Ren & Stimpy’s big corporate takeover
How a manic Canadian cartoonist conceived, directed and ultimately lost control of two of television’s most animated characters
Saturday Night, April, 1994
Some say language makes us the most highly evolved species on the planet. Others maintain our capacity for contemplation makes us human. Some contend our proclivity for self-destruction sets us apart. Still others will tell you it’s the ability to accessorize. John Kricfalusi knows better: “I have this theory about what humans need to be truly human,” he says. “They need food, they need shelter, they need companionship — but what sets them apart from animals? Cartoons!”
John Kricfalusi is thirty-eight years old. He lives in Sherman Oaks, a suburb of Los Angeles, and works in Hollywood. He’s watched cartoons, studied them, dissected them, memorized them, researched their history, and made them himself. His entire existence has been defined by the conviction that cartoons are essential to a civilized life; that we’re human because we can take a series of drawings (usually of anthropomorphic animals, oddly enough), make them appear to move, and, through that process, hoot at some of the goofier foibles we’re stuck with after a few million years of evolution.
His cartoon factory, Spumco International, sits in a building that’s also home to a dentist and a printing business at the less fashionable end of Melrose Avenue. It was here that Kricfalusi produced The Ren & Stimpy Show, a wildly successful cartoon that debuted on the American children’s cable channel Nickelodeon and later set audience and ratings records for Canada’s MuchMusic, and where he earned a reputation as the savior of popular animation. The series still exists, but Kricfalusi is no longer the creative force behind it, a bit of very serious cartoon business that’s a perfect parable for what’s gone wrong with the art form of animation.
The principal characters in The Ren & Stimpy Show continue the “funny animal” tradition in cartoons. Ren Hoek is a scrawny, psychotic Chihuahua given to fits of towering rage and comic exasperation. He’s also too smart for his own good. Whenever he sets out to get the better of someone, he plunges himself into rage and misery. Ren’s savage selfishness is redeemed by his contrition over his excesses. He wants to be better, but his deepest emotions, pride, greed, and wrath, stymie his every effort. Ren’s boon companion is Stimpson J. Cat, a hopelessly stupid, ovoid feline whose witlessness is redeemed by idiot-savant flashes of genius and a total lack of malice; he operates on trust and a boundless love for absolutely everything, including his own bodily effluent. Stimpy embodies the notion that utter stupidity is the only surefire route to happiness.
“The characters of Ren and Stimpy are universal,” Kricfalusi offers by way of explaining their appeal. “Those two personalities — basically, an asshole and a retard — are everywhere; everybody recognizes them. You identify with them. And the conflict between them is not black and white. They don’t have one trait each. They have levels of traits.”
In Kricfalusi’s version, while Ren and Stimpy’s personalities remained constant, everything in their universe changed with each episode. They replayed the legend of Robin Hood in the roles of Robin Hoek and Maid Moron; they were shot into space and went crazy on a thirty-six-year mission to the Crab Nebula; a confidence scam had them posing as a mouse-catcher and his quarry (“That’s the ugliest mouse I’ve ever seen . . . and he’s beating up on our cheese!”); and they got stranded in a black hole after they missed the bus “now departing Black Hole for Jersey City.”
The Ren & Stimpy Show, broadcast beginning in 1990, holds the record for the biggest audiences for a series on cable. Ren & Stimpy didn’t air in Canada until MuchMusic picked it up in the fall of 1992, but it soon became the music-video channel’s highest-rated series. Kricfalusi probably had fans like these in mind when he had Ren administer an oath to the audience in an early episode: “Put your hand on the TV screen and repeat after me: ‘I do hereby promise only to watch The Ren & Stimpy Show, to make under-leg noises during the good scenes, to wear unwashed lederhosen every single day for the rest of my life!’ That’s it — you’re in our secret club!”
