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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.


#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.


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