Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story

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AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
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(Decided to start a new thread for this so I wouldn't be double-posting in the John K thread)

Just got back from seeing this movie at Sundance. I backed this project on Indiegogo in 2017 and was asked to find clips for certain parts of the film, including one segment showing how many other cartoons have been influenced by Ren & Stimpy (most of the stuff I contributed wasn't used).

I was greatly looking forward to this, and when the Buzzfeed article came out I became worried about what might happen to the film - so at first I was pleased to hear that it would still be released, albeit heavily reworked to include the news about John. I was dismayed to see that the prevailing attitude on this forum and elsewhere was that the film should have been canceled as soon as the news broke, and while I could understand why people felt that way, I still wanted to keep an open mind until I actually saw the film. Sadly, after watching it, I have to echo everyone else's sentiments - it's an uneven, inconsistent, inappropriately titled mess that puts way too much focus on John and has no idea how to handle the allegations against him. If it was a choice between releasing it like this and shelving it, they should have shelved it - without question. How this thing ever got accepted into Sundance is beyond me.

Let me be clear that I take no pleasure in saying any of this. I really wanted to like the film, and despite everyone's misgivings I still hoped it would be worth it after all this. But after seeing it, there's no doubt in my mind that it should've been canned as soon as the news broke, if this was the direction they were going to take. The film could potentially have been salvageable if the focus had mostly stayed on the other people who worked on the show besides John, but instead the filmmakers chose to structure 90% of the movie around him, which may have been one of the worst possible moves they could have taken after he was outed as a predator.

The first cut of the movie was over two hours in length and was completed just before the Buzzfeed story broke. It had no direct involvement from John, who only agreed to participate after the story dropped. The finished cut of the film is slightly over 100 minutes in length and focuses primarily on John, which will undoubtedly disappoint anyone hoping that the film would give the show's other artists a chance to speak. All the best anecdotes come from Bob Camp, Chris Reccardi, Richard Pursel and others as they share their own stories about working with him, but the vast majority of screen time is devoted to John telling long rambling stories about his childhood, his father, how the characters were created, how he became interested in animation in the first place, the inspiration for Ren's voice, etc.

It should probably come as no surprise that most of this ground has already been covered elsewhere, and while John's tyrannical and abusive tendencies are touched on from time to time, the film spends much of its runtime building him up as this unparalleled genius of animation, as though he were a modern-day Walt Disney. It's less a celebration of the show and its legacy (i.e. what was originally promised) than a celebration of John. Billy West and Bill Wray only have brief sequences devoted to them, while other artists (Jim Smith, Eddie Fitzgerald, Scott Wills) are barely in the film at all. Vanessa Coffey is featured most prominently after John, talking about how she selected Ren & Stimpy from John's "Your Gang" pitch to be the main characters, as well as sharing her thoughts on the show's tarnished legacy as a result of John's crimes.

Many fans of the show were also contacted and interviewed by the filmmakers, and while all of them are acknowledged in the credits, none of them actually appear in the film, with the exception of one stereotypical redneck-looking dude who shows off his massive collection of R&S merchandise, in a sequence that feels incredibly out-of-place with what the film ultimately became. Multiple celebrities were interviewed as well, including Weird Al Yankovic, but only a small handful actually made it into the film (Jack Black, Iliza Shlesinger, and Mad TV cast member Bobby Lee appear to be the only ones featured). Disappointingly, one of the discarded interviews was with Anthony Raspanti, who guest starred in the episode "A Visit to Anthony" as an eight-year-old fan of the show.

Very little of the Games run of the show is covered; the bulk of the film is devoted to the first two Spumco-produced seasons, after which it skips ahead to John's post-R&S projects and his relationship with Robyn. The tonal shift as the focus switches to John's predatory behavior is as jarring and non-seamless as you can imagine, and is even marked with a title card. There's no real transition or flow to it; the film just suddenly takes on a creepy, sinister tone all at once and without warning. The fact that the filmmakers went to the trouble of completely tearing down and restructuring the whole film, and the finished product still couldn't avoid feeling like an awkward mishmash of two entirely different films, only serves to make their lack of experience all the more painfully evident. A friend on Facebook suggested that a better approach may have been to release the first cut with a disclaimer, then do a follow-up movie focusing on John's crimes, but the producers likely did not have the time or budget to do this.

