Even more fun with the Warner Brothers (and Sister)
The Story So Far
It's not like this adult comedy hasn't always been present in "Animaniacs." Yakko's wiseacre Groucho-esque personality always seemed to be speaking to older viewers, while a sense of sexuality ran through the show at every turn, and never subtly, as Hello Nurse's healthy pin-up figure and Minerva Mink's pure sensuality attest to. But for some reason, Volume Three of this DVD collection seems to ramp up the maturity level, almost at the expense of the kids watching, who are left to nibble at Slappy the Squirrel's retro cartoon violence, and the lush, detailed animation that makes every physical gag a work of art.
The stars of the show are still the Warner siblings, probably the most dynamic and interesting cartoon characters to be developed since the days of the original Looney Tunes. And why wouldn't they be the stars? Capable of anchoring a madcap comedy, an impressive musical or a touching fable, they display a versatility missing in cartoons today, thanks to a preponderance of action and anime series that have forced comedy off the colored cel. With the right conditions, this trio could come back and do a Space Ghost-type variety show that would be fun to watch.
The rest of the cast remains basically the same, with a few more appearances by teen-girl-stereotype Katie Ka-Boom, too many appearances by the one-note Goodfeathers, and (thankfully) almost no presence for the Hip Hippos. The only real tweak is a few unwelcome episodes with Tiny Toons alum Elmyra, who, along with baby-on-the-loose Mindy, is the most annoying part of this set. Thankfully, the Pinky and the Brain segments are still among the show's best bits, with "Yes, Always," a parody of the legendary Orson Welles voiceover outtake tapes, among the best "PATB"s ever.
While the recurring characters make up a big part of the show, quickies like the Randy Beaman urban legends, "Mime Time" and "Good Idea, Bad Idea," keep things moving well. The only road bumps, once again, are the sentimental fairy tales the creators keep trying, but which don't fit right with the show's tone. Sure, I can appreciate the artistry and talent that goes into a "Brave Little Trailer" and think that the history lesson provided by "The Flame Returns" is extremely valuable and honorable, but if I'm looking for old-timey goodness, I want a throw-back parody like "Ragamuffins," not to have my heart-strings tugged.
A great deal of the comedy in Animaniacs comes from reference to movies and TV, especially old-school Hollywood, which finds itself skewered nicely in "The Warners 65th Anniversary Special." Unfortunately, its also representative of one of the show two true sins. Often, the episodes go a bit too inside with their entertainment business gags, none more than the smart, yet hopelessly inside "Variety Speak," which attempts to explain the odd vocabulary of the venerable trade magazine. If there was a kid outside of L.A. And New York who got this one, I would be shocked.
The other black mark against the show is a tendency to be too topical, locking it firmly in the early '90s. Sure, Bugs Bunny was doing the same thing, but the shared culture was a lot stronger in his time. A Peter Lorre gag will stand the test of time. A Nancy Kerrigan joke...not so much. One episode, built as a parody of the Power Rangers, was so out-of-date that it actually flew over my head until the joke was obscenely obvious. But these are minor complaints considering how good the overall collection is.
Episodes 51 through 75 of "Animaniacs" are collected on five DVDs. The packaging remains the same as previous two sets, with a well-designed, embossed "Steven Spielberg Presents"-branded slipcase, holding a four-panel digipak, with three trays and an episode breakdown. Four of the discs are overlapped. The discs have static, anamorphic widescreen main menus, with options to play all episodes, select individual shows, view special features and adjust languages. Language choices include English Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 tracks, as well as closed captioning. The subtitles found on previous sets have not been included this time.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks once again are a welcome treat, limited by the original TV mixes, but very strong in terms of the music. Dialogue is crystal clear, making all the jokes easy to hear. For some reason though, the extras are much lower in volume than the rest of the discs.
"They're Totally Insane-y: In Cadence with Richard Stone" is a 22-minute combination tribute to the late composer and look at the music of the show, with writer Randy Rogel, composers Gordon Goodwin, Julie Bernstein and Steve Bernstein, and actors Rob Paulsen (Yakko) and Jess Harnell (Wakko). Considering that some of the most memorable segments of the show are the many songs and musical numbers, it makes sense to put the spotlight on this important part of the show. There are some good behind the scenes stories and musical notes shared, but it's also a bit of a tease, as some deleted footage is mentioned, but not heard.
A handful of cartoon trailers are also included.
The Bottom Line