The Ren & Stimpy Show: Seasons Three and a Half-ish

This three-disc set, collecting season three and the first episodes of season four, marks a period of significant change in the classic Ren and Stimpy series. Creator John Kricfalusi and his Spümco animation crew were shown the door by Nickelodeon, who in turn created their own studio, Games Animation, to take over the reins. In the end these cartoons, while not bad, can't match the innovative and dementedly brilliant first two seasons. The story of the end of the Spümco/Nickelodeon working relationship is told quite extensively in the audio commentary, provided by Kricfalusi and company, and this is the true highlight of this collection. It's part animation history lesson, part diatribe against the corporate stooges running the industry and part gathering of a gang of goof-offs making rude noises and cracking off-colour jokes. Even Ren (John K.) and Stimpy (Eric Bauza) get in the act, providing fairly biting commentary for "Circus Midgets" on disc one. Even without the commentary, one can see the flaws in this set. Instead of trying something new and adding their own voice, Games merely aped what Spümco did and in too many cases made the stories weird for the sake of ,or gross and disgusting but "without the heart," as Kricfalusi notes on one commentary track. Nickelodeon provided Games with a formula and they followed it to a tee. Still, the best cartoons of the batch were based upon unused concepts and ideas from Spümco. To paraphrase storyboard artist Eddie Fitzgerald in the commentary, one really has to wonder what the shows would have been like if Kricfalusi hadn't been pushed aside, especially given the progression in quality in the first two seasons. We'll never know, and that's the biggest disappointment. (Paramount)