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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Animaniacs, Vol. 3
Animaniacs, Vol. 3
Warner Bros. // Unrated // June 19, 2007
List Price: $44.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted June 14, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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In 10 Words or Less
Even more fun with the Warner Brothers (and Sister)

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

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 two collection of 25 episodes each were released in 2006. DVDTalk has reviews for both sets: Volume 1 | Volume 2

The Show
I don't care that this series aired on Kids WB or Fox Kids or even MSKidsNBC...Animaniacs" is not a kids cartoon. Sure, the songs can be educational, the comedy slapstick and the level of sophistication sophomoric, but when you've got jokes about Gertrude Stein, World War II rationing and Woodstock, you're not aiming for the sippy-cup set. You're aiming much higher and often hitting the mark.

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.

The DVDs
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 Quality
The full-frame transfers on these episodes are solid, but suffer a bit from age, as some dirt is noticeable throughout the run. Despite that, the show looks good, with nice bright color and nothing much in terms of digital artifacts or pixilation on the black outlines. Only the opening titles and closing titles look rough.

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.

The Extras
This time, we get two featurettes, each focusing on a specific part of the show like the previous DVD extras. Things start with "They Can't Help it If They're Cute, They're Just Drawn That Way," which focuses on the art design of the show, with interviews with many of the animation crew. This really is a great history of the characters, including a look at early version of the Warners that's quite different. Plenty of animation tidbits and background to the show makes this 22-minute featurette a must watch for fans of the series.

"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
I hope that one day my daughter turns off the Pokemon and Disney crap and begs me to put another Animaniacs DVD in to watch. I think I've got a good chance, once she turns 18 or so. Til then, I'll just enjoy them by myself for now as the classics they are, and not the kids show they are mislabeled as. This third volume, with a massive 750 minutes of animation greatness, is a great piece of the overall run, with some classic adult-focused bits, and a stronger core cast. The DVD looks and sounds very nice, and the extras, though slim, are far from fluff and are of real added value to fans. The series' followers will be happy to get their hands on this collection, while newcomers, especially the more mature kids out there, can jump right in and get plenty of laughs.

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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