The final portion of the film is extremely uncomfortable to watch, as we cut back and forth between John and Robyn each telling their own version of what happened. Robyn's poignant statements about separating art from artist are sadly undermined by John as he creepily reminisces about his relationship with her, claiming he had her best interests at heart and urging her to give him a call once she sees the film. The filmmakers even give John the final word - the film closes with him admitting that he's not perfect, that he's "human just like everybody else," as he sketches a scene of Stimpy calling Ren a monster (from "Ren Seeks Help" of R&S Adult Party Cartoon). Vanessa Coffey was in attendance at the premiere (as was Robyn), and during the post-show Q&A she took the filmmakers to task for their decision to do this, asking them why they let John have the last word. The director more or less dodged the question by saying that the closing shot was meant to indirectly suggest that John is actually a monster, as if that excuses or makes up for the fact that they still gave him the last word anyway (never mind hanging out with him for months and making him the focus of nearly the entire movie).

This, ultimately, speaks volumes as to just how naive and unqualified they were to even consider doing a movie like this. They gave an admitted sex offender a voice in an attempt to paint as neutral a picture of him as possible and "let the audience make up their minds." The obvious problem with this approach (which should really go without saying) is that he is a sex offender. Someone like that does not deserve a platform to present their "side of the story" because of how obviously and objectively wrong their actions were, and if the filmmakers were going to take this approach, they should have either dumped the project altogether or consulted someone who knew better.

Overall, while I might recommend the film as a primer for anyone curious about the show and its history, Thad Komorowski's book "Sick Little Monkeys" is the better account by far, and anyone expecting a more in-depth look at the series would be much better off checking that out instead.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
Thank you for your honesty and detailed reviewed about why the film didn't work. The defense I keep hearing for the release is that "Well the Kickstarter money has been spent and they can't very well return it to everyone who invested in the film before the sexual assault revelations broke." Well, so what? Risk is a part of investment. There is no safe project to put money into where random crap you didn't expect couldn't upend it at any moment. It doesn't have to be your fault, but that's the risk. And I don't like that Kickstarter has raised a generation of younger people who refuse to understand or accept financial risks. The movie should have been canceled even if the investors lost all their money. There is nothing special about Kickstarter investors that makes them more worthy of financial protection that the people who play the markets on Wall Street. If you invest in something, you are taking your chances. The film should have been immediately canceled and never seen the light of day.

Thank you for the report and the mea culpa attached to it. That cannot have been easy to sit through. Good job.
 

AllenJ

Active Member
Aug 7, 2012
219
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28
Thank you for your honesty and detailed reviewed about why the film didn't work. The defense I keep hearing for the release is that "Well the Kickstarter money has been spent and they can't very well return it to everyone who invested in the film before the sexual assault revelations broke." Well, so what? Risk is a part of investment. There is no safe project to put money into where random crap you didn't expect couldn't upend it at any moment. It doesn't have to be your fault, but that's the risk. And I don't like that Kickstarter has raised a generation of younger people who refuse to understand or accept financial risks. The movie should have been canceled even if the investors lost all their money. There is nothing special about Kickstarter investors that makes them more worthy of financial protection that the people who play the markets on Wall Street. If you invest in something, you are taking your chances. The film should have been immediately canceled and never seen the light of day.

Thank you for the report and the mea culpa attached to it. That cannot have been easy to sit through. Good job.
Honestly, when I first heard about this movie I was a little hesitant to even get involved in the first place - my initial thought was something like "who is this guy and what qualifies him to do a film about Ren & Stimpy anyway?" Guess I should've trusted my original instincts after all.

Believe me, I really wanted to give this movie the benefit of the doubt. I was very enthusiastic about it, and even when I first heard John would be involved I thought "Well, maybe it'll still be okay as long as they don't give him too much screen time or let him dominate the movie or cut everyone else's interviews down to nothing." So much for that. :rolleyes:

Incidentally, I saw two other documentary features while I was there ("Feels Good Man," about how Pepe the Frog came to be associated with the online far-right, and "McMillions," about how McDonald's Monopoly sweepstakes was rigged by the promotional agency that was running it), and both of them were infinitely better on just about every level, which is definitely not a good sign when you consider that the main reason I came was to see the Ren & Stimpy film.

