The Ren & Stimpy Show burst onto the scene as part of the original trio of Nicktoons in 1991. The other two, Doug and Rugrats, were fairly gentle cartoons. Rugrats could sometimes get a little blue since the main characters were all babies, but the occasional poop joke was hardly something to get offended by. The Ren & Stimpy Show, on the other hand, was far more crass. It felt like a throwback to the days of Bob Clampett and Tex Avery with its manic pacing and outrageous character animations. It also had its own flair in the form of gross, disgusting, humor. It’s hard to imagine another cartoon in the 90s being more influential on what followed in the world of animation than The Ren & Stimpy Show.
This also came with its own set of problems. Certainly, Nickelodeon had to deal with more letters and phone calls regarding the show’s content than it did probably any other show on its network, but it also had to deal with series creator John Kricfalusi, or John K. The less said about him the better, but suffice to say he was very much a demanding boss and a bit of a perfectionist when it came to the show. This meant the show frequently missed deadlines and John K. also frequently ignored suggestions, or mandates, from the network when things got too risqué. I’m all for standing up for your artwork, but John K. agreed to make a show for kids and there’s some battles worth fighting and some that are not. There’s also been plenty of other things shared about him over the years that are not very kind that I don’t want to get into. At the end of the day, I do think he is a talented cartoonist and without his talents The Ren & Stimpy Show likely wouldn’t be what it was, but there were also lots of other talented people involved in the show’s production and without the likes of some of them the show also wouldn’t be what it is.
This very episode captures some of the dance the creators and Nickelodeon entered into with seemingly every episode of the show. The network wanted something heartwarming, I’m not sure if it necessarily wanted a Christmas episode, and John K. was willing to give them one so long as it was done his way. Hence why we have an episode about a fart. The original title is just “Stimpy’s First Fart,” but the network changed it to “Son of Stimpy.” Television networks have long had an adversarial relationship with the word “fart.” I don’t know why, but it is a thing and that’s why it still surprises me to this day that Salute Your Shorts got to have the word appear in every episode via the opening song. In this case though, I think the network was right as the “Son of Stimpy” title is a bit more mysterious and helps the fart joke land a little better.
“Son of Stimpy” is the first Christmas episode from the show and has the distinction of being done with digital ink and paint. Most of the show was animated with traditional ink and paint, but maybe the Christmas deadline forced the show to move a bit faster. The show was also transitioning from Spumco to Games Animation and that is said to have played a role. The content of the episode actually did not please Nickelodeon so it first premiered on MTV instead. It would eventually be run on Nick, but sometimes in an edited state. I can remember catching the first broadcast purely by accident. I was channel surfing in my bedroom and found it on MTV. I was super surprised to see an episode of the show I had never seen airing on the network and I was so excited that I recall telling my mom right away (who probably didn’t care). And it was a Christmas episode too! The episode also uses the full running time to tell its story without any other inserts, another rarity for the show, and contains several callbacks to the first episode either deliberately or to save time.
This episode begins with an exterior shot of a house inhabited by Ren and Stimpy. A voiceover, John K., tells the audience that this is a story they just made up. Inside, Stimpy (Billy West) is watching TV and the sound effects sound exactly like the ones coming from the TV of the very first episode. He’s motionless except for his eyes dancing around as they take-in some cartoons. Then we get a shot of Stimpy’s butt and it’s done as a still image so it’s rather lovingly painted. Stimpy has a nice, well-rounded, set of buttocks in this episode to likely make them appear inviting, which is important to the plot (trust me). We then hear a noise, a gurgling kind of noise, and Stimpy looks at his butt with some confusion. The still image of the butt returns only now the image is shaking as a rumbling is taking place which leads to a very satisfying fart sound. It has a lot of bass and as far as fake farts go it’s quite lovely! It’s followed by the sound of a balloon letting out air as Stimpy looks satisfied and a puff of greenish-brown smoke emerges and then disappears. Some ominous “Dun! Dun! Duuuuun!” music plays as we get another shot of the the butt, this time with some skid marks added to the floor. Stimpy notices an odor in the air and is soon running in place calling for Ren.
