Sunday, 30 March 2014

Ren & Stimpy - Powdered Toast Man

The Ren & Stimpy Show, often simply referred to as Ren & Stimpy, is an American animated television series, created by Canadian animator John Kricfalusi. The show premiered on August 11, 1991, on Nickelodeon as part of its Nicktoons block along with 'the titular characters: Ren Höek, an emotionally unstable chihuahua, and Stimpson J. Cat, a good-natured, dimwitted cat. The show ran for five seasons on the network. The show has received critical acclaim and developed a cult following during and after its run, while some critics credit it along with The Simpsons for leading the way for satirical animated shows like Beavis and Butt-head and South Park, and playing a significant role in television animation. Throughout its run, The Ren & Stimpy Show was controversial for its off-color humor, sexual innuendo, and violence which were rare for television animation of the time. This controversy contributed to the production staff's altercations with Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices department.

Powdered Toastman is a superhero seen in "Powdered Toast Man". He is an extremely dramatic and oblivious vigilante and spokesperson for Powdered Toast, the breakfast treat that "tastes just like sawdust". He was based on a Frank Zappa inspired character. Powdered Toast Man appeared in various Powdered Toast commercials within The Ren and Stimpy Show, and starred in two episodes of the show, "Powdered Toast Man vs. Waffle Woman" and "Powdered Toast Man" (which had a guest appearance by Frank Zappa as the Pope). Oddly, Powdered Toast doesn't taste right unless Powdered Toast Man farts on it before it is consumed.

Powdered Toast Man can fly, either by releasing flatulence, by inserting his head into a special toaster and launching from it, or merely by pushing off from the ground. Importantly, he flies backwards. He can also hover in mid-air. His powers include some offensive weapons: high-velocity raisins shot from his mouth, hyper-corrosive croutons fired from his armpit, butter pats that are launched from the top of his head, and hyper-acidic marmalade from his navel. There are several signals that alert Powdered Toast Man to danger — his tongue phone, the inflation of his briefs, the dissipation of the toast particles in his head, or the reading of emergency messages encoded in slices of olive loaf. He is apparently made entirely of Powdered Toast, as he can produce fully formed Powdered Toast by flicking his wrist or by separating his head (which is made of two pieces of toast) and scraping the interior with a butter knife. His head is therefore depicted as being made of two identical pieces of toast, each complete with a face.

I remember when I first saw Powered Toastman. I begged my mom to find the Powdered Toast in the grocery stores and she gave me a weird look.

All of the drawings are incredible!!!!
Sandra Rivas 

Early in the second season of Ren & Stimpy, there appeared a rollicking and utterly disrespectful segment called “Powdered Toast Man.” 1992. The character of Powdered Toast Man unified the clueless and self-important silliness of The Tick with the tendency to wreak havoc of, say, Inspector Clouseau or Maxwell Smart. Voiced by the incomparable Gary Owens—and you might not know the name, but if you’ve ever seen Laugh-In or Space Ghost, you sure as hell know his voice—Powdered Toast Man was the spokesman for, obviously, a product called Powdered Toast, which was billed as tasting “just like sawdust!” According to Wikipedia, he was based on the character of Studebacher Hoch, from the epic song “Billy The Mountain” of off the Mothers of Invention’s 1972 album Just Another Band from L.A. I frankly don’t quite see the connection, but anything’s possible.

It’s kind of amazing just how dark and subversive the Powdered Toast bit is. The anti-advertising message is just the start of it. Tasked with saving a kitten from being run over by a truck, Powdered Toast Man causes a passing jetliner to crash into the truck, thus saving the kitten at the expense of who knows how many lives (the injured survivors cheer him on anyway). A few moments later, Powdered Toast Man thoughtlessly tosses the kitten out of frame, where he is apparently run over by a truck, to judge from the sound effects. Later on, he uses the Bill of Rights for kindling. He induces projectiles to emerge from his armpits by doing that “fart noise” maneuver, he uses his own tongue as a telephone…....... actually, you really need to see the video to believe it. The satire of the prevailing superhero ethos really couldn’t be more savage—or more entertaining.
Martin Schneider 

Powdered Toast Man had appeared in a bumper during season 1, and this time he takes center stage.  It’s significant because it’s the first time that Ren and Stimpy merely appear in cameo roles.  There would only be a few other instances in the series where the duo were minimal or absent entirely, but thankfully this episode is still enjoyable despite their limited screen time; it proves the show can be engaging following other characters.

The titular hero (this time played by veteran actor Gary Owens), normally disguised as a mild-mannered government clerk, kicks into action when he gets the all-important distress call.  First up in need of help is a cat crossing the street that’s about to be hit by a truck.  A common problem, but how PTM handles it is absurd:  He takes down an airplane to hit the truck before it collides with the adorable kitten.  Yay, hundreds of innocent lives lost, but at least the kitty is okay!  And he discards the feline very soon after getting another distress call anyway.

Next, the pope’s in trouble.  He’s been taken hostage by Muddy Mudskipper, who is now a villain, I guess.  Side note:  The Pope’s voiced by famed musician Frank Zappa, the only cartoon he ever did.  And one of his few roles, period.  It makes sense that he would voice a religious figure on a subversive cartoon; it totally fit in with his “challenge the system” personality.

After saving The Pope, it’s time for a more down-to-earth (but no less severe!) problem to solve:  Ren and Stimpy are out of their beloved Powdered Toast breakfast!  PTM zooms in, restocks them by scraping one of his toast heads, and takes off.  But the two are less than satisfied; it turns out PTM forgot to give the powdered toast that extra “spice” to make it extra nice.  So PTM returns, apologizes, and farts on their breakfast as he takes off again.  NOW, they’re pleased.  Hey, don’t ask me; maybe PTM’s farts are bakery fresh.

Finally, PTM rescues the president of the U.S. from his own zipper.  I’m surprised what the show got away with; what other kid’s cartoon was this edgy in 1992?  After a successful rescue (if you want to call it that; he’s clearly out of commission), PTM is abruptly made president, promising to deprive all citizens of their human rights.  I dunno, this may have been a funny gag at one time, but when you consider some corrupt/totalitarian governments in the world do just that, not to mention that we have to constantly remain vigilant to ensure that our own government doesn’t fall into the same trap, it loses much of its absurdity.  That said, the crowd at his inauguration doesn’t mind, so that makes the gag a little funny, I guess.

The cartoon ends with PTM and his beautiful secretary in need of some heat, so PTM casually burns the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in the fireplace.  Again, see the paragraph above; it’s honestly a little uncomfortable nowadays.  Doesn’t mean Nick was right to censor it back in the day, though; besides the obvious negative of censorship, it’s not like kids out there can imitate this action or anything.

“Powdered Toast Man” is a good episode, showcasing a superhero who gets results, but often in the worst way possible and not caring after he reaches his goal (besides the cat throwing, he places The Pope on a tall, remote mountain just because Ren and Stimpy need more breakfast).  And Gary Owens is perfect for the part, sounding sort of like a nasal Space Ghost.  “PTM”‘s flaw is that it’s merely a series of unconnected set pieces; as entertaining as they are, it’s just PTM going from one disaster to the next, with no particular story arc or momentum.  While season 4′s “Powdered Toast Man vs. Waffle Woman” had a simpler art style, it had a better plot and even a touch of emotion.  But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.



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