The conspiratorial tone could well be Kricfalusi’s own. In The Ren & Stimpy Show, he saw a chance to reverse thirty years of an art form’s decline, to revitalize animation. The absurdist dialogue, the manic pace, and the absence of comfy moral bromides made his show subversive, dangerous, and funny. “You want to learn? That’s what school’s for,” he says. “You want people to have morals and ethics? That’s what parents are for. You want to have a good time? That’s what cartoons are for. Leave the cartoons alone. After these people who hate cartoons ruin them, they’ll be forcing the ice-cream companies to put homework in every third gallon of ice cream.”
But that’s not the way Nickelodeon saw it, and, according to Kricfalusi, the network lobotomized Ren and Stimpy by degrees. This clash of cartoon sensibilities is the reason that The Ren & Stimpy Show, as millions loved it, is now gone. “I’ve been fighting for fourteen years to make cartoons that people like against people who thought they knew better,” Kricfalusi says. “I finally made one. I hope I can make some more.”
Seven-year-old John Kricfalusi (pronounced Kris-fa-LOO-see) moved to Canada after spending his early childhood as an army brat in Germany. “I was running around with lederhosen on and riding goats,” he told the film magazine Cinefantastique. “I ate a lot of sausages, yodeled, played the bagpipes, spoke German when I was a little kid. I remember running around in Belgium with a Sputnik toy attached to a long wire. It actually flew and had a remote control. That says it all: lederhosen and the future.
“I used to eat weird things and then throw up. I’d eat stuff that I’d find on trees — they didn’t know what it was — and then come home and puke it all up all over my plate.”
His second formative experience came after his family returned to Canada, settling in Ottawa: spending his days watching cartoons, mainly the Hanna-Barbera half-hours featuring Huckleberry Hound, Yogi Bear, and Quick Draw McGraw. And he remembers the day Kennedy got shot: “That really pissed me off, because they didn’t run the cartoons.”
His love of cartoons didn’t translate into academic success. “I wasn’t very good at anything in high school,” he tells me. “I failed art every year but, for some reason, they always put me in the next year. It was the seventies, right?” Instead, Kricfalusi drew in every class and in every book he wasn’t supposed to draw in: cartoon “flip-books” in the corner of his history text; caricatures of his French teacher in the exercise books, “or, as he called them, ‘eggzerzize booogks. “
After finishing with the public-school system in Ottawa, Kricfalusi enrolled in the animation program at Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario, generally acknowledged to be one of the best in North America and widely respected throughout the industry. But Kricfalusi found its curriculum placed little stress on technical knowledge and even less on exploring the medium’s potential. “There was no education,” Kricfalusi says, blunt about the outcome but more diplomatic in explaining why not. “Part of it was my fault. I was more concerned with partying and stuff. I saw mechanically how animation was put together. So it was all right for that. They teach you some really basic technical things. How to draw? No. How to act? No. How to compose? No. No animation skills do you learn in animation school.”
At the same time as Sheridan’s program was infuriating him, Kricfalusi was getting a parallel education through a Toronto fixture, Reg Hartt, an eccentric one-man movie compendium who screens his massive collection of prints of classic films in bars, church halls, and his own apartment. A big part of Hartt’s collection consists of the MGM and Warner Bros. work that many agree constitutes animation’s acme — the seven-minute chunks of jazzy, stuttering, rubbery brilliance that careered out of Hollywood during animation’s finest twenty-five years. From Hartt’s screenings, Kricfalusi “discovered the Tex Avery cartoons from MGM, which I hadn’t seen much of. I really liked those, and I started to think, ‘Hey, Tex Avery’s my favorite director.’ But then I saw Bob Clampett’s ‘The Great Piggy Bank Robbery’,” a Dick Tracy lampoon.
