With Ace Ventura: Pet Detective in February, The Mask in July and Dumb and Dumber in December, 1994 was the breakout year for Jim Carrey, escalating him from “the white guy on In Living Color” to the biggest star in the world. Carrey’s meteoric rise is well remembered, considered by many to be a landmark moment in comedy history. Entirely forgotten, however, was that 1995 was the year of the Jim Carrey cartoon, where each of his hits from the previous year — none of which were meant for young kids — were adapted into Saturday morning cartoons.
The first of these cartoons was The Mask, which debuted in August 1995. As is the case with all of these cartoons, Carrey had nothing to do with it, and the cartoon takes place shortly after the events of the film, but in a kid-friendly version of their universe.
Before The Mask was a movie, it was an incredibly violent comic book where anyone who wore the mask became a psychotic murderer, including Stanley Ipkiss (Carrey’s character). For the movie, this was drastically toned down, and when it was adapted into a cartoon, the trend of watering down the source material continued. That said, the creator of the comic — Mike Richardson — was involved with the cartoon, which might explain why the series did manage to honor some aspects of the comics, namely the regular passing around of the mask to different characters and the generally bonkers irreverence of the show.
The Mask was also the least “Jim Carrey” of the Jim Carrey cartoons. Although the two to follow featured more direct impressions of the movie star, The Mask mostly did its own thing, but for the occasional Carrey-esque catchphrase from the movie, like “Smokin’!” and “Somebody stop me!” (which definitely started to wear out its welcome).
This independence, in part, was a product of its star, voice actor Rob Paulsen, who was already well-established with hits like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Animaniacs. In an interview with The Simpsons voice actor Nancy Cartwright, Paulsen explained that, during his early recording sessions, he was constantly being instructed to “Do it more like Jim Carrey,” but, after a while — and after a pep talk from co-star Tim Curry — he told the producers, “Look, Jim did one movie, and everyone knows he’s brilliant, but we’re doing 52 half-hour episodes and we all know that I’m not Jim and I can’t spend 52 episodes impersonating him.” Paulsen’s assertion, it seems, would turn out to be for the show’s benefit, as it was able to find its own footing. Paulsen’s performance, too, would turn out to be a tour de force of jokes, impressions and improvisation — he even got to sing the show’s theme song.
Separating itself, a bit, from Carrey wasn’t the only smart move the cartoon made, as series producer Gary Hartle tells me, “We made a conscious effort to make the art a bit more realistic because, in the movie, The Mask was this cartoon character in the real world. But for this, he was a cartoon in a cartoon, which is difficult, so we made sure the designs weren’t too outrageous so that The Mask had somewhere to go.”
For these reasons, The Mask ended up being the most successful of the Carrey cartoons, spawning toys, a comic book spinoff and a full three-season run. Though that might not sound like much, it’s fairly common in animation, as even the most successful cartoons — Batman: The Animated Series, for example — only tend to get three seasons. “Back then, it was all about hitting that golden number for syndication, which was 65 episodes,” Hartle tells me. The Mask — with just 54 episodes — didn’t quite hit that mark, but it would prove to be close enough, as the show proceeded to run in syndication throughout the 1990s.
On the other end of that spectrum is the Dumb and Dumber cartoon, which premiered in October and would last a mere 13 episodes. Carrey was once again absent, but this series was the only one to have someone involved that directly came from the film it was based on. Screenwriter Bennett Yellin, who wrote Dumb and Dumber along with the Farrelly Brothers, was brought on to oversee the cartoon once production had already begun. Though, looking back on the project now, he’s not exactly sure if that was a good idea.
“I didn’t know what I was doing at all,” Yellin tells me. “I had no experience whatsoever in cartoons. I also hired all of my friends, none of whom had ever written a cartoon either. You know when people have had a really horrible accident and they say, ‘I remember everything up until the accident, but I don’t remember the accident’? That’s what this cartoon is like for me.”
Made by the legendary Hanna-Barbera Studios, the Dumb and Dumber cartoon wasn’t totally without merit. The designs of Harry and Lloyd had a charming, Hanna-Barbera-style simplification done by animator Craig McCracken of Powerpuff Girls fame. The casting was well done too, featuring Matt Frewer as Jim Carrey’s Lloyd and Bill Fagerbakke as Jeff Daniels’ Harry. Another regular on the series was Tom Kenny, who would go on to star in SpongeBob SquarePants a few years later, where he’d reunite with Fagerbakke as Patrick.
But the Dumb and Dumber cartoon seemed to get more wrong than it did right. As Yellin explains, “In the movie, Harry and Lloyd are adults who act like children. Characters like that work for a cartoon, but Harry and Lloyd were also kids being naughty, and you couldn’t do that on Saturday mornings in 1995. So it ended up being just one-note stupidity. They also lacked that antagonism toward each other. Before we wrote the movie, I made Pete and Bobby watch a couple of the Bing Crosby, Bob Hope Road To movies because those characters had this genuine affection for each other, but the moment a girl came between them, they’d stab each other in the back. We basically just ripped that off for Dumb and Dumber. But in the cartoon, they don’t quarrel.”
