Review: Happy Happy Joy Joy (Sundance 2020)

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Title: Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren and Stimpy Story
MPAA Rating: NR
Director: Ron Cicero, Kimo Easterwood
Starring: Bobby Lee, Billy West, Mr. Lawrence
Runtime: 1 hr 44 mins

What It Is: Ren and Stimpy was one of the most revolutionary and vulgar cartoons on cable television. Behind all the crude humor and elaborate artwork was a team of rogue animators working under the reign of the aggressive, energetic, and controversial creator John Kricfalusi. What follows is both enlightening and unfortunate; the history behind the show and the man behind the anguish in its construction.

What We Think: I love Ren and Stimpy, which is one of the reasons why I felt obligated to this documentary. I needed the whole truth, and I received it. It’s always a strange and disheartening thing, knowing what dark history lies beyond our favorite works of art and the true nature of the people behind them. What is incredible is that somehow they were able to sell John Kricfalusi the idea of “coming clean,” essentially. I’m surprised he showed up at all, considering all the bad press he’s faced within recent years. It’s bonkers. What we’re left with is a colorful and honest study addressing this man’s relentless drive, his creative strength, and fault in character in how he treats and uses people. The details divulged are usually completely insightful and lend themselves to an ultimately tense viewing. Though there were a few interviews that felt random and out of place (involving people who had nothing to do with the show’s production or Kricfalusi’s famous line of fire). The editing, though solid and sometimes even extraordinarily clever in some moments was sometimes a little too all over the place and lent itself to a bit of an inconsistent tone as well as visually repetitive (using the same photos/clips over and over again). But everything else presented (skillfully so) was exactly what I wanted and needed to know about the situation. And just the fact that Kricfalusi, a proven womanizer and groomer, allowed himself to be not only filmed on camera but address the latest glaring issues at hand is so unbelievable. His attempt at preserving his reputation are pathetic; his expressions and guilt reveal like a card. You’re watching a trainwreck of a man with an ego too inflated for him to maintain in the modern world.

Our Grade: B+, A real-life tragedy about a man, one that lends itself to observing what ultimately what it means and what is revealed for an artist to be lacking in humanity. It’s a documentary aware that all it needs to villainize this person were the voices he had previously stifled and been aggressive towards. A crazy ride about the reality behind the beloved cartoon, be sure to catch this stupefying, punch-in-the-face kind of character study.

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