Note to John Kricfalusi: Enough already

John Kricfalusi (John K.)There was a time when I saw the name John K. and knew I was about to witness high-quality entertainment. For those who don’t know him (or have forgotten), John K. introduced the world to the world of The Ren & Stimpy Show in August 1991. The first season of R&S is still revered by many animation fans as one of the finest ever for any cartoon. When it debuted it was seen by fans (if not by critics) as imaginative, frenetic, and the perfect antidote to a world of bland, predictable animation.

But that magic didn’t last long. By the time the decent (albeit uneven) second season started there were already huge delays (as long as one month between new episodes) and reports of friction between John K. and his bosses at Nickelodeon. Prior to the start of the third season in 1993, Kricfalusi was unceremoniously dumped from his own creation. The show continued for three more seasons, but without John K.’s unique vision (not to mention his irreplaceable voicing of Ren) it became just another banal cartoon – toothless and rarely entertaining.

Since then Kricfalusi has been involved in a number of projects, but none of them nearly as successful or enduring as the original Ren & Stimpy. Most notably, his studio produced the video for the Björk single “I Miss You”, as well as a few bizarre one-off shorts featuring classic Hanna-Barbera characters like Yogi Bear and The Jetsons. There was also a failed series called The Ripping Friends, and the dismally unwatchable Ren & Stimpy Adult Cartoon Party (mercifully killed after a handful of episodes).

These days, what I’m learning is that when I now see the name John K., it’s probably going to be attached to yet another bitter screed about the sorry state of the animation world. In the most recent one, Kricfalusi once again takes potshots at successful shows like South Park and Family Guy, while continuing to bemoan his brutal repression at the hands of myopic network overlords. OK John, we get it. If left to your own devices, you could create the most groundbreaking and innovative cartoon ever. Except that when you did get a freer hand, we got shit like Ren & Stimpy Adult Cartoon Party, where you somehow got the idea that making them gay (literally, not in the pejorative sense) would be good for yuks.

Ren & Stimpy
Happier days

Having seen most of John K.’s post-R&S work I can now safely conclude that for once, network censorship is a good thing. Because if it were up to him, all his mass market cartoons would be full of boogers and breasts. I wasn’t all that amused by that stuff when I was 15, and I am certainly not amused now. It wasn’t what made the original R&S great (it was clever writing and surreal animation to name a few reasons).

Kricfalusi loves to attack major studios like Disney as the height of blandness and mediocrity on his blog, and while a lot of his issues are valid it’s clear he misses a major point — Disney’s cartoons are supposed to entertain the audience, not to make them relive your own pre-pubescent fantasies. Would The Little Mermaid be more cutting edge if she had a huge chest and we got some closeups of her armpits? Possibly. Would it be pointless and juvenile? Yeah, pretty much. Likewise, shows like South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy are not about the animation. They are delivery systems for stories and jokes, pure and simple. The animation quality (such as it is) is incidental.

Look, it’s obvious John K. loves his craft and has the kind of talent most of us slobs can only dream of. He clocks countless hours on his own blog trying to educate other aspiring cartoonists for free. But seriously, enough already with the bitterness. Yes it sucks that you got fired from your own show. But the thing is, most people who watch cartoons don’t give a crap about the inherent quality of the animation – they just want to be entertained. Yes, there will always be a small group of devotees who will pause episodes of Dexter’s Laboratory to critique the animation on a frame-by-frame basis, and compare it unfavorably to the glories of Chuck Jones-era Looney Tunes.

But the thing is John, those glories are over and they aren’t coming back. So perhaps instead of blasting successful cartoons every chance you get, how about you just keep making the type of stuff you want to and enjoy the fact that there is still a fanbase for it? Maybe if you tone down the venom people might be inclined to listen a little more closely to you. Oh yeah, and you might want to consider focusing on your stories a little more instead of trying to ramp up the sex factor. Just a thought.

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  • triadsense

    It was the economic meltdown in 2008 that ended John K’s comeback, not anything he had done artistically.