While the only “pets” in the movie are Lloyd’s worms and Harry’s dead bird, the cartoon mysteriously featured a pet beaver named “Kitty,” which both Harry and Lloyd believe is a cat. “Yeah, I have no idea where that beaver came from,” Yellin tells me. Series producer Byron Vaughns says much the same, though Vaughns is willing to venture a guess: “I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone who was influenced by Joe Barbera, who always wanted to add a cartoon element to projects that could otherwise be done in live action — like Dino with The Flintstones. If you add a cute little character, it could goose the stories a bit and, if you’re lucky, maybe it’ll even become a toy!”
No toys, unsurprisingly, were ever made of Dumb and Dumber, and those 13 episodes would be all that it ever had. Yellin, however, didn’t even make it that far. “I didn’t even have a secretary then, and I remember I’d get calls from the censors every single day. But my attorney told me, ‘Don’t quit, wait until they let you go,’ which they did four or five months later, after about a half dozen episodes. I’ve only seen like three episodes. I even have the DVD of the whole series, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch it.”
Finally, in December, the first episode of Ace Ventura: Pet Detective premiered. Despite the fact that The Mask proved a bit more successful, I’d argue that Ace Ventura was the most ready-made to become a cartoon. Dumb and Dumber didn’t work at all, and with The Mask, they needed to make the protagonist a sort-of superhero to make an ongoing series function, but Ace Ventura solving more cases about animals just made a lot of sense.
The biggest challenge was the fact that Ace Ventura was the most Jim Carrey-like of all the Jim Carrey characters. In many ways, that first Ace Ventura movie was a vehicle for what Carrey was already doing on In Living Color and in his stand-up act. Fortunately, the series hired voice actor Michael Daingerfield, who was such a good match for Carrey that he was even used to fill in for some dialogue replacement on the Ace Ventura sequel when Carrey was busy on another film.
“Our show was the only one that was allowed to use the likeness of Jim Carrey — both of his face and his voice — which was why I was allowed to do the impression of him that I did,” Daingerfield tells me. Once the show began though, Daingerfield says that his impression did end up needing a little adjustment. “We did the first couple of episodes, but then the voice director and I had this meeting and — I’ll never forget this — he told me, ‘Mike, it’s not quite wacky enough, you need to go further. This is like you’re doing Jim Carrey on acid. That’s what we want you to do.’ That just made it click, and I got it from there.”
Lasting a respectable 41 episodes, the Ace Ventura cartoon proved to be a fun romp, even if it did trade in some of Ace’s more adult humor for supernatural silliness (like the episode where Ace teamed up with Santa Claus). There was, however, some stuff from the movie that surprisingly made it over, like Ace’s tendency to speak out of his asshole, for example.
Although not quite as big as The Mask, Ace Ventura did enjoy some success and a bit of merchandise too, including a video game and a recent action figure by NECA Toys. But most excitingly, Ace Ventura eventually crossed over with The Mask, which wasn’t exactly an Avengers: Endgame-level crossover event, but it was still pretty damn cool for a Saturday morning in 1997.
In the crossover — which began in The Mask — Stanley Ipkiss’ dog is stolen, hence the need for a pet detective. A half hour later, Ipkiss guest-starred in the Ace Ventura cartoon to retrieve his mask, which had been stolen by Ace’s pet monkey (which, of course that happens). The only thing, I imagine, that could have made this even more exciting would have been the inclusion of the Dumb and Dumber characters as well, but that show was already long gone by the summer of 1997.
The crossover served as the series finale for both shows for a time, though Ace Ventura — which only had two seasons by then — would later get renewed by Nickelodeon, where it enjoyed its third and final season. Ace Ventura’s last episode aired in February of 2000, which — I assume — forever closes the book on all Jim Carrey spinoff cartoons.
The only bit of unfinished business for me is where, exactly, these cartoons came from. With an extensive online search and with every conversation I had, no one seemed to know where, why or by whom these spinoffs began. Granted, I know such spinoffs were common back then, as they’d done cartoons of things like Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Back to the Future and The Karate Kid, but literally all of these Jim Carrey movies were unwatchable by small children. Yet, seemingly by osmosis, each one somehow became a kids’ show.
One thing Vaughns told me, though, offers as good of an explanation as I’m ever going to get. “Often, these executives are sitting around just trying to figure out a way to keep business coming in,” he explains. “And so, they look around at what’s already popular and, at that time, nobody was more popular than Jim Carrey. Why not try to cash in on that?”