In another part of the house, Ren (John K.) is seated in a lounge chair in a bathrobe and fez hat reading from a book. The juxtaposition of the naked, cartoon-watching, farter and this very dignified Ren is obvious. Stimpy excitedly tells him in a quiet voice that something happened while he was watching TV. Ren can’t even begin to act like he cares, but he asks Stimpy what happened. Stimpy proceeds to tell him that something came out of his butt, it made a sound, and it smelled funny. Ren repeats everything Stimpy told him as if he’s gathering an understanding of the situation, then deadpans “You’re an idiot.”
Stimpy is distressed that Ren doesn’t believe him, but then decides to just make another one! He moves into the center of the room and starts trying to push something out of his butt. There’s some groaning and obvious straining as Ren even moves into the danger zone to see what happens, but Stimpy’s butt just ends up deflating. Ren kicks at the remains of Stimpy’s cheeks, then tells him he has an overactive imagination and to leave him out of his stinky fantasies! It’s an interesting approach to the situation as when Stimpy originally approaches Ren we think he’s calling him an idiot for not knowing what a fart is, but now it seems clear that Ren too has never farted. I should point out for you continuity nerds, Stimpy did fart in a previous episode when they were in the bathtub together during “Big Baby Scam,” but this is a show that really has no continuity.
As Ren leaves Stimpy to his stinky fantasies, Stimpy claims to himself that Stinky is real as he has apparently named his fart now. He then perks up as he declares he’ll find him! Stimpy then walks around the house calling out for Stinky in an operatic voice. He giggles with embarrassment seemingly acknowledging that we’re watching him act a bit silly – it’s cute. He checks in a few places before getting the idea to consult his Magic Nose Goblins he leaves under the bench for the piano. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, Magic Nose Goblins are Stimpy’s boogers. Before this episode, I don’t think they were ever personified, but here Stimpy is able to ask them if they’ve seen Stinky. When they press Stimpy for info on who Stinky is, he describes the fart as he did to Ren. One of the “goblins” figures out what Stimpy is looking for and whispers to the others “He talks to farts,” in a manner that expresses he views this behavior as extremely odd. The other boogers then just tell Stimpy they haven’t seen Stinky as they seem eager to get rid of him now. He leaves, but in doing so sits up and slams his face into the underside of the bench seemingly killing his booger buddies by mistake.
Unable to find Stinky, Stimpy slips into a depression. He’s just seated in a darkened room as Ren tries to cheer him up. He pulls out a TV Guide-like magazine and reads off some of the programs Stimpy usually likes only for Stimpy to reply sullenly with an “I don’t care.” This setup is very similar to how the Commander Hoek and Cadet Stimpy cartoons begin, only Stimpy doesn’t get excited about that show or Muddy Mudskipper. Stimpy and Ren’s eyes then well with tears as their mouths quiver with sadness. Ren emotes frustration, and even anger, to the camera, but approaches Stimpy in calm, measured, tones about snapping out of this funk. We find out he’s been moping for 3 years now, which is certainly a long time to miss a fart.
Ren then dangles a new catnip mouse for Stimpy who makes an “Ehhh,” sound of annoyance that’s amusing to me because he sounds like future Billy West character Zap Brannigan. Ren tries cheering him up by jumping into his litter box and encourages him to drop a big, stinky, one into it. Hearing the word “stinky” causes Stimpy’s eyes to fill with tears again as he says “Stinky” in a longing tone. He then wails and starts sobbing forcing Ren to march over angrily. “So that’s it, you’re still crying about your imaginary butt stinkiness!” Stimpy insists in sad tones that Stinky is real and Ren tries, once more, to be supportive. He tells him he needs to get over this fantasy and says he’ll help him and that they can do it together, but Stimpy just replies once more with “I don’t care.” That’s the last straw for Ren, who has been uncharacteristically supportive and understanding throughout the scene. He stamps his feet and shouts at Stimpy. He tries to muster up one of his usual go-to insults for the cat, but he’s basically choked with anger and can just get out “stupid” over and over. Declaring “Who needs you!” he storms off leaving Stimpy alone and sad.