For Kricfalusi, it was an animated epiphany: “It was the wildest experience I’d ever felt, like taking acid or something. The next week I went back to Reg Hartt’s and saw ‘Coal Black and De Sebbin Dwarves.’ And the week after I saw ‘Kitty Cornered’ and ‘Tin Pan Alley Cats.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’” Bob Clampett worked for the Warner Bros. animation department (housed in a bungalow on the Warner lot that the animators dubbed “Termite Terrace”). He invented Daffy Duck, perhaps the most completely unhinged member of the Warner Bros. cartoon pantheon. “The cartoons are faster than other cartoons, more caricatured. The jokes are bigger, the expressions are wilder and more subtle at the same time,” Kricfalusi says. “There’s a cartoon language and a lot of people spoke it. But nobody spoke it more fluently than Clampett.”
Kricfalusi left Sheridan for a job in an LA animation studio. He worked his way through a series of Hollywood cartoon mills. He labored on Heathcliff — an unfunny animated version of the unfunny comic strip; he animated the cooperative, sharing, and detestable Smurfs; and he worked on a dismal retread of The Jetsons.
In 1986, Kricfalusi found a more reasonable boss in Ralph Bakshi, who is known mainly for Fritz the Cat, Heavy Traffic, and a couple of other self-consciously raunchy “adult cartoons” from the early 1970s. Their first finished project together was a rock video for the Rolling Stones’ cover of an obscure soul number, “Harlem Shuffle.” The video was better than most, especially by the Stones’ standards. There were half the usual number of sequences showing Jagger shaking his midlife crisis and Richards trying to focus on an E-chord. In their stead were cartoon vignettes featuring a gang of reprobate alley cats directed and animated by John Kricfalusi and two associates.
Next, in 1987, came a revival of Mighty Mouse. Kricfalusi’s take on Mighty was decidedly different. Imbued with the same sensibilities that were in force at Termite Terrace, the cartoon spent most of its time mocking superhero conventions, making ironic commentary on popular culture, and providing references, jokes, and allusions intended for the grown-ups in the audience, what kid-vid programmers refer to as “plums for mums.”
“We had a chance like we did with Ren & Stimpy, but we weren’t good enough yet,” Kricfalusi remembers of his time directing the flying rodent in the cape. “Even though it was the Mighty Mouse show, Mighty Mouse was just a buffoon, and we kept writing him out of the show.” The problem evaporated when Mighty Mouse was cancelled.
During his time in cartoon purgatory, Kricfalusi developed his own ideas about what was causing the art form’s decline. “If you can’t draw, you shouldn’t be in animation. All the great animation that anybody remembers was created by cartoonists. Walt Disney was a cartoonist, all the Warner Bros. directors and writers were cartoonists. In the sixties that ended. The demand for cartoons became so huge with television — particularly with Saturday-morning cartoons — there just weren’t enough of those guys to go around. So they started hiring scriptwriters. Until the mid-sixties there was no such thing as a cartoon script. Didn’t exist. They were written on storyboards. And now this visual medium is written with scripts? You might as well have scriptwriters write symphonies. You might as well have a guy sit down at the typewriter and write, ‘And now I’d like those guys who play the long black things to blow in them really hard and move their fingers really fast.’”
In 1989, out of fury, frustration, and stubborn idealism, Spumco International was born. Its founders were Kricfalusi and three other cartoonists, Jim Smith, Bob Camp, and Lynne Naylor, who had all worked together on Mighty Mouse and whose disillusionment and wacked sensibilities matched Kricfalusi’s own. “We said, ‘The hell with it. Let’s just form our own studio. We’ll starve for a while, but we’re going to give animation back to the cartoonists’”
Just as they were preparing to starve, Nickelodeon put the word out that it was looking for something different to launch its own set of cartoons featuring original characters. The American cable network dates from the expansion of pay-TV services during the 1980s. Nickelodeon was launched by its corporate parent, Viacom International, in response to parental dissatisfaction over the dearth of children’s programming on the big-three networks.
