Warner Bros. // 1995 // 514 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // February 9th, 2013
The Warner Brothers (and sister): Purveyors of fine self-aware anarchy since 1993.
The word "seasons" is fairly meaningless in the context of Animaniacs; Season One was a massive sixty-four episodes, Season Two had four episodes, Season Three had twelve, Season Four, eight; and Season Five, nine. No, I have no idea why. So it's probably no surprise that the episodes have been released as "volumes" rather than "seasons." In any event, this set contains the tail end of Season Three, along with seasons four and five.
The Animaniacs themselves -- Yakko, Wakko, and Dot -- are the postmodern descendents of the Marx Brothers: They can go into any situation, and time, any place, and as long as people are taking themselves too seriously, the Warners run riot. Their postmodern edge adds a "wink-wink, nudge, nudge" tinge to the proceedings, such as "This Pun for Hire," a straight-up parody of The Maltese Falcon. We know, they know we know, and we know that they know that we know. (They're a knowledgeable family.) The writers also have the same level of chutzpah as the writers for the original Rocky and Bullwinkle show -- they have no qualms whatsoever about using a 5-minute cartoon as a convoluted setup for a single line. Still, the Warners have their limits; they are at a loss when dropped into a parody of The Sound of Music because of the Maria-clone's sweet personality -- the Warners can only pull gags on people who are mean to them.
Just about all the usual suspects get a moment to shine in the set> -- Mindy and Buttons take a whirlwind tour of Oz, and find themselves in the middle of the zombie apocalypse (Animaniacs are so tragically hip that they had a zombie apocalypse before the zombie apocalypse was cool). Slappy Squirrel, among other things, gets to share the stage with her old partner in a send-up of The Sunshine Boys, but also gets placed in a retirement home by her nephew Skippy, resulting in a truly bizarre riff on One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Chicken Boo finds himself in a variety of odd situations, the best of which is perhaps when he becomes the Boy Wonder, Robin himself. The episode is a wonderful parody of the Batman TV series (for the love of God, someone get the rights sorted out, OK?), including the bust of Shakespeare, the Batmobile turntable, replacing ker-POW! With bu-CAW!, and to top it all off, they brought in Adam West to voice the Caped Crusader. That's dedication, my friends. By this time, Pinky and the Brain had their own show, so they aren't as much of a presence, though they still pop up now and again; their last episode is a clever send-up of "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" from Fantasia -- throughout the run of the show they never missed an opportunity to tweak Disney's nose. There are a few characters missing in actionè¬¡hile they turn up in the periphery every now and again, there are no Rita and Runt shortså"¯ernadette Peters don't come cheap, y'all. Minerva Mink got sidelined by people who complained about having such a highly sexualized character on what was supposedly a children's show (but let's face it, children were only ever a secondary audience for this show); still, she's used to excellent advantage in the aforementioned "This Pun for Hire" as (of course) a femme fatale.
While there was no shortage of great ideas in this group of episodes, execution was not quite up to the same standards as the earlier shows. By this point, the talent pool may have been diluted by the other shows, or perhaps it was just too hard to maintain the high standard set by the early episodes. This is a good set, it's just not a great set.
There are no extras. That is to say, there is an "Extras" option on the menu of the first disc, but a couple of Scooby-Doo trailers does not constitute extras. The thing is, there is at least one viable option, the direct-to-video Wakko's Wish, that has yet to be released. That was the last Animaniacs production, so it would have been a fitting extra in this collection.
Technically, the set is a slight step down from the previous releases. There's a fair amount of digital artefacts -- most prominent when playing the disc on a computer. Colors are rich and vibrant. Previous editions had upconverted the audio to a surround track, but instead we simply get the original 2.0 stereo track -- happily, it's a solid track -- not just clear but active -- the sound bounces all over the place.
Trivia: While Jess Harnell voiced Wakko for the entire run, his performances as the Great Wakkorotti -- i.e., his tuneful belching -- was performed solely by Maurice LaMarche, best known as the voice of The Brain.
Trivia: In college, I had a D&D magic user with an intelligence of 22 named The Brain. I made a point of calling every city official we encountered "Pinky." Good times.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 514 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated