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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Animaniacs, Vol. 2
Animaniacs, Vol. 2
Warner Bros. // Unrated // December 5, 2006
List Price: $44.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 2, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
More contemporary classic cartoon madness with the Warners

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: "Animaniacs," Wakko Warner, cartoons, "Freakazoid"
Likes: Rita and Runt. Minerva Mink, Katie Ka-Boom
Dislikes: Mindy
Hates: The Hip Hippos

The Story So Far
"Lost" creations of Warner Brothers' classic animation department, Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner were too wild for the company to control, so they were locked in the water tower on the studio lot. Eventually though, they escaped to spread their "Looney Tunes"-inspired madness, along with the adventures of their many animated pals. Produced by Steven Spielberg, the show ran for five years, led to a spin-off series, and earned a loyal following not only among kids but teens and adults who appreciate quality animation. The first collection of 25 episodes was released in July of this year. DVDTalk has a review here.

The Show
Since this isn't the second season of "Animaniacs," but a second volume, it's not a matter of something new or something different, but something more. More Animaniacs is a welcome thing for fans of the show, who have waited a long time to see the show on DVD, and who thankfully haven't had to wait long for a second serving.

This volume features more of the smart, pop-culture-heavy cartoons that made the series so popular across age groups, parodying classic novels, popular movies and well-known musicals, with a healthy dose of wacky fun. The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister) are fun-hunting hellions, the spiritual descendants of Bugs Bunny, in that they mean no harm, except to those who would get in the way of their joy or otherwise frustrate them.

The shorts starring Yakko, Wakko and Dot remain the best of the bunch, as their joyous insanity makes original even the oldest concept, since most of the plots were done decades earlier by the Looney Tunes crew (just with less songs.) Stories like "The Three Muska-warners," "Hot, Bothered and Bedeviled" and "Sir Yaksalot" are classic, yet fresh, fitting in well with the best of Termite Terrace's creations. The trademark Animaniacs bits are still here, including educational moments like "Planets Song," an homage to early animation in "Babblin' Bijou" and tons of pop-culture, including "Video Review," which would have made a perfect Oscars song for Billy Crystal. Among the better shorts here are "Clown and Out," which focuses on Wakko's fear of a Jerry Lewis-inspired clown, "Bubba Bo Bob Brain," in which Brain uses country music to brainwash America, and the understated but fantastic "Chairman of the Bored," co-starring Ben Stein as the incredibly boring party guest named Pip who torments the Warners.

Though there's nothing much new with the Warners, or their castmates, including Pinky and the Brain, Mindy and Buttons, or the rest of the gang, that doesn't mean the show stayed static. Pinky and his pal actually got a spotlight episode all to themselves, "Spellbound," which set up their series, and one episode mixed up the concept, putting characters into different roles, like swapping Dot Warner for Slappy Squirrel. The result is cute, though a bit gimmicky.

The series also added a few new characters, though none of them had the impact of the original cast. That's not to say they couldn't have, but studio censors have a way of dulling interesting ideas. Minerva Mink (voiced by Julie Brown) injected a healthy dose of sensuality into the show, with a Jessica Rabbit-worthy design and an ability to turn any male into a Tex Avery lecher. But in a smart bit of writing, Minerva can't keep her cool either, turning into a lustful puddle when she sees a hot guy. Apparently, her character was too much for a kids' show (which "Animaniacs" really isn't) so she made very few appearances.

Another newcomer, Katie Ka-Boom, wasn't a frequent star either, but for different reasons. A teenage girl living in suburban Pleasantville with her parents and brother, Katie is, like many teenage girls, prone to emotional moodswings. Katie's though, turn her into inhuman monsters with explosive powers that end up destroying her home, as seen in her first appearance, "Katie Ka-Boo," which co-stars one-note Animaniac Chicken Boo. Her violent outbursts stood in stark contrast to the rest of the light-hearted show, and she wasn't heard from often.