At first, it was largely a rebroadcaster, rounding up all the kid-vid programming it could find and putting it in one click on the remote. Since then, it’s grown to become the biggest single producer of children’s programming in North America and has carved out a secondary business by running old sitcoms through the wee hours under the rubric “Nick at Nite.”
Kricfalusi managed to get in touch with Vanessa Coffey, Nickelodeon’s vice president of animation. He pitched just about every idea he had, all of which had been rejected by other networks countless times before, including one called Jimmy The Hapless Boy. “Jimmy is the perfect being,” his animator says. “He was created out of a vast collection of the best chromosomes in the world. He’s an experiment. Nobody will admit that the experiment might have failed.” Coffey was intrigued by a pair of secondary cast members on the Jimmy model sheet — an insectile dog and a spherical cat: Ren and Stimpy. She flew Kricfalusi to New York to act out his pitch for the Nickelodeon heavyweights in a meeting that has been described as, well, animated. (“His Certs flew into the president’s lap,” Coffey said later.) The network wanted Jimmy, but Kricfalusi wouldn’t give up the copyright. He would for Ren and Stimpy, and the deal was cut. Kricfalusi flew back to LA — sketching out his ideas for Ren and Stimpy on an airline barf-bag. In the summer of 1989, Nickelodeon advanced Spumco enough money to make a pilot.
“Big House Blues” introduces Ren and Stimpy sitting on a curb, forlorn and destitute. A voice-over mocks countless Disney animal pictures, explaining: “Natural enemies in the wild, the cat and the asthma-hound Chihuahua united in the face of adversity.” The black rain clouds part, a kindly and avuncular sun shines on the pair... and they’re flattened into a single squishy puce mass by a truck. The truck belongs to the city pound, where Ren and Stimpy are incarcerated, awaiting “the big sleep.” Ren is rescued, but only because Stimpy has hacked up hairballs all over him and he’s mistaken for a poodle by a hyperactive child. On the way out of the pound, Ren sees Stimpy, eyes welling tears, waving goodbye from their cell. Reluctantly, he stops the child: “You can’t have me unless you take Stimpy too,” furious that he has to make such a bargain. The girl’s mother welcomes the duo home by clapping an embarrassing puffy pink parka on Ren and producing a litterbox for “our big brainless puddy.”
That was enough for Nickelodeon. Spumco was hired to produce a season’s worth of The Ren & Stimpy Show: six half-hour episodes, each consisting of two complete stories approximately eleven minutes long.
After having refused to sell the rights to Jimmy, why did Kricfalusi relent on Ren and Stimpy? He says now that he expected some trouble down the line. From the outside, at least, there appeared to be insurance in the fact that, as well as conceiving, animating, and understanding the characters, he provided Ren’s voice — a weird kind of whine, like a Mexican Peter Lorre with an edge of lunatic menace. Making The Ren & Stimpy Show without Kricfalusi would be like making Annie Hall without Woody Allen.
It’s appropriate that the series’ first half-hour adventure is the tale of an unlikely misfit ending up on television. In “The Big Shot,” aired in August, 1991, Stimpy writes a poetic appreciation of his cat litter for a contest: “Gritty Kitty ain’t so pretty/But it’s really thick/It fills my cat-box oh-so-snug/ It always does the trick.” He wins $47 million and a guest shot on The Muddy Mudskipper Show, ditching Ren in order to fly to the coast and turn into a big-time star. The pair is blissfully reunited at the end, with Stimpy, who has surrendered all his money, grinning broadly as Ren slaps him silly: “You bloated eediot! You worm! You stupid...!”
