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’Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?’
‘I think so Brain, but the rockettes? I mean, it's mostly girls, isn't it?’


In the mid-nineties in-between directing dinosaur blockbusters and WW2 dramas, Steven Spielberg helped create a handful of animated programming for Warner Brothers. Pinky and the Brain would be the fourth series he would produce, or supposedly produce as I have my doubts on how involved the big guy was. The show enjoyed a successful run from 1995 to 1998 when it then was combined with the Elmyra character from Tiny Toons, to create Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain.  No matter how marvellously clever a show is, when you mix it with the unfunny idiocy of Tiny Toons, it's bound to crash. Lucky for us, Warner Brothers has released volume one of this wonderful show on DVD, and well... I've stalled enough. Time to tear into this set...

Pinky & The Brain: Volume 1
Feature
Spun-off from one of the most annoying cartoons of my younger years, Animaniacs, this series would give full spotlight to a couple of mice and their attempts at world domination, always doomed to failure. The smarter of the pair is Brain; think Orson Wells in mouse form with a Napoleonic complex and monstrous cranium. His dim-witted partner is Pinky; the Edward Norton to Brain's Ralph Kramden who strangely inspires and unintentionally foils every world domination scheme Brain can hatch. Safely tucked away inside their Acme Laboratory cages by day, they come out to plot and scheme at night once everyone's gone home.

I've always felt that a great cartoon should be able to appeal to audiences both young and old, and this show does it wonderfully. The younger crowd will delight at Pinky's crazy antics and random use of his catch-phrase 'Narf!'. Older audiences will probably gravitate to the Brain's struggle for world domination, often parodying classic films as his plans unfold. With episode titles like 'Of Mouse and Man', 'Das Mouse', 'Around the World in 80 Narfs', and 'Plan Brain from Outer Space'; you can see the series almost hinges on spoofing popular culture. There's also a fair amount of historical spoofing going on, which might be... dare I say... educational? I'd hate to see children actually learning something from their television series.

The voice talent assembled for the show is top-notch, using a number of highly skilled voiceover artists. I've become so familiarized with the recent trend of celebrity hacks infiltrating the animated film industry that I'd nearly forgotten what a great voiceover actor sounds like. For the record, it sounds like Maurice LaMarche doing his best Orson Wells impersonation for the role of Brain. It also sounds like funny man Rob Paulsen, who voiced Pinky, going on to win a well-deserved Emmy for his work on the show. Playing backup to LaMarche and Paulsen are Tress MacNeille ( Futurama's Mom and Rugrats' Charlotte Pickles), James Belushi (who knew?!), and the late, always great Roddy McDowal as Brain's arch-nemesis, Snowball the guinea pig.

Pinky & The Brain: Volume 1
Pinky and the Brain was animated by hand, something else I haven't seen in a while. The quality of animation is very nice. The look of the show definitely keeps things visually fresh and interesting. The animators display their best work in the action sequences, which are more numerous than you might think. Whether it's a plane crash, submarine attack or androids battling it out to the death, Pinky and the Brain is a fun show to look at.

This set houses twenty-two episodes over four discs covering the entire first season and stopping three episodes short of covering the entire second season. At this rate, Warner Brothers can release at least two more volumes in order to bring the full show to DVD, something I'd really like to see happen. It's become an issue in recent years that fans don't want to invest in seasons of their favourite programs unless studios commit to releasing the entire series on DVD. The problem here is that by not purchasing the seasons that are released, studios fail to turn a profit for their efforts and understandably lose interest in releasing later seasons. I dearly hope this doesn't happen with Pinky and the Brain because this is one of those rare shows that never faded in quality as it progressed. Go out and buy this set so that a few months down the road, we can all come back here and revisit the show's second volume.

My personal favourite episode in this set was 'A Pinky and the Brain Christmas', which is both funny and charming as what could become for me, a classic holiday special. Maybe I'm just a sucker for a sappy ending, but to see Brain go the Scrooge route and experience the true meaning (one of them, at least) of Christmas is great. Some of the dialogue in this episode had me in stitches. Our title characters are on a plane flying over the North Pole when the pilot, and larger woman, tries to break the uncomfortable silence with ’Don't talk much do ya? Had a boyfriend like you once... always thinking, real quiet. Turns out he was actually a propane tank which.... explained a lot. I.... miss him.’ It's that strange brand of comedy that really wins me over.

Pinky & The Brain: Volume 1
’Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?’
‘I think so, Brain, but pantyhose are so uncomfortable in the summertime.’


Video
Just as it was broadcast, Pinky and the Brain is presented in 1:33:1 full screen. As for the quality, yuck. I watched every episode in the set and they all contained enough dirt and grain to grab my attention. It doesn't ruin the experience, but it's noticeably not the best video quality we've seen from Warner Brothers on an animated title. I can't imagine these episodes looking any better than this when they were broadcast, so I'll be nice and call this transfer satisfactory. I only wish I could call it impressive.

Audio
Pinky and the Brain packs a surprising amount of sound into it's audio track. With the wonderfully zany score (highly reminiscent of Looney Tunes) coming through loud and full, the show sounds much more grand than I expected it to. Combined with the great foley work and magnificent voiceovers, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track Warner Brothers supplied the set with sounds superb. For those viewers who hate fantastic audio tracks, there's also a Dolby Digital 2.0 track.

Extras
The set comes up short in the supplemental department, sadly. I would've really enjoyed episode commentaries by the voiceover artists or writers. Image galleries and the series pilot would've also been welcome.

The sole extra of the set is a twenty-six minute featurette titled 'Are you Pondering What I'm Pondering?'. It's a fun look at how the show came to be, featuring interviews with the actors, producer, and writers. They try to convince us that Spielberg really did have a hand in the show, but I'm still sceptical. A very fun supplement. Watching LaMarche and Paulsen interact side by side makes me wish Warner Brothers had considered episode commentaries. Perhaps we'll see more on the next volume.

Pinky & The Brain: Volume 1
Overall
I'd have to recommend this title to any fan of the show for it's content alone. These first twenty-two episodes are a winning bunch, and bundled with the fantastic 5.1 track and supplemental featurette, this is a set worth the asking price. Good, fun and hilarious entertainment for the whole family. Narf!

’Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering?’
‘I think so, Brain... but balancing a family and a career ... oh, it's all too much for me.’


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