The final addition, Charlton Woodchuck, makes just one appearance, in "Hollywoodchuck," as he moves from Kansas to California to become a star. A confident rodent, his only memorable characteristic is how he asks each person who bothers him for their name, so he will be able to hate them when he's famous. The character didn't show much promise, and made for one of the weakest shorts in the set.

The majority of the shorts in this series star one of the main characters, but occasionally, the odd one-off story is included, like "Wild Blue Yonder." A baby bird hatches when his mom isn't around, and seeing a bomber fly by, he thinks it's his mother. From there, we end up in the middle of an unspecified war zone, where a city is leveled. It's an example of the thread of serious and sentimental stories that weaves through the series, especially during the "Rita and Runt" segments. One, "Putting on the Blitz," takes place in Nazi-occupied Poland, and involves saving victims of the Blitzkreig. Though they are well-made and show the animators attempting to do more than just crank out kiddie cartoons, these stories are simply out of place in an otherwise wacky show.

The sentimentality is balanced by comedy in the final two shows included, a pair of Christmas episodes that are excellent examples of celebrating the holidays and not drowning in schmaltz. In addition to a fine "Christmas Carol" adaptation, the show pulls out the terrific "Little Drummer Warners," which puts the kids manger-side for their birth of Jesus. For the most part, its a dead-on presentation of the song "Little Drummer Boy," but a dip into some hot Biblical jazz makes it fun, and heartfelt.

The DVDs
Episodes 26 through 50 of "Animaniacs" are collected on five DVDs. The packaging remains the same as Volume One, 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, as has become something of a norm for multi-disc sets. 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, along with French and Spanish subtitles, as well as closed captioning. Apparently the first volume didn't sell well in Brazil, as the Portuguese tracks and subtitles have been apparently dropped.

The Quality
The full-frame transfers on these episodes look a bit better than the first time around, though some of the trouble with dirt and damage can still be seen, especially in the intro animations that are reused again and again. The color is incredible bright and vivid, and considering the show's age, the set is surprisingly free of the pixilation that can crop up in traditional animation, making for a very solid image.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks created for this set are strong and clear, giving heft to the many musical numbers via surround speaker enhancement and a surprisingly heavy bass channel. There's nothing dynamic about the mixes, as there's no panning or directional effects, but the dialogue is clean and the music sounds great.

The Extras
There's just one real extra here, just like last time, and once again, Maurice LaMarche is involved, hosting "The Writers' Flipped, They Have No Script," a discussion of the show's writing. This half-hour featurette is a really nice supplement, putting a spotlight on some of the show's most important and least visible contributors. The participants, Paul Rugg, Sherri Stoner, John McCann, Peter Hastings, Charles Howell, Gordon Bressack, Earl Kress,Tom Minton, Randy Rogel, Nicholas Hollander, Tom Ruegger and Deanna Oliver, were separated into three groups sitting at tables, while LaMarche moderates. The content is very interesting for fans of the series, as it reveals a lot about how the show came together, including the origins of the characters. Though the extras are obvious slim, the featurette is made with a real interest in the show. This is not fluff in any way.

Annoyingly, each disc lists special feautres on the main menu, only to tell you they are found on another disc. At least this time, they tell you which disc, instead of sending you on a wild goose hunt. There are also a set of trailers on the final disc.

The Bottom Line
This set is more of the same, which is exactly what fans of the show want, as they couldn't come out with these sets fast enough to satisfy the hardcore. The second volume contains several classic shorts, including possibly the best Pink and the Brain show ever in "Bubba Bo Bob Brain," and the first appearance of (male) fan favorite Minerva Mink. The presentation remains rather high, with bright colors and new 5.1 soundtracks, and the only extra was made with the fans in mind. It's the rare series that can entertain adults and children to the same extent, which makes this a DVD collection for every household, with the exception of the utterly joyless household that doesn't have candy for Halloween. That's probably the home for people keeping us from having "Freakazoid" DVDs.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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