Right away, Spumco began using the eleven minutes in different ways, shortening the Ren and Stimpy episodes to include a variety of short, subversive shocks. They sent up Saturday-morning television conventions with biting commercial parodies, for example, Log, the toy no child should be without. “Log” is exactly that: a chunk of inert wood with its bark and the stump of a branch still intact. Log was sold with a jingle reminiscent of the Slinky song: “What rolls down stairs alone or in pairs, all over your neighbor’s dog? What’s great for a snack and fits on your back? It’s Log, Log, Log.” Log later was offered in gender-specific versions, Log For Girls (the same chunk of wood in a blonde wig), High Fashion Log For Girls (with outfits nailed to it for different occasions), and, for boys, “Adventure Log with realistic facial moss.” In another segment, expatriate Kricfalusi offered a strange tribute to Canadian stoicism with “The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen Anthem,” which celebrates in song such touchstones as our yaks (“and they smell like rotting beef carcasses”), the sand that blows up our skirts, and our saddle sores. Another parody commercial pushed a breakfast staple, Powdered Toast. The brand’s mascot, Powdered Toast Man, eventually starred in his own episode. First appearing in the guise of Pastor Toastman, “the cool youth deacon,” he suddenly makes like Alexander Haig, taking over the U.S. government after the president is incapacitated by getting himself caught in his fly. President Powdered Toast Man puts off “settling the Three Stooges stamp controversy” and reignites the dying fire in the Oval Office fireplace with the Bill of Rights.
The Ren & Stimpy Show quickly established itself as the most successful series in the Sunday-morning block of “Nicktoons.” Stories started appearing in trade publications and then the mainstream press celebrating the program’s high-grade dementia. It also received a few complaints. For his critics, Kricfalusi has an elegant dismissal: “I hate it when I hear people say ‘violence in cartoons.’ There is no such thing as violence in cartoons. It’s called slapstick. Slapstick is as old as man. You find tribes all over the world doing slapstick. When people say ‘take out the violence in cartoons,’ what they’re really saying is ‘take out the entertainment in cartoons.’ Entertainment is supposed to be a reflection of life. You can’t take out people’s emotions — and the bad emotions are what’s entertaining. What if people went around believing that the Care Bears is the way the world works?” What happened next is open to debate. Kricfalusi maintains Nickelodeon meddled, held up production, exerted control, and interfered, throwing the entire Ren & Stimpy production schedule off the rails. (Nickelodeon itself has maintained a discreet silence about Ren & Stimpy. Despite many requests, no one at the network agreed to comment for this article.) “There’s a lot of scatological or bathroom humor,” Kricfalusi admits. “That stuff, you expect a fight. When we wrote a scene where a horse takes a dump in a litter box, we knew there’d be problems.” What surprised him was the kind of objection Nickelodeon lodged. “They hated the gross stuff. They hated the non-sequiturs. Remember yak-shaving day? They hated that.” The network also hated the surreal and the psychological elements that drew the audience to Ren and Stimpy in the first place.
According to Kricfalusi, the production process would begin with a one- or two-page premise written by Spumco cartoonists. Spumco would then write a longer outline (not, Kricfalusi makes clear, a script), draw storyboards from the outline, then move into actual production, animating, inking, painting, timing, coloring, recording. At each stage, Spumco’s work was submitted to Nickelodeon in New York for approval, amendments, or rejection. The network appointed two story editors for that purpose. Throughout the process, they would submit notes on the production in progress.
“Here’s what they look like,” Kricfalusi says, heaving a fat three-ring binder onto his desk with a thump. He’s flipping through the production notes for “Stimpy’s Inventions,” acknowledged by Ren & Stimpy fans, critics, and people who worked on the show to be one of its finest episodes.
Briefly, the plot runs like this: Stimpy, though a dope, has a miraculous gift for inventing. He demonstrates a few of his gadgets on Ren. A remote-control shaver denudes the Chihuahua as Stimpy twists the knob on a control box across the room. The Cheese-O-Phone is a breakthrough because, as Stimpy explains, “now we can talk to cheese from all over the world, regardless of their national tongues.” Stimpy’s StayPut Socks, miraculously, do not droop. They’re full of glue. “Stay there,” Stimpy implores Ren. “I’ll go get the Stay-Put Hat and Raincoat.” Rooted to the spot by the glue-filled socks, Ren contorts himself like a rubber band being twisted violently, snarling, “You feelthy swine . . . I will kill you.”
