Ren & Stimpy returns to our screens with its first new episode since 1995. So it"s been worth the wait, right? Well, yeah, sort of. And sort of not. Read on.
You are watching: Ren and stimpy onward and upward
Onward and Upward was originally conceived as a traditional 11-minute episode during the second season of Ren & Stimpy, but Nickelodeon deemed it too disgusting and threw it out. It now surfaces, some 11 years later, as a 19-minute (or thereabouts) show.
The first thing that struck me about Onward and Upward was the difference in visuals. The new look seems much more detailed, with the characters occupying much less of the frame (this is particularly evident in the first act). The artwork, especially at the beginning, is a bit hit-and-miss, with some great poses combined with others that just look clumsy more than anything. Especially when Ren throws his tantrum ("I can"t STAND being poor!"), the drawings look incredibly rubbery and feel like they"re being exaggerated just for the sake of it. In the original run, the wacky posing always felt natural -- here, it just seems gratuitous. It"s not all bad, though, as far as visuals go. The entire dinner scene is superbly drawn, and although the designs of the inhabitants of the bar are bland, they get some great visual gags.
One thing I don"t like is the overly crisp look the show now has. The whole thing is now done digitally, with no film print involved at all. The result is that it looks quite flat at times, which doesn"t do the somewhat dull backgrounds of this episode any favors. Sure, it looks clean, and it presents the drawings perfectly, but it makes the flaws stand out all the more.
Oh, and the voices. Ren sounds a good deal more raspy than he used to (not a problem), and Stimpy... well, you can tell it"s not Billy West, but all props to Eric Bauza, he did a great job of imitating what must be an incredibly difficult voice. He sounds a little off at times, especially during the Dr. Stupid segment, but there are moments here and there where I"d be hard pressed to tell the two voices apart. Certainly this is nothing like as bad as when Billy West played the voice of Ren. One more thing: the voice actors are listed in the opening credits, something that in the past was only ever done for the occasional guest voice (e.g. Gary Owens and Frank Zappa in Powdered Toast Man).
The biggest problem with Onward and Upward is that it feels stretched. You can often tell they"re having to run with gags that, under other circumstances, would have been left on the drawing board. There"s a great deal of padding going on, and that "Ask Dr. Stupid" segment feels out of place, unfunny and completely unnecessary. What"s more, Ren and Stimpy"s adventures in their new home (a spittoon) don"t really have much of a logical progression so much as they just go from one situation to another until they are discovered and thrown out. I"m not saying it"s not enjoyable, it"s just that the overall story structure is quite weak - surely a bad sign in a show as long as this one.
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Spumco"s dilemma is pretty clear. TNN is inundated with commercials, meaning that having two "episodes" per show is unfeasible due to time constraints. Not counting the opening and closing credits, only around 19-20 minutes is left for the show, which is too long for one of the traditional stories but too short for a double-length special like Sven Höek. Really, it"s a losing battle however you look at it. Onward and Upward seems to be stretched too long, but by contrast, Ren Seeks Help feels too short. It"s an unfortunate running time for a show, but what can you do about it?
Overall, Onward and Upward is actually pretty decent. It"s neither as good as my wildest dreams nor as bad as my darkest fears. With this episode, the team has clearly not settled into the swing of things, but I think that those who are calling the new show a failure on the basis of this episode are being far too hasty. It"s not as if every single episode of the original run was an A+ classic, was it?
Standout moment: The dinner scene.