Sundance 2020: Happy Happy Joy Joy

A still from Happy Happy Joy Joy - The Ren & Stimpy Story by Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood, an official selection of the Documentary Premieres program at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Chris Gore.

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story takes us through the journey of Ren & Stimpy while also touching on creator John Kricfalusi’s dark side.

Ren & Stimpy was a hit for Nickelodeon when it first hit the airwaves.  Outside of those working on the series, nobody could have ever guessed what happened beyond the scenes.  No, not creator John Kricfalusi performing the storyboards while pitching his ideas.  It’s worse than this to tell you the truth.  His behavior is something that would get him fired under today’s #MeToo and Times’ Up movements.  As it should.

If anything, this documentary serves as a wider exposure of John Kricfalusi’s dark side.  It’s this dark side that would hurt relationships with people working on the show.  Think of it this way–when Ren & Stimpy came back in an adult series on Spike TV, it didn’t hit with the same impact.  The reason for this is new version was missing the dedicated artists that worked on the show’s previous incarnation.  Honestly, the tragedy behind Ren & Stimpy is among the worst in television history.

Co-directors Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood underwent months of interviews to get the story.  The story that they get?  One that celebrates the show.  Nobody could predict what would come next.  Everything changed come 2018.  Until this point, John Kricfalusi declined to be interviewed for the documentary.  Naturally, you think you have a finished film and then BOOM!  Breaking news happens and the film must go in a different direction.  In this instance, allegations surfaced regarding John Kricfalusi’s relationship with an underage girl.  So what happens?  Kricfalusi finally speaks on camera.  Better late than never, I suppose.  One would think that most of this is to contain the PR damage.

When we talk about films having more than one cut, Happy Happy Joy Joy may become a new prime example.  New footage means a very different cut of the film.  This speaks to how important editing becomes in filmmaking.  Not only does new footage need to be edited into the film but how does the previous footage connect with the new footage?  Editing is truly everything.  It really is!

Watching the documentary does beg the question of separating art from the artist.  The beauty in this documentary is asking if we can celebrate the success of the show but recognize the flaws in creator John Kricfalusi.  Can one still love the show or will it become a victim of “cancel culture?”  There is no easy answer to the question.  Honestly, there might never be.

After viewing Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story, you’ll never be able to watch Ren & Stimpy in the same way ever again.

DIRECTORS:  Ron Cicero and Kimo Easterwood

Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story holds its world premiere during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival in the Documentary Premieres program. Grade: 3.5/5

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.