Also, this isn't really a criticism of the film per se, but the standard-definition clips from Ren & Stimpy look absolutely awful when blown up and projected on a movie screen in HD. You can literally make out every video artifact and imperfection (and they were apparently using masters directly provided by Nickelodeon, so it's not as if they just pulled the footage off YouTube or anything like that).
 

AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
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Okay, now you got me curious. How did McDonald's rig the Monopoly sweepstakes? Dish.
Technically it wasn't actually rigged by McDonald's, but by the promotional agency that was running the sweepstakes - apparently someone within the agency had ties to a mafia crime ring and was deliberately choosing who the grand prize winners would be. It's actually an HBO documentary series that officially premieres tomorrow; the first three episodes were shown at Sundance as a preview.
 

Fone Bone

Matt Zimmer
Technically it wasn't actually rigged by McDonald's, but by the promotional agency that was running the sweepstakes - apparently someone within the agency had ties to a mafia crime ring and was deliberately choosing who the grand prize winners would be. It's actually an HBO documentary series that officially premieres tomorrow; the first three episodes were shown at Sundance as a preview.
That's insane. When I get HBO Max I'll check it out.
 

Classic Speedy

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but the vast majority of screen time is devoted to John telling long rambling stories about his childhood, his father, how the characters were created, how he became interested in animation in the first place, the inspiration for Ren's voice, etc.
So in other words, recycled content from the R&S commentary tracks and his blog. What a waste.
 

AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
219
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So in other words, recycled content from the R&S commentary tracks and his blog. What a waste.
Really. The original impression I had was that the film would cover every facet of the show; from the animation, to the artwork, to the music, to the voices, to the various people who worked on it, to the fans; and the original cut probably did talk about those things in more depth, so it really sucks that they threw all that out just so John could retell the same stories we've already heard a million times. The show's music is never discussed in any detail whatsoever, none of the various animation studios that worked on the show (Carbunkle, Rough Draft, etc.) are mentioned even once, Billy West briefly talks about the inspiration for Stimpy's voice, Bill Wray briefly talks about his background paintings for the show, Vanessa Coffey and Will McRobb talk about some of the dirtier jokes that slipped through, but aside from that it's pretty much all John.

If they were dead set on releasing this after the news, I still think a better approach would've been to use the first cut mostly as is and re-frame it as sort of a time capsule/period piece to show what people thought of the series before the news broke, and maybe de-emphasize John as much as possible to remind people that the show was more than just him (Katie Rice expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter a while back, where she said she would've liked the film to give more attention to the non-predatory artists who worked on the show). The parts of the film dealing with John's crimes just clashed too much with everything else, and I really feel like that stuff should've been covered in a separate film (preferably by a different filmmaker who knew what they were doing).
 

Pooky

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Jul 14, 2010
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To me the queasiest aspect of this is that John K wasn't involved at all until after the allegations came out. As such it's hard to see this (from the reports, perhaps I would feel differently if I had ever seen this) as anything other than as a defence or apology. I guess that's an inherent risk with documentaries made by fans without a critical mindset; they're going to let the evidence support rather than inform the narrative.
 

AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
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To me the queasiest aspect of this is that John K wasn't involved at all until after the allegations came out. As such it's hard to see this (from the reports, perhaps I would feel differently if I had ever seen this) as anything other than as a defence or apology. I guess that's an inherent risk with documentaries made by fans without a critical mindset; they're going to let the evidence support rather than inform the narrative.
Technically, the producers of this movie weren't even fans - they knew almost nothing about the show and had never watched it outside of maybe a couple episodes (one of them had never watched even a single episode). They were simply eager to make a documentary about something, and the idea to make it about Ren & Stimpy came from a friend of theirs who had worked with John on some of his post-R&S projects - meaning that, essentially, John was their main impetus for even doing it in the first place. Is it any wonder the film turned out the way it did?