It’s nighttime. Stimpy is laying wide awake in bed staring at the ceiling while Ren is on the other side asleep, his back towards Stimpy, with a smile on his face (this brief shot of Ren is cut from the DVD release, presumably because the DVD uses the Spike TV tapes which probably cut it for time). We move to a close-up of Stimpy’s eyes which once again fill with tears. He lets out a sigh and rolls over giving us a nice shot of his round buttocks covered in a purple blanket. The camera pans over to the window where someone is watching. It’s Stinky! He’s a brownish puff of gas with a face and arms. He’s looking through the window with longing and the camera zooms in on Stimpy’s sparkling butt cheeks. Opera-style chanting fills the soundtrack and Stinky looks so very sad. He lowers his head and drifts away as the snow begins to fall.
We cut to Stimpy in the doorway of the house calling out for Stinky. He has a scarf wrapped around his head and his face and hands are blue from the cold. Ren comes out to urge him to come inside. He says that Stimpy has been out there for months and tells him to come help him with the tree, our first hint at Christmas. Ren suggests he can string the dingleberry garland (gross), but Stimpy gives his “ehh” response again and Ren switches tactics by pointing out the mistletoe over their heads. He leans into Stimpy with a flirty, expectant, expression which might be the pair’s most gay portrayal up to this point in the series. Stimpy doesn’t react at first, and then his eyes widen with surprise. Did Ren maybe touch a sensitive area? Stimpy then explodes at Ren, “Gosh darnit, Ren! Is that all you can think of?!” He lectures Ren further saying that Stinky is lost out in the cold and finishes with a “He needs me.” And Stimpy leaves Ren, who cries for Stimpy to come back, but is ignored. Falling to his knees, he utters a prayer for Stimpy telling a higher power he can hold off on the pectoral muscle implants he presumably prays for usually, just bring Stimpy home!
We’re then taken to The Naked City. Stimpy is roaming the streets calling out for Stinky in the dark and cold as the snow continues to pile up. We get a shot of Stimpy’s feet sporting crude shoes as he walks through the snow. A Santa on a street corner cries out “Ho ho ho,” as he rings a bell looking for donations. The cadence of his call changes abruptly like he stepped on something, or maybe someone placed a cold hand where he wasn’t expecting. We then see that Stimpy is behind him checking the fat man’s buttocks for Stinky, but finding nothing, he walks off.
Stimpy’s feet are shown again only now his shoes have been worn revealing purplish feet, one toe has a nail sticking out of it. Stimpy has posted signs reading “Have You Smelled Me?” with an image of Stinky on it, which is odd since he never really saw him. We cut back to his feet, now blocks of ice, as he continues his search. He tries filing a missing persons report at a police station, but the cop just throws him out. He smashes into a brick wall, but the scent of something stinky wakes him (this sequence is missing from the Paramount+ version). We see him again clawing his way down the sidewalk towards the smell, but it’s just a manure salesman (Mr. Horse) and Stimpy drops to the ground. A car parks on his head for good measure, and then lo and behold, Stinky shows up! He takes a seat on Stimpy’s ass and wishes he never left home, but Stimpy doesn’t hear or smell him since he, you know, has a truck parked on his head.
Stinky then moves on and squeezes in between two guys seated on the ground sleeping back-to-back. One is just in a coat and underwear and they’re clearly meant to be un-housed individuals. One of them notices the stench of Stinky first, then the other who cries out for someone to light a match. They both stand up and start waving a lit match and poor Stinky is terrified. He lets out a tiny scream and is forced to flee to a sewer as the two men give chase.
