Anyone who watched The Ren & Stimpy Show remembers Stimpy’s Invention. While I think Man’s Best Friend is a superior R&S episode, the sheer madness in the second half of Stimpy’s Invention makes it a top cartoon.
Even the title card is awesome. Set to Dvorak’s New World Symphony, it sets the uneasy tone for what’s to come.
Unfortunately, this episode doesn’t get off to the best start. Stimpy asks Ren to test out his silly and useless “invinshins,” which sets in motion a series of weak gags that are only funny because of the excellent voice acting. Safe though they are, I think these scenes serve their purpose in providing characterization, as well as setting up contrast.
After this, we get a long, long, long sequence of Stimpy at work in his laboratory. There are couple of funny shots, but overall this feels like padding. Once Stimpy yells “Eureka!” however, the cartoon takes flight and never touches the ground again.
Stimpy’s newest invention is the Happy Helmet, a mood-altering abomination that forces its wearer to feel elated all the time. Stimpy ambushes Ren with this device, and a freaky transformation follows (brilliantly set to The Flight of the Bumblebee). The poses and animation here are tremendous, unlike anything seen in most cartoons. Ren goes so far off-model that most square studios would never allow it. Thankfully, Spumco is no square studio. Laying out this cartoon must have been a hell of a lot of fun.
Having turned into a mindlessly cheerful drone, Ren goes on to perform “wonderful things” for Stimpy, like ironing the cat’s underwear and cleaning his litter box, and the parade of astonishing poses continues. I mean, just look at this! Nobody does stuff like this. There’s no way Disney would ever contort its precious characters in this way, and even Warner Bros. never took things to these extremes.
The climax of Stimpy’s Invention is, as most know, the haunting musical number of Stinky Wizzleteats’s “Happy Happy Joy Joy.” This scene is pretty much indescribable. Ren & Stimpy cavort to this bizarre children’s ditty, performed by John Kricfalusi himself in a weird homage to Burl Ives. As the song hits its crescendo, Ren rediscovers his willpower and frees himself from the Happy Helmet by smashing himself on the head with a ball-peen hammer. It all happens in time with the song, too. It’s amazing.
Here’s something strange: when I first saw this as an eleven-year-old, and the spotlights fell on the characters, I somehow knew that I was about to see something that wasn’t just special, but historic.
It is here that John Kricfalusi first demonstrated to the world that mixture of disturbing and funny that would be the hallmark of his work ever after. Many cartoons — including Billy & Mandy, The Brothers Grunt, Spongebob Squarepants, and Adventure Time — have attempted to recapture this sinister-yet-silly tone that’s so well encapsulated in Stimpy’s Invention, but none has succeeded. Some of the shows on Adult Swim come close, but I’m not sure they count since, well, they’re not aimed at children, and thus, have no lines to toe. What Ren & Stimpy got away with blows the mind, as well as the doors for all outrageous cartoons that followed.