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Things Only Adults Notice In Ren & Stimpy

Many fans of Nickelodeon tuned into Ren & Stimpy, most of them kids, expecting a normal cartoon of the times, only to find one of the more cheerfully transgressive and subversive kids' shows ever to air. The animation was vibrant, the stories intriguing as they were silly, and parts were almost unsettling; it was a show that attempted to teach no lessons while managing to make numerous children ask odd questions about what they'd seen. Re-watching it now as an adult, you're likely to see a different side of the odd duo.

Most children watch this cartoon about a neurotic Chihuahua and idiotic farting cat without giving the finer points much thought, simply giggling at the physical humor and gross gags, but past a certain age, there's much more that sticks out. The themes underlying the show may not be particularly deep — as its creator has argued, "It's just plain gross" — but watching it through grown-up eyes is a very different experience. It's time to take a look at things that only adults see in Ren & Stimpy.

Ren & Stimpy & adult body horror

Ren & Stimpy could easily take the prize for being the grossest cartoon ever to air on television — in fact, that's something the creators seemed to strive for. This isn't just about farting in the bathtub and watching the bubbles pop up, hair in the worst places, bulging veins, or Stimpy's magic nose goblins (a.k.a. boogers), but mixing those elements with other bodily discomforts into repugnant situations. "Stimpy's First Fart" features the titular cat trying to recreate an earthquake-like flatulence only to have his rear end deflate, which Ren then kicks. The show also depicted the characters having extremely detailed mites in their ears, losing a tail, or pulling their own eyes out. In the episode "Dog Show," a small canine is eaten and the only remains are the eyes that are spit back up.

Some of the truly sickening spots come from more subtle actions, incredibly up-close shots that stick in the brain because the animation is so visceral in these unpleasant moments, even if they are absurd. In "Maddog Hoek," which features a wrestling match, Ren takes a large chomp out of a bulging sore on his opponent and a pus-like liquid shoots out. Several of these scenes are worse for adults as they realize how much nastier the depictions are, especially for germaphobes. Some credit has to be given to the sound effects as well — they add just the right noises to poop gags and body contortions to give them that extra level of "eww."

Kids love this stuff, but any adult choosing to eat during an episode of Ren & Stimpy will most likely regret that decision.

Ren & Stimpy's not-so-playful violence

Many cartoons have some form of hostility or fighting, but it is important how the conflict is presented. For Ren and Stimpy, it's hard not to think that they're living in an abusive relationship. When the two go to Mr. Horse's house, he pulls out a disturbed-looking walrus who begs the stars to "call the police," so they aren't the only ones. The entire show feels aggressive. Ren is often seen choking Stimpy and even tries to pull the wings off a fly for several seconds. Characters are held in place and punched, while weapons are brandished regularly. One of the reasons that the banned episode "Man's Best Friend" wasn't allowed to air was due to its brutality.

Physical pain is one of the larger parts of the show's humor. It isn't just characters beating on each other; it's also the visuals. In the episode "Fire Dogs," Mr. Horse falls from a building and lands on the street, crippling him, then crawls to a nearby shop, expressing his pain the whole way. The threats of harm can leave more of a mark than actual violence, like when Ren tells a young girl, "Reveal what you've seen here and we'll tear your tonsils out." In the episode "Stimpy's Fan Club," Stimpy is given a knife to cut Ren as his punishment, while the small dog even exposes his chest, yelling at his friend to do it. The best example of this comes from "Sven Hoek," when Ren goes on about how he's going to brutalize his two housemates. This bit starts with the line "First, I'm going to tear your lips out. Yeah, that's what I'm going to do" — a segment that was partly censored until the episode made it to DVD, showing the potency of threatening words.

Ren & Stimpy's sexualization

It isn't hard to see why everyone past a certain age focuses on the sex in Ren & Stimpy. There are some incredibly obvious moments, like when the duo goes skinny-dipping after literally taking off their fur, or when they switch places with two babies and have family bath time with the parents. There are slightly more awkward situations, like Stimpy flexing his individual butt cheeks to the beat of a song, using a ghost to dry off his genitals, and trying to sell rubber nipples to a horse (they love those things). The episode "Fire Dogs" shows a woman giving Ren some sloppy mouth-to-mouth not long before they allude to dogs urinating on them. Simply gross and demeaning, or a hint at golden showers?

The entire show has a lot of kissing in it, much of it aggressive or followed up by something grotesque, like Ren washing his mouth out in a dirty toilet bowl. In "Stimpy's First Fart," Ren bats his eyes seductively and points out that he and Stimpy are under the mistletoe. The show also depicts crossdressing, and both characters dress up as nurses while a man stretches to reveal he's wearing a thong. During the "Happy Happy Joy Joy" song, Ren and Stimpy slap their butts together, making a smooching sound. There are still further innuendos, like the end of the "Powdered Toast Man" episode, when the hero is in front of a fire with his lovely short-skirted assistant who holds up a dripping white marshmallow, while he has a plump sausage pointing at her as a heart silhouette closes the scene — very subtle.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em

Smoking can appear cool onscreen, but in the decades since we've learned more about the benefits of smoking cessation, it's become harder to watch — particularly in a show ostensibly for kids. In "A Visit to Anthony," two bullies have lit cigars, while Kowalski smokes an entire pack of cigarettes before Ren slaps them out of his mouth in "Fake Dad." The box has the name of the product as Long Life Cigarettes and claims to have "800% more tar" for extra emphasis. Cigars seem to be the preferred nicotine delivery system; the show might have tried for a more positive message by having them explode in the episode "Circus Midgets," or more likely, the creators thought it was just funnier.

