Animaniacs: Vol. 1

Animaniacs: Vol. 1 (1993)
Warner Home Video
Cast: Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille
Extras: Interviews, Trailers

They're animanee, totally insane-y… they're Animaniacs! That's right, those rambunctious Warner brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and their sister Dot, have escaped the Warner Bros. water tower again and have finally made their way to DVD. Steven Spielberg executive produced the "Animaniacs" TV series from 1993 to 1998, and it remains one of the best children's shows of the decade. Moving at lightning pace, the series juggled outrageous characters, surreal situations, endless pop culture references, and irresistible musical numbers to create a delightful work of inspired insanity that appealed to both young and old alike. Viewers can now enjoy all 25 episodes of the show's first season in Warner Home Video's Volume 1 release.

After the success of the equally zany "Tiny Toon Adventures" (1990), Warner Bros. and Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment came together to create "Animaniacs," retaining the manic energy of the first show while delving further into satire and pop culture parody. As explained in the theme song prologue, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner are a trio of animated characters who were hidden away in the studio water tower after their lunacy nearly drove the producers crazy. Now that they have escaped, it is up to exasperated psychologist Dr. Scratchensniff to keep them at bay, but they certainly don't make it easy for him. With bungling help from his voluptuous nurse ("Helloooo, Nurse!"), the doctor chases the…um…whatever they are through numerous slapstick escapades.

Along the way, we are introduced to a slew of hilarious characters, including lab mice Pinky and the Brain (who later received their own spin-off series), a sassy squirrel named Slappy, the Good Feather pigeons, the mischievous toddler Mindy and her dog Buttons, Rita the cat (wonderfully voiced by Bernadette Peters), and many other eccentrics. The show cleverly spoofs many stars of both past and present, from Humphrey Bogart to Mel Gibson. Even historical figures find their way into the episodes, like Michelangelo and Albert Einstein. It is these references that keep adult audiences as entertained as the kids. For once, we have a cartoon that appeals to all ages without being too sophisticated for children or too redundant for their parents.

Another remarkable element of this series is the abundance of musical numbers. Songs play a large part in the humor, and the styles of music chosen are just as varied as the subject matter. "The Monkey Song" is a memorable, calypso-style number that attempts to figure out exactly what kind of animals the Warner siblings are (we never find out). My favorite song, without a doubt, is Yakko's recitation of the nations of the world. Yes, he simply names the countries of the world, but it is so breathtakingly fast-paced and melodic, you'll want to hear it again and again.

The video quality on Warner's DVD is, alas, a major disappointment. The episodes are spread over five discs, each containing five episodes. Presented in their original fullframe aspect ratio, the non-progressive transfers exhibit a fair amount of ghosting and grain. Many frames are riddled with dirt and speckles. Colors, for the most part, are well-saturated throughout, though some episodes are softer and more muted than others, with fluctuating brightness levels. Black levels are consistently strong. At times, the image seems quite washed out, looking no better than a VHS transfer. None of this severely hampers the enjoyment of the show, but it really is substandard quality for Warner, especially given the popularity and age of this series.

Audio, on the other hand, sounds just fine in a Dolby Digital 5.1 track. Warm, natural voices are presented in the front channels while music nicely fills the back, creating a good surround experience that puts you right in the middle of the chaotic action. For a series that makes such significant use of musical numbers and a full studio orchestra, this really does the job. An adequate stereo track is also provided, as well as a Portuguese mono track and subtitles in French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The only substantial extra is found on Disc 3. "Animaniacs Live!" is a half-hour feature hosted by Maurice LaMarche (voice of the Brain), who interviews voice actors Rob Paulsen (Yakko), Tress MacNeille (Dot), Jess Harnell (Wakko) and Sherri Stoner (Slappy Squirrel), composers Steven and Julie Bernstein, and voice director Andrea Romano. The guests discuss their contributions to the series and share memories of working together. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, this is indeed a fun little bonus, full of interesting tidbits and good laughs.

Apart from that, there are a handful of trailers on Disc 5 for this and other Warner animated releases. I really would have liked to have seen some more on this release—perhaps some audio commentaries from the lead voice actors, or even some of the guest stars. This show is just too good for such a middling offering.

Season one of "Animaniacs" remains fresh and exhilarating even after 13 years. The humor is timeless and makes for joyous viewing no matter how many times you've seen it. Whether you have children now or just want a good laugh for yourself, this is a perfect selection of smart, wholesome comedy. In spite of Warner's unimpressive transfer, this set is a worthy edition to anyone's DVD collection. In the words of Yakko, "You'll never live to regret it!"