Animaniacs: Season 1 (US - DVD R1)
There may very well be balogna in Gabe Powers' slacks after enough '90s toons
There's Dot, who's cute, Yakko, who yaks, and Wakko, who packs away the snacks. All while former President Bill Clinton plays the saxophone, of course. The Warner Brothers, and their sister Dot were locked in the Warner movie lot's water tower sometime in the late '30s, only to have escaped some time in the early '90s. They proceeded to run amuck. And now you know the plot.
The Warners were joined on their weekday afternoon series by a veritable rogue’s gallery of scum and villainy. The Goodfeathers, a pigeon parody of Scorsese's classic film of the era, Goodfellas; Buttons the dog and his infuriatingly mischievous little girl owner, Mindy; Slappy the Squirrel, a retired and geriatric former cartoon phenom; Rita and Runt, a pair of pound escapees with a sweet-tooth for show-tunes; Brain, a genius mouse with the voice of Orson Wells who, along with his dimwit assistant Pinky, attempts to take over the world each and every night. These tops acts are supported by shorter acts, like Mime Time, Good Idea/Bad Idea with Mr. Skullhead, and Flavio and Marita, the terminally hip hippos, among others.
Though I was already in High school when Animaniacs first hit the airwaves, I still considered it part of my childhood. Over the past several years I've realized that I cannot trust my child self when it comes to suggestions in entertainment. I learned this the hard way through DVD reissues, including films like Willow, The Goonies, Back to the Future, and most heartbreaking of all The Ewok Adventure. Later, the massive popularity of TV on DVD led to the releases of several of my childhood favourites, some of which ( Ghostbusters, C.O.P.S.) didn't quite live up to my original praise, and others ( Super Mario's Super Show) that were as bad as week old tuna fish. Animaniacs had a lot to live up to, and a pretty jaded aging child to re-impress.
The show seems was the direct descendent of the previously successful Tiny Toon Adventures, which was also produced by Warner Bros. in cooperation with Steven Spielberg. Executives appear to have understood that their viewers were maturing and that their shows needed to follow suit, while still maintaining the look and feel of classic WB Looney Tunes cartoons. Animaniacs is actually more true to the feel of the classic 'toons, and is aimed at an older audience, though everything is fast paced and colourful enough for younger viewers to enjoy themselves too. Truth be told, a lot of these one-liners went over my head, I can't imagine a child getting them.
I find that my memory of the series is surprisingly accurate, and thankfully it's still pretty gosh darned good. The series is at times sublimely entertaining, and I found my adult self laughing out loud at several of the gags, but it all still stands as a bit of a mixed bag. This isn't too surprising to me, as I distinctly remember switching channels during some of the lesser segments back when the series was still on television.
The Warners themselves are still the most amusing and my favourite, followed closely by fan-favourite Pinky and the Brain. Buttons and Mindy are still a bit on the frustrating side, and only occasionally show a few signs of slapstick genius, as do the Slappy the Squirrel shorts. Rita and Runt's shorts are, as always, far too Disney meets Andrew Lloyd Webber for my tastes, and I ended up skipping those a few times during my review screening (c'mon folks, I've got five discs of this stuff to cull through). The one that surprised me was the Goodfeathers bits which I remember adoring. I find now that they are pretty much a one-joke group, and the joke gets real old real fast.
I enjoy the Warners' shorts the most because of the old-fashion satire and screw-ballishness. The joke after joke after joke approach works, and I'm always a sucker for puns, clever or not. I use the phrase a lot, but prepare yourselves, I'm going to use it again — post-modern. The Warners are post-modern indeed, or they are to us, I suppose they're supposed to be something like sixty five years old. The characters themselves are just being modern I guess. The writers however, were probably not in their sixties, and obviously watched a lot of Bugs Bunny cartoons in their day. In fact, with the exception of The Goodfeathers, and the whole show ends up as a pot of post-modern lunacy. I mean, come on, Brain talks like Orson Wells.
Common knowledge will tell you that educational television is boring and insulting to anyone over the age of three, not to mention that mostly ineffective. To the contrary, Animaniacs' creators did some of their finest work with-in the realms of ‘edutainment’, including their award winning and wonderfully executed songs, culminating early with Yakko's ‘Nations of the World’, thankfully included on this DVD set. Honestly, I had it on MP3.
Animaniacs, along with the Timm/Dini Batman: The Animated Series, represented a turn in children's entertainment for the better. Execs at Warner Bros. seemed to begin to understand that children weren't idiots, and the oversimplification of both entertainment and educational programming was unnecessary. Today I find myself watching children's animated programming even when I'm not required too. Often these shows are the funniest things on TV (case in point, I'd stress every reader to check out at least one episode of Cartoon Network's Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends and Nickelodeon's Avatar: The Last Airbender), and not always in a ‘detrimental’ or lowbrow way. Quite often kid's shows are more sophisticatedly plotted than hit adult shows, and contain more actual acting craft to boot.
Animaniacs is a little cheap on the animation, but some major slack must be cut when one considers that it was a hand drawn show that aired every weekday. To the series credit, though the animators can be caught cutting the occasional corner during the bigger shots, the character animation is just about perfect. The DVD does little to hide the show's age. Attentive viewers will notice an animated parade of artefacts and dirt. Colours are bright enough, and produced accurately so far as I can tell, but do bloom and bleed, especially brighter warm colours. Overall I'd say the show could stand a little brightness increase, but it looks better than it did on my old UHF TV set back when it originally aired. My only real complaint is that the transfer is interlaced and combing is present.
Someone at Warner Bros. went to the effort of mixing every episode of the series into Dolby Digital 5.1. This is a little excessive (especially considering they didn't see fit to do it for more immersive animated series like Batman or Justice League), but it works. For the most part the 5.1 mix is identical to the original 2.0 mix (also included). There is a little more volume in the 5.1 track, and the music benefits the greatest. When Yakko inherits the throne of a country with an anvil based economy, his inaugural song really brings the house down, and the anvil chorus gives the LFE a surprisingly decent work out.
Warner Bros. (the company, not the animated children) doesn't seem too concerned with cramming extras into their various animated series releases. Like Justice League there is a short panel discussion with the talent, in this case mostly voice talent. I'd already seen Yakko and Pinky's voice, Robert Paulson (no, not the one with man-boobs) in various interviews for other series (the man is a voice acting God), but it was fun to see the rest of the cast and hear a couple back-stories on the series origins. Unlike the justice League releases, Animaniacs features zero commentary tracks. This is a bummer.
‘It's that time again...’
‘To make fun of the Disney Channel?’
‘To pretend to throw up?’
‘No, it's time to spin the Wheel of Morality. Wheel of Morality turn, turn, turn, tell us the lesson which we should learn...and today's moral is:
‘The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. (Except for in New Jersey, where what's blowing in the wind smells funny.)’
Animaniacs stands the test of time so far, despite some dated, pop culture jokes. Give it a rent, or buy this set for your kids. Even if they don't get all the jokes, they'll get the feel and the fun, and may even enjoy the bits I didn't. Animation collectors will want to buy it for themselves, but can feel free to tell company that they bought it for the kids. I'm sure they'll believe you.
Review by Gabriel Powers
This product has not been rated
Release Date: 25th July 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 2.0 English, Dolby Digital Mono Portuguese
Subtitles: Spanish, French, Portuguese
Extras: Animaniacs Live!
Easter Egg: No
Director: Rich Arons, Peter Bonerz
Cast: Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, Sherri Stoner
Length: 550 minutes
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