"Man's Best Friend" is the notoriously banned episode that Nickelodeon wouldn't air due to its violence, scatological jokes, and scenes of cigar smoking — though mostly the characters just seem to have them in their mouths unlit. There is also a character named George Liquor American, but he shows up in a later episode minus his middle name. Some fans have also insisted that the main characters appear to be high at times, which isn't hard to see.

The creator issue

Ren & Stimpy was created by John Kricfalusi, a man that many young and talented animators looked up to as a standout in a sea of similar-looking cartoons. In late 1992, Kricfalusi was fired by Nickelodeon and neither his career nor the show were ever the same. He had a history of being a problem to work with, having been fired from several jobs before landing his own show. Voice actor Billy West opened up on Twitter about having a problem with Kricfalusi because of the way he treated others. The Ren & Stimpy reins were passed to Bob Camp — who was a big creative mind for the show along with Bill Wray — but the changing of the guard caused a lot of problems.

In 2018, Kricfalusi was accused of sexual harassment, sexual misconduct with underaged girls, possessing child pornography, and general predatory behavior. The testimonies of two women involved — backed in some parts by former co-workers — claimed that the animator was courting them at quite a young age (13 and 14), grooming them to move in with him as well as becoming employees and sexual partners. Kricfalusi posted a poorly received apology on Facebook, blaming his mental illness for his actions and the pain he caused. Multiple networks have stated they will not work with Kricfalusi again.

For any kids who catch a glimpse of Ren & Stimpy today, the duo's frantic gross-out humor remains as appealing as ever — but for the adults who grew up watching the show, these allegations — and Kricfalusi's response — make it much harder to enjoy the series.

Ren & Stimpy's Adult Party Cartoon

John Kricfalusi said he wanted to push boundaries even further with the original Ren & Stimpy cartoon, and in 2003, Spike TV finally gave him that opportunity. He wasn't the only creative mind behind bringing the original episodes to life, and it showed here. Ren & Stimpy's Adult Party Cartoon was familiar, with good animation and decent voice acting — though original voice actor Billy West didn't return and was missed — but never quite captured the audience again. It just tried too hard.

A lot of the things the team could do now felt forced and without purpose, including nudity and adult language. The sexuality of the characters was expressed more — Stimpy even got pregnant — and the animators drew on nipples for female characters. The new segments were just as gross and narratively aimless as the classic episodes, but some of the new stories meandered without purpose.

Adult Party Cartoon was an attempt to make a show for an older audience and accent on the humor and themes that would have gone over kids' heads. It may be the best example of how certain restrictions (and a shorter format) can help a show stay more creative and humorous. Ultimately, it received a largely negative reception: Only three episodes of the new cartoon would air, although all six were later released on DVD.

Ren & Stimpy and the language of idiots

Many cartoons slip things by kids and the censors through creative wordplay, and Ren & Stimpy was definitely no exception. The show pushed boundaries wherever it could, prodding at the innocence of its viewers along the way.

Sometimes the show explored absurd humor with an elaborate vocabulary, spouting nonsense like "It's fresh! It's redundant!" This tactic was also occasionally used to make more adult jokes, like when Ren talked about Kowalski being from his loins or when an episode was described as "turgid." There was some ethnic humor buried in odd and confusing turns of phrase, like "The walls have teeth. Us Italians have to stick together." Characters use the word "retarded," and even say "hell" in the episode "The Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen" (Nickelodeon edited that with a fart noise.)

Some mentions of different ideologies and religion were removed or banned in places, like references to communism in "Eat My Cookies" as well as "Ren's Bitter Half." There is a scene that involves meat being placed on Ren and Stimpy's heads and some religious chanting in "Reverend Jack," but it isn't the only episode to evoke religious ideas; that list also includes "The Last Temptation" and "It's a Dog's Life."

Words like "idiot," "imbecile," and "moron" are also thrown around quite a bit — but nothing will ever beat "You bloated sack of protoplasm!"

Ren & Stimpy & Death & Suicide

When most cartoon characters have a giant boulder drop on them or get blown up by a stick of dynamite that was held too long, they walk it off, but Ren & Stimpy is never quite that happy-go-lucky. 

Death is all around in this show, from characters having nooses around their necks to a child's death being referred to as his "nap." We see the main characters being stuffed and mounted or imploding, two bullies driving off a cliff and exploding, or just good old-fashioned Ren threatening to kill Stimpy, like in the episode "Stimpy's Fan Club." Many of the segments end with the characters dead or in a depressing situation, leaving a lasting impression on younger viewers.

The concept of ending one's own life is even more prevalent. The episode "Ren's Retirement" was initially banned by Nickelodeon due to Ren being told he's old, having war flashbacks and experiencing PTSD before yelling at Stimpy to finish it with a bullet to the brain. A darkly animated version of the Grim Reaper shows up, the two go shopping for coffins, and they end the episode being eaten by a worm. Ren tries to kill himself on multiple occasions, like that time with the trash compactor. As if to up the ante in a very Ren & Stimpy way, the "Haunted House" episode sees a ghost trying to kill himself with an axe, only to succeed later by using poison and coming back to life.