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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Animaniacs, Vol. 4
Animaniacs, Vol. 4
Warner Bros. // Unrated // February 5, 2013
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted February 4, 2013 | E-mail the Author
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In 10 Words or Less
It's time for Animaniacs...for one last time

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 three collections were released way back between 2006 and 2007. DVDTalk has reviews for all three sets: Volume 1 | Volume 2 | Volume 3

The Show
It's been so long since Warner Brothers has released a Spielberg cartoon that I had completely forgotten that they had never finished releasing all of the Animaniacs cartoons. However, the good people at the Hub (a favorite in the Rizzo household) had the smart idea to bring Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner back to the airwaves, and their return seems to have sparked Warner Brothers to wrap up the series on DVD. Fortunately, the series remains as sharp as ever, even if, at this point in the run, production was winding down, thanks to shorter season orders.

With the writing on the wall regarding the show's future, instead of mailing it in, the creators instead decided to push the show to its limits, giving up on the premise that the show is attempting to entertain kids and focusing almost exclusively on the show's older viewers, frequently via parodies. Volume three's "Variety Speak" segment was inside baseball, but this time around you've got a two-episode special (including a "Variety Speak" sequel) focused on the movie-making business, as the Warners attempt to sell their script, while another parodies classic cartoons like Yogi Bear, Scooby-Doo, Underdog and Fat Albert, right down to the animation style. A cartoon that includes Joe Esterhas and Joel Schumacher, not to mention Ernest Hemingway and Salvador Dali, as characters is certainly not meant for anyone in grade school.

The other key feature certain to be lost on younger viewers is the continuing flood of references specific to the '90s, like an entire segment dedicated to parodying Friends and Seinfeld, a Rugrats cold-open homage and a Macarena-inspired music video. Half the time references aren't even named, acting only as visual gags. Fortunately, the slapstick-heavy action is normally silly enough, and the characters are cute enough to keep younger viewers without a '90s frame of reference (or a subscription to the Hollywood Reporter) entertained. This is especially true for the show's terrific, catchy songs, which often have some educational value to boot, like the tunes about time, the bones in the body and spelling, or the return of the historical Flame, who observes the writing of America's anthem. Sometimes the musical moments can get out of hand, like the Season Three finale, featuring nothing but songs, but they normally are nice breaks in the show's variety format.

Though there are plenty of cameos for the show's supporting cast, including several appearances by the surprisingly entertaining Chicken Boo, who is disguised as everything from Forrest Gump to a TV executive to a certain dark knight's young ward (with Adam West himself as a knock-off Caped Crusader), Slappy Squirrel getting the entire fourth-season premiere to herself and Pinky and the Brain in a wonderful, wordless final Animaniacs segment, the Warners are the focus this time around. It's definitely a farewell tour for the characters, as the gang is more meta than ever (even stopping scenes at random and commenting on the credits in one episode) while they deliver some truly memorable shorts, like a Disney-tweaking musical joke about their homogenous heroines, a fun take on the Casey at the Bat story and the series finale, featuring a goofy scoring session and the epic best-of musical reel revisiting the show's many brilliant themes, which serves as a fond summation of the show as the spiritual descendent of the original Looney Tunes.

Is there anything bad to say about this set? Sure (anything with multiple appearances by characters like the Hip Hippos deserves some criticism) but when the rest of the show is so tremendously fun, and the series is capable of entertaining such a wide-ranging audience, trying to find negatives is just being nit-picky. Now to get them to make some new episodes...

The DVDs
Episodes 76 through 99 of Animaniacs (the remainder of the third season and the short final two seasons) are collected on three DVDs. The packaging has changed in the years since the third volume was released, swapping out the digipaks of the past for a standard keepcase with a dual-hubbed tray, which arrives in an attractive embossed slipcover. The discs have static, anamorphic widescreen main menus, with options to play all episodes, select individual shows and adjust languages. Unlike the previous volumes, there are no audio options this time, but after leaving out subtitle choices on Volume Three, this time you have either English SDH or French.

The Quality
Perhaps it's their more-recent vintage or perhaps there was some clean-up with the show arriving on high-def television (or maybe it's just my mind trying to trick itself,) but the full-frame transfers on these episodes actually look improved over the last time out, as the color often looks brighter and more vivid and there's less of the noticeable noise seen on the previous sets, though the image is often a bit soft and lacking in detail. Digital artifacts and pixelation are still occasionally apparent in the animation's black outlines, but overall these episodes look pretty nice.

Unlike the previous sets, there was no upconversions done to enhance the audio, so we just get the original Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks, which are really quite fine, delivering the dialogue cleanly and center-balanced, while the music is nice and strong, and well-separated from the voices.

The Extras
Disappointingly, there are no real extras included (aside some WB promos.) We couldn't get Wakko's Wish included? Maybe this means there's a DVD coming? Maybe? Please?

The Bottom Line
When I wrote my review of the third volume of Animaniacs, I hoped that my daughter, at the time just a few months over the age of one, would become a fan of the series. Now, six years old, she screamed with excitement when Volume Four arrived, and she watches them as attentively as I did when I was younger. It's the kind of series that speaks to the kid in all of us, and thankfully now we can easily own the entire run. This set actually looks improved over previous releases, but it's absent any bonus content. Despite that, but thanks to episodes that benefitted from knowing the end of the line was coming soon, this set belongs in any animation fan's collection, especially if they have kids they want to instill some taste into.

Now about Wakko's Wish...

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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