A thought dawns on Stimpy: “You don’t suppose he’s . . . unhappy?” He stays awake for days, locked in a loopy laboratory, finally emerging to slam the Happy Helmet on Ren’s head. Twisting the dial on the contraption’s control box, he forces Ren into a state of apoplectic joy, though the dog struggles against the urge to be happy with every atom of his scrawny being.
“Stimpy’s Inventions” is a cartoon Clockwork Orange that’s simultaneously dark and savagely funny. Nickelodeon hated it.
“‘Too extreme. It’s supposed to make him happy, not crazy,’” Kricfalusi reads from the story editor’s notes. “‘Change dialogue from “you sick little monkey” to “take it off of me this instant.” They totally missed the point. They didn’t understand that Ren didn’t like being happy.”
“But that’s the joke,” I say.
“Oh, they hated to hear that,” Kricfalusi says. “They’d say, ‘We don’t want to hear ‘that’s the joke.’ We want an explanation for why this is amusing.’”
“But it’s a cartoon.”
“They hated that explanation even more than ‘That’s the joke.’ When we’d say, ‘But it’s a cartoon,’ they’d really go crazy.”
The combination of Nickelodeon’s demands and Kricfalusi’s perfectionism slowed production and drove up Spumco’s costs. The Los Angeles Times reported that the average Ren & Stimpy episode cost $400,000 to produce (Kricfalusi says $500,000), as opposed to the $250,000 spent on most Saturday-morning half-hours. Six episodes were broadcast in the first year, and Kricfalusi managed to talk down Nickelodeon’s target of twenty episodes in the second season to thirteen. Kricfalusi also offered to make “cheaters,” simpler, more conventional Ren & Stimpy adventures that would be easier and cheaper to animate, thus leaving resources for his more extravagant episodes. Nickelodeon agreed but continued to dull the series’ manic edge.
The situation grew worse with “Man’s Best Friend,” sometimes referred to as “The Lost Episode of Ren & Stimpy.” Nickelodeon approved the storyboard for an episode in which Ren and Stimpy are adopted by an owner whose sadistic and contradictory demands of his beloved “lower life forms” escalate until Ren whacks him into unconsciousness with an oar. “Man’s Best Friend” plays like an abused child’s revenge fantasy, hitting the viewer harder and on a deeper level precisely because it wraps its core in funny-animal slapstick. Nickelodeon took one look at the twisted cartoon and decreed it would never be broadcast.
In September, 1992, Nickelodeon issued a terse press release announcing that Spumco was no longer producing The Ren & Stimpy Show. “I didn’t quit. They didn’t fire me. They just stopped paying me,” Kricfalusi said a few months after Nickelodeon started trying to do the series itself. “I kept going until I had only two weeks’ worth of payroll left, then I had to start laying people off, because if I’d kept going I would have been personally responsible for the payroll for the entire Spumco staff” — about fifty-five people. Nickelodeon set up its own animation concern — named, apparently without ironic intent, Games Productions — and staffed it with employees lured away from Spumco. “They don’t have desks,” Kricfalusi said to Cinefantastique about the new company. “But they have showers.”
Nickelodeon may have been irked by Spumco’s production methods, but it hasn’t been able to improve on them in cost or speed. “Even the voice for Ren is wrong,” says Bob Jacques, an old colleague of Kricfalusi’s from Sheridan who has worked on both versions of the show. “They’ve got Billy West — Stimpy’s voice — doing both parts now. And they’ve tried to make Ren a nice guy. It’s The Stimpy & Stimpy Show.” At Jacques’s first meeting with Nickelodeon after Spumco was booted, it was solemnly announced that “there will be no more psychodramas.” It’s not entirely clear whether Nickelodeon was referring to the cartoon itself or to relations with the animators.