  • James Sims

    Did you show this to John K. yet? It would be a good idea if you did so that way he wouldn’t stop bashing Disney. :)

    • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net Chris Holmes

      I’ll mention it next time we get together.

      • James Sims

        What do you mean by get together?

  • Andi

    I’ve always admired John K and I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed Ren and Stmpy, but I agree- the ego has to go.

    He is turning into the modern Walt Disney, aka, big, money-making, self loving fucktard who belongs in a padded cell.

    No way do I wanna be like THAT as a person. As an animator, I would just LOVE to be like John K because unlike disney, he HAS talent….he’s just kinda wasting it, is all……

    • Anonymous

      Actually, Disney DOES have talent!

    • Amy S

      Your talent is being an asshole :D

      • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net Chris Holmes

        Perhaps, but I am an asshole who puts his full name on his criticisms.

  • http://rantocracy.blogspot.com/ MC

    See, I wonder what Ren and Stimpy could have become had John K. been allowed to stay with it throughout its life cycle… I agree his post-R+S work is subpar in comparison.

  • http://mizerychick.livejournal.com/ mizerychik

    With the early R&S at least, the gross-out stuff really was at a minimum. An episode like “Space Madness” is not gross at all but is just so bizarre it has to be seen to be believed.

    Space Madness has always been my favorite R&S. There’s something so incredibly goofy and surreal about it.

  • http://wiw.org/~jess/ Jess

    I totally missed out on “Ren & Stimpy Adult Cartoon Party” until I stumbled some clips on YouTube a few months ago. It’s truly amazing just how awful that show was.

    That being said, I liked his work on the Bjork video. :)

  • Chris

    With the early R&S at least, the gross-out stuff really was at a minimum. An episode like “Space Madness” is not gross at all but is just so bizarre it has to be seen to be believed.

    I like the Kevin Smith analogy, but I think they differ in one area. John K at least produced one excellent work. I have yet to see a Kevin Smith movie that has been anything other than just OK. Yes, even Clerks.

  • http://www.grayflannelsuit.net/ grayflannelsuit

    With the early R&S at least, the gross-out stuff really was at a minimum. An episode like “Space Madness” is not gross at all but is just so bizarre it has to be seen to be believed.

    I like the Kevin Smith analogy, but I think they differ in one area. John K at least produced one excellent work. I have yet to see a Kevin Smith movie that has been anything other than just OK. Yes, even Clerks.

  • http://thomnottom.com/ Thom

    I have to admit that I never really got in R&S. The big gross-out shots always turned me off. I get the whole “pushing the envelope” idea, but sometimes going overboard just for the sake of going overboard is just bad.

    He sounds like Kevin Smith, who puts out crap regularly but has such a devoted following that he seems convinced it’s simply the mainstream movie machine that keeps him down.

    • Rabbit

      Late to the party, I know.

      Kevin Smith has put out an awful lot of crap lately but when he bitches he’s funny about it and is generally a nice person who doesn’t complain that much. While his work is uneven, I still look forward to seeing his next movies. If you ever get to see him live, you MUST go.

      But John K? The man is a genius and that’s his problem. Genius doesn’t always translate into good work. Clearly, John has a point of view that he’s dedicated too but he’s the only one in on his joke and he makes others miserable. He’s my least favorite kind of artist.

  • Chris

    Precisely. I will always love the classic R&S, but Jackson Publick (to name one) eats John K’s lunch.

  • http://mizerychick.livejournal.com/ mizerychik

    I remember The Ripping Friends. It was a standard “oh God this is terrible, I hope Adult Swim cancels it soon” part of the lineup for a year. His Yogi Bear one offs were better, but I always thought he was a one trick pony, and that pony wasn’t all that impressive once you’d seen it a few times, especially if you were over the age of 12.

    The simple fact is that he cannot compare – either in animation style or storylines – to some of the stuff that is coming out of Williams Street these days.