Back at the house, Ren is singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” through tears as he digs out Stimpy’s present from under the tree. He then goes to give it to Stimpy and we see his face, but it turns out it’s just a picture of Stimpy (the DVD version cuts out the tease and jumps straight to the gift next to the picture frame). A ring of the doorbell gets Ren’s attention and on the other side he finds Stimpy, only he’s completely encased in ice. They go into their reunited routine from the very first episode, only Stimpy can’t respond to Ren’s cry of “Pal” because he’s frozen.
Ren brings Stimpy into the living room and sets him up by the fire. The ice is gone and Stimpy is shivering in a blanket with his feet in a bucket of hot water. Ren has decorated for Christmas and he’s done a rather admirable job as he looks on Stimpy with glee in his eyes. He tells Stimpy to relax and kisses his forehead as Stimpy’s tongue pops out of the blanket. A ring of the doorbell causes Ren to leave and, at first, it looks like no one’s there. Then a familiar odor wafts into Ren’s nostrils. At first he’s repulsed, but then smiles as he reaches down off camera for something.
Ren returns to the living room to tell Stimpy he has a visitor. Stimpy responds with his now customary “I don’t care,” forcing Ren to thrust his finger under his nose. As he sniffs Ren’s finger, a look of recognition crosses his eyes. The brown cloud then appears and Stimpy is on his feet crying out in joy “Stinky!” Stinky returns the cry with a “Dad!” and the two embrace to some uplifting music the show is returning to from the first episode, only the embrace is punctuated with a fart sound.
Stimpy, through happy sobs, declares that now he and Stinky can be together forever. Stinky’s face hardens and he pulls away from his father’s embrace to tell him, “No, dad, we can’t.” He explains that he’s a man now, and a man has needs, but when he asks Stimpy if he understands the cat just angrily shakes his head “No.” Stinky then gets an idea and tells him to wait here. He goes to the door and opens it and tells Stimpy he wants him to meet his fiancé: Cora.
The bride to be is a rotting, mostly decomposed, fish. Stimpy takes one look at her though and declares her beautiful as the fart and garbage embrace, I guess. Ren and Stimpy embrace too and cry out “Memories!” We cut to a wedding, where Stimpy is marrying Stinky to his fish bride. For the first time, he uses the word fart when addressing Stinky so at some point he learned what he is. The two kiss, then head inside Ren’s nose for their honeymoon hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door that suddenly appeared on Ren’s nostril. The camera pans out and Ren looks pretty unhappy about this arrangement, as Stimpy tosses cat litter at his face in place of rice and tells the camera that he just loves happy endings!
And that’s the end! Nick wanted a heartwarming tale and it got one, albeit a subversive one that only could come from The Ren & Stimpy Show. Stimpy searches for his missing son so the two can be reunited for Christmas. It sounds like a nice and pretty standard holiday premise when you ignore that his son is a literal fart. It’s a bizarre and crazy premise that really puts Stimpy’s stupidity on full display. I suppose, in a sense, it’s funny to think about how we create and pass gas that vanishes quickly and for an idiot like Stimpy he might not comprehend that. Mostly, it feels like a challenge from the show to see if the audience can be moved to feel empathy for an actual fart and the one who dealt it.
As is customary for the show, there’s tons of visual gags and gross images. There’s numerous shots of nice, round, butts that do look inviting given the cold climate throughout. The show almost made me want to climb in between those two gentlemen in the alley as Stinky did, but not quite. Ren and Stimpy’s relationship is also really interesting here. Ren is shown to be far more understanding and permissive of Stimpy’s depression when normally he’d just lash out with anger. He eventually gets there to a point, but it’s actually depicted rather well as it’s very easy to grow frustrated when trying to talk someone out of a funk. We all try our best not to act like Ren did in the end, but it can be trying. And then we have the obvious romance angle. The show flirts with that here and there before and after this episode, but the depiction of the pair under the mistletoe is definitely the most obvious call out to the two being a romantic couple that we’ve ever seen. Of course, the sequel show would make that plainly obvious to mostly disastrous results. Don’t confuse me for saying Ren and Stimpy being out of the closet is disastrous, that show just happens to be not funny and isn’t worth watching. The fact that it isn’t cut from the episode is rather brave on the part of Nickelodeon considering this debuted in 1992. Not on Nickelodeon, but that’s even pretty brave for MTV. And it would eventually jump to the kid’s network.
