Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story ★★½

"To him, the funniest thing in the world was Fred and Barney having sex."

Contrary to what Brandon thought when he saw this premiere at Sundance over a year ago, indeed it has "see[n] the light of day." In fact, it's free, on the steaming app Vudu.

But one can understand why my friend felt that way, as Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story​ covers the extremely problematic, abusive, and sociopathic John Kricfalusi, a.k.a. "John K." However, I'll disagree strongly with one crucial aspect of Brandon's review: this is not a good documentary.

That's not because there isn't an interesting story to one of the best TV shows ever made, the aforementioned cartoon that came around when I was in second grade, and was easily the greatest thing I had ever seen before. Full episodes are burned into my brain from having seen them 50 times. "You bloated sack of protoplasm!" "No sir, I don't like it." "I like Darren! He is my friend!" "Space madness!" "Call the poliiiicccce…"

No, it's because of the now-widespread understanding that men like John K took brutal advantage of their power and charisma for the grooming and abuse of underage girls. And when directors Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood interviewed this emotional man-child, and the revelations of that pattern of abuse came to light, it's just obvious that the two filmmakers had no idea what the fuck to do with the news. It seems extremely clear that the film was basically done or in editing stage when they became aware of John K's true dark side, and they slapped on a few more bits about just how controlling and terrible he was at the beginning and ending of the film and hoped that would be enough in this #MeToo era.

Sure, they ask Kricfalusi about it, but this isn't an Errol Morris film. That's after about 80 or 90 minutes of a movie that lionizes his creation, and even while they touch on his destructive personality and toxic behavior, there's no real look at the culture of the Spümcø Studios and how men like him were allowed to run wild and mistreat all kinds of people, especially the young and vulnerable. There's a brief moment in the film about how "yeah, from the outside it looked like a cult," but then it's undercut by showing all the fun and talented people working so hard to make the show. No, that's not good enough.

Sure, we can separate the art from the artist. I'll always love Ren & Stimpy. But I don't have to love this documentary which really doesn't examine the deeper issues of why such assholes usually get away with what they do. Even when Robyn Byrd herself is allowed to talk, it doesn't seem like enough. It's some tacked-on elements because surely the directors knew they had to address that elephant in the room. And it just wasn't enough.

This isn't a great review because it doesn't talk about what is in the movie, but you can read others for that. I'm just disappointed by what it didn't cover, and the disjointed nature of just throwing together a few scribbled scenes to make it look like they addressed it properly. It wasn't close.

Friend who wrote a better review than me: Cory Woodroof.

Added to The Documentary Films of 2020, ranked.

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