags throughout the show. The gross humor is probably what the show is remembered for best over 20 years since its debut. If it wasn’t Stimpy’s hairballs making you gag, it was the close-up still shots of characters like the fat lady from “Fire Dogs.” These hyper-detailed, unanimated sights, were another unique feature of the show often utilized to show just how ugly the world of Ren & Stimpy was. There was plenty of scatological humor as well surrounding used kitty litter or even Stimpy’s personified fart.

It should be pretty obvious at this point that The Ren & Stimpy Show was not for everyone. For those of us who grew up with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, it wasn’t such a radical departure but the inclusion of the gross elements turned off a lot of the older generation. Kids like gross stuff though, well, some do. I was probably the right age when the show premiered for it to leave an impression on me. Sometimes the humor was over my head, and it took me several years to notice the not-so-subtle homosexual innuendo between the main characters, but for the most part I got it and it worked for me. And now when I re-watch it, it’s almost better because a part of me is surprised at just how much made it to air and how Ren & Stimpy couldn’t exist in today’s world. Seasons 1 and 2, in particular, hold a special place in my heart. I watched the show until the end, but these episodes are the ones I remember the best and the ones I enjoyed the most. If I were to make a top ten list of my favorite Ren & Stimpy cartoons, all ten would likely come from this set.

The show often utilized highly detailed still shots to illustrate gross imagery.

The show often utilized highly detailed still shots to illustrate gross imagery.

The first DVD release of The Ren & Stimpy Show took awhile to arrive, and when it finally did it was greeted with a mixed reaction. Not because of the episode selection though. Sorted in their original air date order, the episodes span the best of the era. There’s “Stimpy’s Invention” and its memorable “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” sequence. There’s the visit from Ren’s cousin Sven and the absurdity of that ending. The trilogy of Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy are here as well, along with other notable episodes such as “Rubber Nipple Salesmen,” “Fire Dogs,” and “In the Army.” This set basically could be titled the John K. era, and while John K. proved with the Adult Party Cartoon that he didn’t exactly possess the golden touch, the show was at its best when he was in control and voicing Ren. His Ren is a little more sinister sounding than Billy West’s, who voiced Stimpy and would voice Ren for season three and beyond (he also voiced him in a couple of season two episodes, though I am not certain why). The show embodied those surrealist elements more freely under John K’s watch and following his departure the show focused in more on the gross aspects. It lost a little bit of its soul, but I suppose that should have been expected.

The show created other stars other than just Ren and Stimpy, probably none no bigger than Powdered Toast Man.

The show created other stars other than just Ren and Stimpy, probably none no bigger than Powdered Toast Man.

This DVD set’s biggest selling point was the inclusion of the original pilot and the infamous “banned” episode, “Man’s Best Friend,” starring George Liquor. Emblazoned in bold letters on the cover of the DVD is the word “UNCUT” designed to grab the attention of any who see it. What isn’t explained, is that the word only applies to a select few episodes. By the time this DVD was created, Ren & Stimpy were airing on the Spike network in conjunction with the new Adult Party Cartoon. The Adult cartoon was cancelled almost immediately, but Spike continued to air what it dubbed the “Remastered Classics” of old Ren & Stimpy cartoons. Unfortunately, the television landscape had changed and Spike demanded more time for commercials so these remastered classics were less remastered, and would have been more appropriately titled as edited for time. These new masters served as the basis for most of this set and some things were lost. “Ren’s Toothache” seems to be the biggest casualty as much of Stimpy’s oral hygiene sequence is missing, which was an excellent example of the show’s use of sound effects to create an uncomfortable reaction. The other big victim is “Haunted House” and its removal of the insane Bloody Head Fairy. Basically, the cover is a lie and a pretty cheap trick to attract attention. It’s for that reason I actually waffled on buying this set until recently when it was down to around ten bucks. I don’t regret my purchase, but it still bugs me that many of these episodes have been edited and aren’t the episodes I saw as a kid.

At least we now have “Man’s Best Friend” and didn’t have to resort to the internet to view it. It’s not the best episode of Ren & Stimpy, but it’s a solid B+ affair with perhaps the show’s most violent sequence. It’s also nice to finally see the unedited version of “Big House Blues” and the full scenes we’ve been seeing in brief clip form during the show’s opening sequence for years (specifically, Ren drinking from a very gross looking toilet). There’s some bonus content in the form of a brief documentary on the show’s creation and around half a dozen commentaries. Because the show was only a half hour, this set is the type you can basically blow through in a weekend, but it will be a pretty good weekend.


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