Alex is a School of Visual Arts graduate with a passion for media, writing and animation. He writes reviews for film, television, and games.
A Legacy of Recycling Concepts
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That phrase, nowadays, would help justify the use of artistic inspiration. Initially, around the 1970s and 1980s, Hanna-Barbera Productions had made many animated shows with recycled concepts: mystery-solving ala Scooby-Doo, shows based on celebrities or sitcoms, and experimental crossovers that easily jumped the shark. Not to mention that their popularity for Saturday morning cartoons wasn't as relevant as the golden age of television. That is, until business tycoon Ted Turner bought the rights to Hanna-Barbera (including other classic cartoons) and created an exclusive television channel for cartoons, which later became known as Cartoon Network. At the same time, Hanna-Barbera Productions would continue airing cartoons on Turner's other channel, TBS.
Meanwhile, Nickelodeon launched their legendary lineup of original cartoons called "Nicktoons" with John K.'s Ren & Stimpy reaching popularity for its dark humor and controversial content. So, Hanna-Barbera decided to copy what Nickelodeon was doing with their own original show. The results didn't last long. However, that show would later make an impact in history far different than the company had imagined. That show was 2 Stupid Dogs.
The show is about the misadventures of two unnamed stray dogs that aren't very bright. Animator and creator Donovan Cook, fresh off working at Disney, pitched the show after getting inspired by two stray dogs roaming in his apartment.
Similar Yet Different Approach
Are there any similarities between these two shows? Conceptually, yes; execution-wise, no. The two main components that these shows share are a jazzy musical score and gross-out/risque humor. But that's just icing on top of the cake as we examine further into the show itself.
The biggest difference that 2 Stupid Dogs has over Ren & Stimpy is the format. Each episode is structured with three segments: the titular main characters are the first and third segments while the backup segment is Super Secret Secret Squirrel, a re-imagining of the classic Hanna-Barbera character. The way that each episode is set up is a love letter and nostalgic callback to how Hanna-Barbera cartoons were presented during the golden television age.
Before discussing the main segments, one would question: Why Secret Squirrel out of all characters? Believe it or not: Cook himself was a huge fan of Secret Squirrel during his youth and asked the network to revive the series.
When comparing the segments, 2 Stupid Dogs had a surreal and comedic feel while Super Secret Secret Squirrel had an action-adventurous feel with a sprinkle of humor thrown in. The dogs would go on random adventures whether they search for Little Dog's bone, even though the bone is on his head the entire time, or arguing and fighting over a broken toilet seat during trash day. There are also episodes where the dogs would encounter recurring characters whether the setting be consistent or not. The most known example is the trilogy of episodes where they meet Little Red Riding Hood but often get wound up in different fairy tales with dark results.
The Secret Squirrel revival remains faithful to the original series. Each segment is straightforward and humorous with Secret and Morocco Mole trying to thwart each villain of the week. The most noticeable contrast between the revival and the original is that every character is anthropomorphic, with the Chief depicted as a buffalo and recurring villain Yellow Pinkie retooled as a sea lion named Goldflipper (albeit only appearing once). Another change is the characters' personalities (which will be discussed later). The major downside of the backup segment is that that only lasted during the first season and each episode had to be reused during the second season. Despite its short-run, the revival has grown a fan base and cult following to this day.
Nostalgic Animation with Risqué Jokes and Spy Action
With the humor on its own, the visual gags and comedic timing are nicely done. There are recurring gags like Little Dog being afraid of a harmless cat or the Big Dog launching out an undigested corn on the cob...with melted butter. If you took Ren & Stimpy out of the equation, the gross-out and risque humor are brief but leave a huge shock of an impression beyond Hanna-Barbera standards. One minute, you see one scene with the two dogs entering a strip club. The next thing you know, Big Dog gets turned inside out after one of his rib bones mistakenly being pulled from within. ...Graphic, isn't it? The Secret Squirrel segments, too, deliver some humorous moments whether it is the perceptible jokes, puns, the character interactions, or the voice actors bringing out their A-game.
Another stand-out difference that 2 Stupid Dogs has is the art direction. Ren & Stimpy was well-known to have over-the-top, energetic and exaggerated animations that went beyond what television could offer. For 2 Stupid Dogs, it stays true to Hanna-Barbera's trademark limited animation where the characters and backgrounds are very flat with a heavy emphasis on simplicity and shape. The shapes are fundamentally effective on how you can take a shape like a bean, give it ears on tops, four legs, hair, nose and mouth. The results: Big Dog. The character animation is also beneficial to their personalities. For dachshund fans out there, you may be familiar with how fast the dog breed is. Little Dog carries the energetic nature of the breed with creative liberties.
The Secret Squirrel revival went through a huge upgrade in production values. The main characters' designs contain their likeness but got different color schemes, sharp-angled lines, and voices. The villains themselves have a creative and unique design and some of their traits led to visual highlights. For example, the Chameleon could blend into paintings and his character design would change into that art style whether it is pointillism or modern art. But, the main highlight in the animation is Secret's gadgets, the most important element to his character. While he retains his briefcase that unfolds into a car, he has a sub-atomic shrinking belt, infrared glasses, a stop-sign missile and more.