The project was probably doomed from the start. The filmmakers did a podcast a few days before the premiere where they gleefully admit to making such embarrassing rookie mistakes as not getting clearance from Viacom before starting production and setting an unrealistically high goal for their initial Kickstarter campaign (one of them apparently ended up having to sell both his house and his car to fund the film). You've got to hear this to believe it:
 

Pooky

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Thanks; just listened to that (in the background while doing some work so I admit I may have missed some things). Pretty astonishing really; to sell a house and car to fund a niche film about a subject you're not even passionate about seems insane. Yet despite not being fans they seemed to decide to make it from a fan's perspective, rather than the less forgiving lens you would think an outside perspective would bring. I gave these guys the benefit of the doubt for a long time, but it seems like it was an ill-conceived project from the start.
 

AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
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Bumping this thread because the film's public release is coming up on August 14. The official trailer just dropped, and several people on Twitter pointed out that the filmmakers used obvious fan art to represent SpongeBob and Fairly OddParents in the collage of shows influenced by Ren & Stimpy (I missed this when I saw the film at Sundance because the image wasn't on screen long enough for me to really notice):

I wish I could go back in time and warn myself to stay far away from this thing. What an embarrassing mess.
 

yandere dev

jesus eating jello with obama
Aug 1, 2020
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I was really hyped for this documentary.
This is such a waste of pontecial, this guys had everything to make a good documentary,it's just sad.
I bet it's just gonna be John talking about his ****** up childhood and saying some creepy ass stuff to the camera.
And to make things worst one of the people interview is Chris Gore. Chris was one of the early John K supporters back in the early 90's, writting a bunch of articles on the spumco vs nickelodeon, even letting John write a whole article about himself called "So, What Happened To Cartoons Anyway?".Another thing to add, he once saw Bob Camp having lunch with the games crew and started a small figth with Bob, they just screamed at eachother apparently.

edit:I just added a link to John's article so you guys can laugh at it, it's on page 16.
 
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AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
219
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When did this doc start production? Before or after allegations?

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It was definitely in production before the allegations (I first heard about it in late 2016, and the producers launched a Kickstarter campaign the following year). My understanding is that it was originally meant to be a celebration of the series as a whole, with a greater emphasis on the rest of the show's crew and their contributions to it, as well as several fan interviews. These YouTube clips, posted prior to the Buzzfeed article, should give you a rough idea of what could have been.

Also, since I've been seeing a few questions about whether APC is covered in the film at all: it is, albeit only briefly. We're shown a montage of clips from it accompanied by eerie ominous music, along with several of John's other post-R&S projects (including the infamous log-sawing gag from "Altruists"), which leads into the final section of the film dealing with John's abuses.
 
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Spaceman

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Jun 12, 2009
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It's messed up beyond words that this alleged celebration of Ren & Stimpy's production and cultural impact mutated into a puff piece for Kricfalusi's personal life (complete with his involvement) after the allegations broke.

At the same time... I don't think it should've been cancelled, either. I actually think it should've been completely re-imagined so that it was about exploring the dual-edged legacy of culturally significant artistic works whose "visionary" creators were/are genuinely horrible people, with Ren & Stimpy/Kricfalusi being one of multiple such examples spotlighted. (I imagine this hypothetical documentary would also need to talk about Fat Albert/The Cosby Show, the original X-Men film trilogy, the filmographies of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, etc...)

BTW, I feel really sorry for Bob Camp. At the very least (going by his Wikipedia page), he seems to have had a far more impressive post-R&S resume than Kricfalusi.
 
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AllenJ

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Aug 7, 2012
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At the same time... I don't think it should've been cancelled, either. I actually think it should've been completely re-imagined so that it was about exploring the dual-edged legacy of culturally significant artistic works whose "visionary" creators were/are genuinely horrible people, with Ren & Stimpy/Kricfalusi being one of multiple such examples spotlighted. (I imagine this hypothetical documentary would also need to talk about Fat Albert/The Cosby Show, the original X-Men film trilogy, the filmographies of Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, etc...)
That sounds like a good idea in theory (although it might be better suited for a multi-part series rather than a single film), but I really don't think these directors would have been the right people to do it. They were clearly in way over their heads with this one project alone, so retooling it into something on the scale you're suggesting would probably not have been feasible. That's why I think one possible approach could have been to hand the project off to someone else after the news broke rather than attempt to rework it themselves. A more experienced filmmaker might have at least been able to salvage some of the original cut and still find a way to work the news into it without being too jarring, although I think something on the level you're suggesting would still be a stretch. But at this point, it is what it is.
 
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