Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story Review: A Revolutionary Cartoon That Created A Lot of Joy and a Lot of Pain

Release date: August 14, 2020
Running time: 104 minutes

Happy Happy Joy Joy is a documentary that explores the rise and fall of The Ren & Stimpy Show and its controversial creator, John Kricfalusi.  Ren & Stimpy was a revelation for many kids who wanted to see something different from animation.  It was vulger, out there, and something that just resonated with a lot of people.  In the early 90s, the Ren & Stimpy show went on to be a commercial and cultural success before flaring out.  However, the genius that created this show was flawed in many ways and this documentary explores that and more.  It is fitting that this documentary comes out at the same time that Comedy Central announced a reboot of the show.  Although it is doubtful that the reboot will capture the same magic, hopefully it will avoid some of the pitfalls that befell the original series.  

The first thing that strikes you about this documentary is the fantastic style of it.  It captures a lot of the classic, Americana feel of Ren & Stimpy in its presentation.  For example, a lot of the show scenes are played on an old style television that would look perfect in the show.  Drawings, clips, and animation stills are used throughout the documentary to convey the story behind Ren & Stimpy, and to remind viewers exactly why it was so groundbreaking.  One thing that struck me watching this documentary is that the show clips still feel edgy even now, which makes how revolutionary it was back in the 90s pretty hard to understate.  It had such a unique style, both in its animation and its storytelling, that it couldn't help but affect you.  The documentary is essentially set up in two acts, with one chronicling the rise and the next chronicling the fall.  The first part is an amazing story about some very talented and rebellious artists.  It gives a good look at what caused this show to come to life and the personalities that were responsible for it.  And it goes in depth on the animation style, some of the most influential episodes, and why Ren & Stimpy was so revolutionary for the time.  And this is all bolstered by interviews with the people who made the show and caused it to come alive, as well as famous comedians and performers who remembered and were inspired by the show.  It really is a nostalgic kick for someone who loved this series.  But even in this build up, there are hints of what caused the eventual decline.  

And then the documentary moves to the fall, and chronicles the collapse of the show and the creator, John K.  This is also an interesting endeavor, and one I knew nothing about.  I loved this show growing up but didn't follow the behind the scenes and the reasons for Ren & Stimpy's relatively short life.  I also didn't follow the creator after the fact.  It was fascinating to see the kind of culture that bred such genius but also led to a hostile work environment.  And when the documentary really explored some of the dark flaws of John K, my mind was blown.  I was actually shocked that John K agreed to be interviewed for this, especially with some of the things that came out in the time after the show, but I guess that is one part courage and another part pure narcissism.  The whole documentary is created with such love, such care that you can't help but enjoy it even if the subject is hard to watch at times.  And you can tell the filmmakers and all involved in Happy Happy Joy Joy did love this show, as did we all, and felt the need to tell its whole story in all its unfiltered glory.

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story is an insightful documentary about a show that changed all of animation, its rise and fall, and the genius and dark flaws of its creator through the unfiltered insights of those who worked on it. 

Watch it.

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