“There’s this stereotypical view of the artist and the businessman, and the two don’t cross,” Kricfalusi says.” This was completely the opposite. We created the business. We created the whole production system that allowed the show, and constantly tried to get Nickelodeon to live up to the schedule that they agreed to. For their part, they couldn’t make their own schedule requirements.” The third thirteen-episode season of The Ren & Stimpy Show was supposed to air in September, 1993. Spumco’s series had always hit air in mid-August. Weeks went by. No Ren & Stimpy. Finally, Nickelodeon announced the new season — only eleven episodes — would be on the air by November 20. By February, 1994, only four were ready. And all Nickelodeon has had to do is finish existing episodes. Most of them had already been completely drafted or at least storyboarded by Spumco before Nickelodeon decided it could do a better job by itself.
How does Kricfalusi now look back on the corporate takeover of Ren and Stimpy? “I was actually surprised it took as long as it did. Actually, I’m a lot more optimistic than I probably should be. I’m optimistic because I found out that the public likes animation. When the public is on your side, then you realize you’ve won. Ren and Stimpy are martyrs. They’ve died that we might sin again.”
Nickelodeon’s producers may have found the original Ren and Stimpy subversively stinky, but the network’s marketing people know a cash cow when they see one. In collaboration with Sony’s children’s entertainment division, Nickelodeon released the Spumco episodes of Ren & Stimpy on videocassette just in time for Christmas, 1993. They also stocked music-store shelves with You Eediot!, a collection of Ren & Stimpy songs like “Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy” — a Burl-Ives-with-rabies parody from “Stimpy’s Inventions.” (Sample interjection: “I don’t think you’re happy enough . . . I’ll teach you to be happy . . . I’ll teach your grandmother to suck eggs!”)
Meanwhile, John Kricfalusi is paying the bills and keeping Spumco alive with a series of assignments. One is animating promos for Ted Turner’s Cartoon Network, as well as serving for a year on the board that runs the enterprise. “They’ve got everything: the best cartoons ever made — theatrical cartoons from the 1940s — and the worst stuff, like Scooby-Doo and Josie and the Pussycats.” He’s also done an illustration for The New Yorker and a network ID spot for NBC. And he’s been shopping series ideas around.
“With Ren & Stimpy,” says Kricfalusi, “I made theatrical cartoons on television. So my pitch is now, well, the hell with that; let’s put ’em back into the movies.” The characters spearheading this assault on movie screens are Jimmy The Hapless Boy, the rights to whom Kricfalusi refused to sell to Nickelodeon, and a middle-aged man whom Kricfalusi describes as “a walking heart attack,” called “George Liquor, American.” George, who made his starring debut as the twisted pet owner in “Man’s Best Friend,” is every Canadian’s parody of a God-fearing, nature-loving, gun-toting American. “He sweats fluorocarbons,” Kricfalusi says. “There’s a hole in the ozone following him.” Nickelodeon loathed the character so much it gave the rights back to Kricfalusi when Spumco was canned. His current plan is to team George up with Jimmy The Hapless Boy in a holiday special called A Real Goddamn Christmas.
“I’ve already talked to Warner Bros.,” says Kricfalusi. “They’re interested in the idea. But they kind of wanted to test the waters slowly. They wanted to do just one short to begin with, so I said no. Because I don’t believe that one short’s going to do it. It took Bugs Bunny seven shorts before it really hit. It took Ren and Stimpy six half-hours.”
Of course, if a large, blunt-ended enterprise like Nickelodeon messed with his vision, might not every other elephantine corporate entity be similarly inclined? And what about the widely held view that a grown-up should be working in a more dignified medium? Should it be somebody’s mission to create something that, to echo Ren, “will ruin your mind”?
“Cartoons are not real,” Kricfalusi says. “Besides, there’s a certain amount of mind-destroying that’s good for you. Don’t take drugs, watch cartoons. But don’t drive and watch cartoons at the same time. That’s my one positive message.”