Movie Review: ‘Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story’

Review by James Lindorf

Thirty years ago, when Nickelodeon searched to create a new cartoon lineup, the now-disgraced animator John Kricfalusi answered their call. He arrived at the studio, ready to pitch his idea for “Your Gang.” However, producer Vanessa Coffey was only interested in the two supporting characters, Ren and Stimpy. Nickelodeon’s head, Geraldine Laybourne, reluctantly agreed to greenlight the project, and six episodes were ordered. Creator John Kricfalusi was celebrated as a visionary when Ren & Stimpy broke rating records and became a touchstone for a generation of fans and artists. “Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story” is releasing, Friday, August 14th. Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood directed the film with Kricfalusi, Bob Camp, Vincent Waller, Billy West, Chris Reccardi, Jim Gomez, Vanessa Coffey and more, sharing their surprising insights into the actual cost of creating a pop-culture classic

The story of Ren & Stimpy is actually the story of Kricfalusi. It follows him from his early childhood love of animation to his heights and the fall after sexual abuse allegations against two minors. The film is edited frantically, moving from interviewee to interviewee and often quickly changing topics, much like an episode of Ren & Stimpy. Everyone has a bit of a love-hate relationship with John, long before any allegations. He was known as a genius and a massive a**hole. Once they broke records, his ego led to the breakup of his studio Spumco.

There is so much covered in the film, John, as a young man trying to break into the industry. Inking the deal with Nickelodeon, building the studio, and the combative relationships that grew between friends and coworkers. Then there is the endless reverence for the artistry that went into the show, even though they never gave any details. When you think of documentaries about culturally significant cartoons, the first one that comes to mind is “6 Days to Air” about the production of “South Park.” It is by far the superior film because it teaches you so much about the show you love while giving you an inside look at the creators.

“Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story” is more interested in being amazed at the brilliance that when into creating the show instead of the how or even why. I was seven when “Ren & Stimpy” was released. Most of my memories are of the yelling and screaming between the overly angry dog and the simpleminded cat. I would have loved to learn how they settled on the comedic and artistic stylings. Or an in-depth look at the technical differences that went into creating the various scenes in the show. There are several interesting tidbits shared throughout the movie. Nevertheless, they could have done more to celebrate the show if they chose to focus less on the guy who tried to ruin everything and used his status to groom young women.

DIRECTED BY:  Ron Cicero & Kimo Easterwood
CAST: Bob Camp, Vincent Waller, Billy West, Chris Reccardi, Jim Gomez, Vanessa Coffey 
GENRE: Documentary, Independent
DISTRIBUTOR: Gravitas Ventures

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