Ultimately, this episode leans so far into telling it straight that it’s not as funny as it perhaps could be. There are funny moments, for sure. Stimpy describing a fart without knowing what one is works as probably the best scene in the whole episode. The dismissive nature of his booger friends and some of the closeups definitely warrant a laugh. After that though, once Stimpy slips into depression, it’s fairly short on laughs and is really committed to telling this sad story that ultimately has a happy ending. Only I don’t think it succeeds in actually getting the viewer to care about Stinky. I think I identify more with Ren’s frustrations than Stimpy’s depression, which is probably not what the episode wants. Though I do think that aspect of it exists because the staff must have known there would be viewers like me and at least we have something to latch onto via Ren. Because of that, I never know how to feel when this one ends. Am I happy for Stimpy? For Stinky? I guess. I’m relieved it’s over because I don’t enjoy seeing Stimpy suffer like this, but the payoff isn’t there. I think if this one wasn’t as long as it is then it would work better because at some point it just feels sadistic with how it treats Stimpy. Stimpy is a character easy to laugh at when the pain inflicted upon him is physical, but not emotional.
“Son of Stimpy” is not the only Christmas episode the show created as there is also “A Scooter for Yaskmas.” That one is actually very similar in tone to this one as we basically just see Stimpy suffer, though in that one he creates some of that suffering by desiring a physical object. Both have their moments, but also neither one is a Christmas special I feel required to return to every year. I think others feel differently as “Son of Stimpy” seems to be well-received by the fanbase, so what do I know? If you want to embark on a journey of father and son reuniting for Christmas then this one is available to stream on Paramount+ and was also released on DVD many moons ago. That set is very easy to acquire and contains some classic episodes so even if your response to this episode is tepid like mine that DVD is still a worthwhile purchase. Unfortunately, both versions are edited to some degree. The one on Paramount+ omits the sequence where Stimpy enters the police precinct and gets thrown out, while the DVD version cuts out a shot of Ren sleeping in the bed and his giving a gift to a picture of Stimpy. For the DVD, I think both edits were just made for time as the source video is from Spike TV and their broadcast. With Paramount+, I think their version is the one Nickelodeon aired which apparently didn’t like featuring a cop assaulting Stimpy. Given the two choices, the DVD version is superior, but it continues to be frustrating how hard it is to find truly uncut episodes of The Ren & Stimpy Show.
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more Christmas? Check out what we had to say on this day last year and beyond:
Dec. 13 – Bob’s Burgers – “The Bleakening: Part 2”
Well fellow cartoon Christmas enthusiasts, we’re in a new and interesting place today. We’re coming in for the second part of a two-part story we started looking at yesterday. In the first part of “The Bleakening,” the Christmas special from Bob’s Burgers which originally aired in 2017, the children of Bob and Linda Belcher were…Keep reading
Dec. 13 – The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials
Five years ago The Christmas Spot did its first advent calendar countdown to Christmas and the theme was “The 25 Greatest Christmas TV Specials.” With that list, my approach wasn’t entirely forthright. I really had a list of 20 specials that I deemed worthy of such an honor and I devoted the back five to…Keep reading
Dec. 13 – How to Grinch
Christmas has a number of characters that instantly come to mind at the mere mention of the holiday. The big man, good old S. Claus, is likely number one. Whether you know him as Father Christmas, Saint Nicholas, or something else, Santa Claus has dominated the holiday for decades now. Other characters commonly associated with…Keep reading