With a slew of television animations from the 1980s and 90s released on DVD in the past few years, a lot of my fond childhood memories have been shot in the face. Perhaps it was the endless bowls of Lucky Charms and Coco Puffs that warped my tiny little mind into thinking shows like "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" were great or, in the case of "The Thundercats," even watchable. But for every Snarf or Orko, there are a few memorable gems that once dusted off prove to be just as great as remembered. Thankfully "Animaniacs" is one of those shows.
Premiering on the Fox network in the fall of 1993, "Animaniacs" was a hipper and funnier spin-off of the channel's successful "Tiny Toon Adventures"; it's no coincidence that "Tiny Toons" final season was "Animaniacs" first. When the heads of Warner Brothers animation awarded the main voices of "Animaniacs" to minor voice actors on "Tiny Toons" and other relative unknowns, the stars of "Tiny Toons" flipped out, creating an unrepairable rift that they were never able to recover from. "Toons" slightly slipped away into the back of viewers' memories while the far better "Maniacs" went on for five wonderful seasons.
"Animaniacs" featured a truck full of unusual and bizarre characters, but the main focus of the show was on the Warner Brothers (and Warner sister) Yakko, Wakko and Dot. Originally designed as ducks, the studio decided that they would be far too similar to the main characters of Disney's brilliant "Ducktales" cartoons and so modeled them after forgotten 30s' animation icon Bosko and gave them an ingenious back story. The Warners were created many years ago but deemed too unruly by the studio, and they were locked in the iconic Warner Brothers water tower never to be seen again, until today when they escaped to create all kinds of havoc on the residents.
While the Warners were easily the most identifiable characters on the show, they were by no means the best or the worst characters showcased. Some of the best characters were the ones that never got the chance to be overused, like Mr.Skullhead, a mute skeleton whose clips were narrated by Motel 6 spokesman Tom Bodett; and Chicken Boo, a six-foot-tall chicken who is oddly successful at imitating humans with minimal efforts at disguise. Both were used sparingly, unlike several other characters whose antics grew on the repetitive side of annoying. Possibly the least likeable, and most dated of characters, were the Goodfeathers, a parody of "Goodfellas" featuring pigeons. Yeah, it's as bad as it sounds. Another set of characters that always left me cold were "Pinky and the Brain," whose buffoonery was so repetitive it could put Wile E. Coyote and the Roadrunner to sleep. But this didn't stop the duo from getting their own show that ran from 1995-98, although unlike "Animaniacs," who are getting the season-length DVD treatment, the recently released "Pinky and the Brain" set is merely a best of. Perhaps I'm not the only one who found multiple episodes of their shtick redundant.
While the "Maniacs" theme song will get stuck in your mind for weeks by the time you get to the third episode, the first season of this show features some of the most memorable songs ever featured on Saturday morning TV. The "Nation's song" by Wakko is a thing of pure genius and taught me way more than any world history class I was ever forced to sit through. With all the great songs this show gave us, it's too bad this set doesn't feature an in-depth look at the creation of those memorable tunes.
It doesn't look like Warner Brothers bothered wasting any time or money cleaning up the occasionally washed out animation. This is a shame but not surprising considering their apathetic transfers of "The Batman Adventures," which truly deserved some further attention. While the 1.33:1 fullscreen pictures' bland presentation rarely takes away from the great writing and catchy music, it's sad that the studio couldn't be bothered to put even a slight effort into a new transfers.
Both of the available audio tracks--Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo--sound great, which is extremely important with a dialogue and song filled show like "Maniacs." It's just odd that the same amount of time wasn't put into restoring the visuals.
This is where disappointment truly sets in. While both the box and the discs use the words "extras" or "special features there is only one bonus feature included on this set. While the thirty-minute feature "Animaniacs Live!," featuring "Brain" voice actor Maurice La Marche interviewing former cast members, is moderately entertaining, several cast members were noticeably absent. But with such a lackluster effort put into this set, it's not surprising that Warner Brothers animation couldn't go the extra mile to lock up interviews with the bigger-named stars that appeared on "Animaniacs," like "The Simpson's" Nancy Cartwright or Bernadette Peters; but I refuse to believe Julie Brown was unavailable for comment. The most unsatisfying thing of all is that they had the nerve to include a "Special Features" option on the menu of all five discs when the only feature is on disc 3, and the lack of commentary on any episode is unacceptable. Perhaps when this set ends up being one of their top-selling DVDs of the year, they'll decide to bless us with a commentary on Season 2. I 'm probably more likely to get a complete set of the WB's short lived "Frekazoid" before that happens.
With the sad and depressing state of today's children's cartoons, the "Animaniacs" star shines even brighter than it did when it first premiered over a decade ago. With the possible exception of Nickelodeons' sublime "Spongebob Squarepants," children's cartoons have been a bleak wasteland of Japanese influenced entertainment. Thankfully, Warner Brothers has filled that void with the first season of "Animaniacs." Now, let's just hope that next time they give the set the treatment it deserves.