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ANIMANIACS
Volume One

Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Rob Paulsen, Tress MacNeille, Jess Harnell, Sherri Stoner, Maurice LaMarche
Producer:  Steven Spielberg
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Warner Bros.
Features:  Animaniacs Live
Length:  550 Minutes
Release Date:  July 25, 2006

“STOP PLAYING WITH MY BUST!!”

“Goodnight, everybody…”

Shows ***1/2

I’ll admit, when Animaniacs first hit the airwaves in 1993, at the time I suspected it was just an attempt by Warner to duplicate their successful Tiny Toons run.  But I was way wrong.  Animaniacs surpassed the little tykes with its wild, unpredictable humor, high octane energy, and willingness to push the boundaries just a tad and still be a kids’ show.

Centered around the Warner Brothers Yakko (Paulsen) and Wakko (Harnell) and the Warner Sister Dot (MacNeille), the cute one, the Steven Spielberg-produced cartoon show was a welcome return to the throwback days of outrageous slapstick animation.  In fact, the trio were supposedly created during the heyday of cartoons, but were so zany they had to be locked in the water tower at the studio.  Or so they tell us.  But fortunately for fans of the zany, they escaped.

This first season set chronicles their misadventures and those of their cartoon pals over a splendid five disc set.  My favorites were Pinky and the Brain; the former a half-witted lackey to the latter’s delusions of grandeur and world domination.  Brain’s scheme to use an Orson Wells-like hoax to scare the globe into submission had me in tears.  I also loved Goodfeathers, who sounded suspiciously like a trio of gangsters from a beloved Martin Scorsese movie (can’t put my feather on which one, though…).  The Brando-esque Godpigeon, who mumbles beyond comprehension, was a genius touch.

A few characters wore out their welcome a little quickly.  There was Buttons, the faithful dog trying to keep the intrepid little Mindy out of trouble.  Episode after episode was pretty much the same, and Buttons chasing Mindy lacked the attitude of the Coyote and Road Runner, since Buttons wasn’t trying to eat his pursuee.  Chicken Boo was the epitome of a one note premise.  In between was Rita and Runt, which had the benefit of Bernadette Peters’ beautiful singing voice, even if Runt sounded a bit like Rain Man.

One of the true delights of the show, however, was Slappy the Squirrel.  Indelibly voiced by co-writer and producer Sherri Stoner, Slappy was an aged cartoon star from the golden age of toons, but still with a lot of bite and burn for an old lady.  Her escapades with her wide-eyed and adoring nephew Skippy were a hoot.  Who could ever forget “Bumbie’s Mom”, where Slappy has to convince a bawling Skippy that movies aren’t real life?  Dig that parody of Bambi, too…that movie has probably screwed up more than a few kids over the decades…

But of course, the Warners themselves were a hoot.  Some of their best episodes were in the first season, including an attempt to help Michelangelo (I never knew he looked and sounded like Kirk Douglas!), or interfering with Beethoven and inspiring his Fifth.  Perhaps best of all was their encounter with Jerry Lewis.  No, wait…it was Yakko singing the countries of the world.

Music was actually an important part of the show, and part of what made it so endearing.  Whether it was entirely original songs like “Yakko’s Universe”, or a spoof of Gilbert and Sullivan in “HMS Yakko”, the composers and musicians worked overtime in creating a Carl Stalling-esque background for our toons to do their business.

Yes, a weak moment here or there, but I challenge anyone not to be doubled over by the zany antics of the Animaniacs.  If this set doesn’t make you laugh, you need to make an appointment with Dr. Scratchansniff, stat!

Video ***

“Ever since I could remember, I wanted to be a Goodfeather…”

And the Goodfeathers would approve of this transfer.  It’s not quite up to the standard of more modern animation, but still, animation and DVD are a great combination.  I used to own a few of these on video, and the improvement is noticeable.  Colors are rich and bright and detail levels are strong, even if there is occasional softness here and there.

Audio ***

“HELLO, NURSE!!”

This show was wacky enough to merit 5.1 sound, and it got it.  The constant music and effects elevate this to a terrific listening experience, with frequent use of the rear channels and constant subwoofer occupation.  Dynamic range is strong, and dialogue is clean and clear.  Well, except for the Godpigeon.  But are you gonna tell him?  I ain’t…

Features **

“NARF!!”

Disc Three contains an “Animaniacs Live” extra, where you can see the voices behind the toons as they reminisce.

Summary:

“Now THAT’S comedy.”

Here’s the show’s namey…Animaniacs rule, and if you ask me, it’s about darn time these unforgettably funny shows were made available on DVD. 

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