“Animaniacs” is the kind of cartoon series that will either rivet you to your seat or have you running for the exits.
Produced by Steven Spielberg and aired on TV during the ‘90s, these animated shorts feature three main characters who appear to be a cross between Disney’s Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and furry, long-eared variations of Bosko, a minstrel show-looking animated character created by Hugh Harman and Rudolf Ising that starred in dozens of Looney Tunes shorts released in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s.
How you respond to these three derivative characters will determine whether you sit or take flight.
There’s cleverness at work here, for sure. “Animaniacs” relies heavily on self-referential humor and other postmodern tropes for its laughs, with heavy allusions to Warner Bros. history. In fact, two of the three main characters are literally Warner brothers—Yakko and Wakko Warner (Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell)—who, with their sister Dot (Tress MacNeille), were created by animators many years ago but were locked in the Warner Bros. studio lot water tower like some princesses in distress, we’re told. And all because they were deemed too manic to be unleashed on the public.
How manic? Picture Daffy Duck times three, and without a more normal foil character to slow things down or balance the “whoop whoop whoop” bouncing off the walls. These characters are incapable of moving slowly and they get into mischief at every turn—and most of those turns are left-handed or backwards into parody and history. The style of these animated shorts is a clever throwback to Warner Bros. cartoons from the ‘40s and ‘50s, right down to the infectious (and equally wacky-sounding) theme song. There’s an undercurrent of nostalgia in these “animaniacal” homages, which explains why Spielberg is involved. Warner Bros. cartoons were irreverent and violent at a time when TV cartoons were mostly tame, and they left an indelible impression on Baby Boomers. And these tribute cartoons have as much violence and wise-guy humor as the old Looney Tunes cartoons.
Watching these, you can’t help but be reminded of the old Warner Bros. cartoons that featured characters like Daffy Duck in spoofs of such things as film noir crime dramas, or Bugs Bunny taunting desperado Yosemite Sam. There are a lot of trips back in history this final volume and a lot of fun film spoofs. As with previous seasons, other characters pop up, like Pinky and the Brain, who would get their own show in 1995, or Ralph the not-so-bright Warner Bros. security guard, or Slappy Squirrel, or little girl Mindy and her dog Buttons. But the best of the bunch, for my money, are the parodies.
Here’s a rundown on Episodes 76-99, which are contained on three single-sided discs and housed in a standard-size keep case tucked into a cardboard slipcase. On the menu they’re grouped as follows:
1. Gimme the Works / Buttons in Ows / Hercules Unwound
2. This Pun for Hire / Star Truck / Go Fish / Multiplication Song
3. The Sound of Warners / Yabba Dabba Boo
4. My Mother the Squirrel / The Party / Oh! Say Can You See / The Twelve Days of Christmas Song
5. Dot’s Entertainment / The Girl with the Googily Goop / Gunga Dot
6. Soccer Coach Slappy / Belly Button Blues / Our Final Space Cartoon, We Promise / Valuable Lesson
7. Wakko’s 2-Note Song / Panama Canal / Hello Nurse / The Ballad of Magellan / The Return of the Great Wakkorotti / The Big Wrap Party Tonight
8. One Flew over the Cuckoo Clock
9. Cutie and the Beast / Boo Happens / Noel
10. Jokahontas / Boids on the Hood / Mighty Wakko at the Bat
11. A Very Very Very Very Special Show / Night of the Living Buttons / Soda Jerk
12. From Burbank with Love / Anchors A-Warners / When You’re Traveling from Nantucket
13. Papers for Papa / Amazing Gladiators / Pinky and the Ralph
14. Ten Short Films about Wakko Warner / No Time for Love / The Boo Network
15. Pitter Patter of Little Feet / Mindy in Wonderland / Ralph’s Wedding
16. Moosage in a Bottle / Back in Style / Bones in the Body
17. It / Dot—The Macadamia Nut/ Bully for Skippy
18. Cute First (Ask Questions Later) / Acquaintances / Here Comes Attila / Boo Wonder
19. Magic Time / The Brain’s Apprentice
20. Hooray for North Hollywood, Pt. 1
21. Hooray for North Hollywood, Pt. 2
22. The Carpool / The Sunshine Squirrels
23. The Christmas Tree / Punchline, Pt. 1 / Prom Night / Punchline, Pt. 2
24. Birds on a Wire / The Scoring Session / The Animaniacs Suite
The cartoons vary slightly in picture quality, with many of them looking a little soft or pastel, while others approach a color schemata that’s more richly hued and with stronger black levels. There’s slight haloing at times, but no serious compression issues. It’s presented in the original 1.33:1 broadcast ratio.
The audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo in English, with subtitle options in English SDH or French. There’s not much to report, really, except that the dialogue is clear, distortion-free, and nicely balanced with the all-important musical backdrop.
There are no bonus features. No last hurrah. No A b-deee-ba-dee-ba-deee uh That’s all, Folks!
It’s a given that fans will pick up this final volume of “Animaniacs,” and people intrigued by these Nuevo-classic Warner Bros. cartoons need not start with Vol. 1. These are stand-alone shorts—which is also part of the Warner Bros. tradition.