Warner Home Video presents
Animaniacs: Vol. I (1993)
Dot is cute and Yakko yaks
Wakko packs away the snacks
While Bill Clinton plays the sax,
Meet Pinky and the Brain,
Who want to rule the universe
Goodfeathers flock together,
Slappy whacks 'em with her purse
Buttons chases Mindy, while Rita sings a verse.
The writers flipped.
We have no script.
Why bother to rehearse?
We have pay or play contracts.
We're zany to the max
There's baloney in our slacks..."- theme song lyrics
Stars: Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille
Other Stars: Maurice LeMarche, John Mariano, Chick Vennera, Frank Welker, Jeff Bennett, Tom Bodet, Julie Brown, Jack Burns, Jim Cummings, Mary Gross, Sherri Stoner, Kath Soucie, Bernadette Peters
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 09h:10m:00s
Release Date: 2006-07-25
DVD ReviewLike a lot of animation inherently designed for children, one's appreciation or fondness often stems from how old you were when it came out, or perhaps if you had young children at the time. If you were a kid, it was almost expected that you would devour the stuff like so much candy, and sometimes carry that affection into adulthood. And over my long adult life I've been know to watch plenty of cartoons on my own—which admittedly cause some folks to cast a questionable eye—but I generally shrug that disdain off pretty easily. But I have to tell you that having a child really creates a temporary built-in excuse shield, like a buffer that makes it more acceptable to have a cool cartoon blaring because "it's for the kid," when in reality it's all about me.
My daughter was just a few years old when the Animaniacs debuted in 1993, but that didn't stop me from crowing how much she loved the show, even though most of the time she was playing with stuffed animals or making the kind of mess that only toddlers can make, occasionally glancing up at the screen as I secretly enjoyed the daylights out of the series. And there was quite a bit to draw in the older crowd, though the humor and animation presented a decidedly strong kid-centric front. But it has always had an immediate attraction for older viewers, too.
To begin with, Steven Spielberg's name was attached to it. That sort of gave it adult cool cred, in a way. And then there was the hellzapoppin' approach to the odd comedy, dispensed much like the classic Warner Bros. short animations of the 1940s did, all wrapped in a half-hour block where one set of characters didn't necessarily have to carry an entire episode. There was no consistent rhyme or reason to the way each block of character shorts would be introduced in any given episode, so there was always an overriding sense that the series had a gooey, mercurial texture, full of unexpected interstitials, songs, and bits, with a soundtrack layered with a punchy, full-bodied orchestra.
And then there's the theme song—presented in slightly varying full-throttle incarnations to keep it fresh—which fully explains the history of the titular white-faced, red-nosed whatever-they-are Animaniacs (Yakko, Wakko, and Dot), who have been imprisoned for decades in the Warner Bros. studio lot water tower, only to have escaped with vengeful mirth and mayhem on the brain. But it also quickly introduces all of the supporting characters (including Pinky and The Brain), each with a line or two of explanation, and the whole thing builds like a frothy cavalcade of fast cuts that even features an animated Bill Clinton playing sax. It's a boisterous jam-packed intro, and one that fully catches the flavor of what's to follow.
Like a ballplayer's batting average, it's all about percentages, and even a fine, upstanding series such as the Animaniacs was not without its occasional strikeouts. These most notably came in the form the Goodfellas-inspired antics of the Good Feathers (pigeons who sound like mobsters!) or the inconsistent Rita and Runt, and even while these sometimes worked in very small doses, they often represented a wasted at-bat. Thankfully these weaker elements came and went rather quickly, leaving more time for Yakko, Wakko, and Dot to run roughshod over things, perhaps leading into the wonderfully subversive futility of another Pinky andThe Brain "take over the world" segment.
I'm not sure if the Animaniacs is still playing in reruns, but even if it is this five-disc set is still a solid bit of entertainment that plays as well for young children as it does for us "older" viewers. And not necessarily in a risque way, though there are a couple of mild double entendres tossed in here and there. It's as if the momentum and energy of those old Warner shorts was hit with a jolt of adrenaline, and then chiseled to look both new and old at the same time.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: The transfers show a fair amount of dirt at times, especially during the opening title sequence, and the same happens with the depth and richness of the colors, which occasionally appear bright in one ep and then slightly muted the next. Detail and edge clarity are a bit soft throughout, as well.
Not a terrible set of transfers by any means, but just not up to the caliber I necessarily anticipated.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is a real beaut, bringing to life all of the throwback richness of the zippy full orchestral score and the multitude of sound effect cues that fill each segment. Voice quality is sharp and clear at all times, and rear channel usage is frequent enough to really give this presentation the kind of larger-than-life soundstage that help sell the gags. A somewhat less robust 2.0 surround mix is also provided.
A Portuguese 1.0 dub is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasStatic menu with music
Scene Access with 4 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French, Spanish, Portuguese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
7 Other Trailer(s) featuring A Superhero Like No Other - Superman, Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt Hour, Flintstones Season 5, Justice League Season 2, Superman Vol. 3, Justice League/Batman Beyond Season 1, Thundercats: Season 1, Vol 2, Pinky & The Brain: Vol. 1
Packaging: Scanavo 4-pack gatefold
Extras Review: Nice packaging from Warner Bros., and anal-retentive completists (such as myself) will be pleased that it matches the Pinky and The Brain: Vol. 1< set as well. There's a thick cardboard slipcase with embossing for the Yakko, Wakko and Dot illustrations, and a foldout case holds the five discs.
Disc 3, unfortunately, holds the only real extra, which is at least a very worthwhile feature entitled Animaniacs Live! (29m:22s), presented in anamorphic widescreen. Hosted by Maurice (The Brain) LaMarche, the segment features insight from Animaniacs voice talent Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille, yakking up how they landed the gig and assorted anecdotes about the production. It's a nice piece, and certainly worth a viewing by fans, but it only accents the complete absence of any commentaries or the like.
The only other extras are a handful of animated trailers that appears on Disc 5. Each 22-minute episode is cut into four chapters, with optional subtitles in French, Spanish or Portuguese.
Extras Grade: B
Final CommentsThe packaging is a bit misleading, referring to this five-disc set as "Volume 1" when it's actually referred to as "Season One" on the back cover, though it does match the Pinky and The Brain set, which is also called "Volume 1," but is actually a collection of "specially chosen" episodes from that series run. Confused? Can't say I blame you. But it matches, doesn't it?
Aside from all of that marketing nomenclature, the animated fun of the Animaniacs has held up very well over the past thirteen years, even if some of the secondary acts have very limited appeal. It's really all about Yakko, Wakko, and Dot being part of a Warner Bros. rebirth that borrowed the kind of old-school manic energy and humor that works as well for children as it does adults.
Rich Rosell 2006-07-24