The show has two different jazz scores. For 2 Stupid Dogs, it is laid-back, which is appropriate for its simplicity, and sometimes it would tense up when the situation becomes dire. It would occasionally get repetitive but the music is still nice. The theme music by Chris Desmond and Vaughn Johnson for the intro and credits is cute and does help welcome viewers into the show. With Secret Squirrel being a spy parody, they went all-out to make the music as lively and thrilling as possible. It definitely hypes the viewers whenever the characters get into a fight or chase scene.
Simple Characters, Familiar Voices, Newcomer Animators
It can't be a simple show without simple characters. As mentioned before, Big Dog and Little Dog are an idiotic duo looking for homes but have polar opposite personalities. Little Dog is a hyperactive dachshund that would come up with plans for food or balls. Big Dog, on the other hand, is a slow, apathetic Old English Sheepdog who occasionally has intelligent moments, which makes him more interesting. On their adventures, they would come across Mr. Hollywood. He is a loud and pompous man whether he is a casino owner, a substitute teacher, a stuntman and even Noah of Noah's Ark. But, don't get him mad if you make a mistake. If you do, he would say: "Well now, isn't that cute......BUT IT'S WRONG!!!" Other characters include a bullied kid named Kenny who turns to the dogs for help, the chubby part-time worker Cubby and the near-SIGHTED and sporadically loud RED Riding Hood.
If you are familiar with the original Secret Squirrel, you would notice the characters acted a little differently than you remember. In the original, Secret was a clumsy secret agent (despite the gadgetry) and Morocco Mole was the smarter assistant. In the revival, they basically switch their personalities: Secret acts more serious while Morocco acts like the typical comic relief sidekick. In hindsight, this would sound like a disgrace to the original. But thanks to the execution, these incarnations deliver their own charm with Secret for his quick-thinking to save the day and Morocco for his childlike innocence. The Chief is the HQ superior with a soft side and Penny is the squirrel assistant who occasionally aids Secret on his missions. Among the villain roster we have the aforementioned Goldflipper, the crooked gingerbread man Greg, the cocky rooster Hot Rodney, the cultivated Chameleon, the lustful Queen Bea, the destructive Quark, the sinister opossum Dr. O, the rampaging panda One Ton, the shaman Voo Doo Goat, and Morocco's evil twin Scirocco.
As simple as these characters are, the voice acting actually helps establish their personalities with old and upcoming actors. Comedians Mark Schiff and Brad Garrett definitely have a subtle chemistry as Little Dog and Big Dog respectively. Brian Cummings knows how to give big laughs from a big character like Mr. Hollywood. Jess Harnell gives a slick and smooth performance as Secret while Jim Cummings' high-pitched Moroccan accent is unique. The late Tony Jay as The Chief gives a calm yet commanding nature using his naturally deep voice. We sometimes get to hear from veteran actors, such as Casey Kasem and June Foray, and relatively rising actors, such as Jeff Bennett and Candi Milo.
With EVERYTHING said, anyone should ask: How could a simple clone be revolutionary compared to Ren & Stimpy? As mentioned before, the show helped its audiences get accustomed to the familiar territory that Hanna-Barbera did back in the day. In addition, there were a lot of fresh and new animators aboard in production. But, little did we know, this show helped launched these animators' careers into a new age of television. For example, CalArts graduate Craig McCracken received a job as an art director for the show and hired his classmates Rob Renzetti and Gennedy Tartakovsky as storyboard artists. This was an official turning point for these new recruits as Fred Seibert, the last president of Hanna-Barbera cartoons, decided to pitch an animated pilot showcase called What a Cartoon! In that showcase, McCracken, Tartakovsky and other animators would later create their pilots that were officially picked up by the network and became the Cartoon Network classics we know today, such as The PowerPuff Girls and Dexter's Laboratory. Other storyboard artists like Teddy Newton, Andrew Stanton, and Conrad Vernon would later work for Pixar and DreamWorks respectively. In other words, if this show didn't exist, these recognizable shows and movies would've come to fruition.
A Fun Show for Kids and Families
Overall, 2 Stupid Dogs is a plain, funny cartoon that may coincidentally have a couple of similar components as Ren & Stimpy and lasted two seasons. However, thanks to the hard work and talent, this show made people remember what made Hanna-Barbera great and the production team behind it went places and became successful. If you are a dog lover or a Hanna-Barbera fan, this show is a fun watch for kids and families. They'll definitely get a laugh out of it. As of 2020, the first DVD volume of the show is currently available on Amazon or the Warner Home Entertainment website. While the DVD lacks substance, it is a must-buy for animation fans since the episodes contain cold openings and TBS bumpers that were omitted on reruns. It gives a genuine and wistful feeling. It goes to show: simplicity could lead to something effective.
Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on September 02, 2020:
My youngest son grew up on these but I thought they were idiotic.