Picture it: Warner Brothers, 1930. Three siblings of ambiguous genetic origin are running amok on the Warner Bros lot. Studio executives take drastic measures and lock them in the water tower unaware that this is only the beginning of Yakko, Wakko and Dot Warner’s reign of mayhem.
Fast forward to 1993. I was a college freshman still wrapping my head around the concept of friends-with-benefits, and Yakko, Wakko and Dot were escaping from the water tower, eager to start their shenanigans after a 63-year hiatus. The rest is part of 90s cartoon history as beloved characters like Slappy the Squirrel and Pinky and the Brain became pre-TiVo recording necessities.
It seems that after 9,000 signatures were collected on a petition somewhere, the good folks at Fox Kids finally decided to release this animated classic on DVD for the next generation to enjoy. This 25 episode, five disc collection follows the antics and energy of Animaniacs all-stars Rita and Runt (the former voiced by Bernadette Peters,) a dog and cat duo, The Goodfeathers, a pigeon spoof on the iconic Godfather trilogy, and Slappy the Squirrel, a snarky showbiz veteran who educates her young nephew Skippy Squirrel on the ways of “the biz.”
Last but definitely not least are perhaps the most memorable of Animaniacs characters, Pinky and The Brain. Gene-spliced mice from Acme Laboratories, the duo spend every night alone in the lab, plotting to take over the world. The Brain is diabolical and brilliant and Pinky is really quite mad.
In addition to these delightful characters and their individual segments, there are glorious musical numbers full of satire, and the occasional spoof, as well as my favorite parts, with Yakko, Wakko and Dot’s adventures. Each episode always opened with the trio escaping from the water tower to the constant chagrin of Ralph the security guard, and Dr. Otto Scratchansniff, the studio psychiatrist with the uber sexy nurse, Hello Nurse, always greeted by Yakko and Wakko with a leering “Heeeellllloooooooo Nurse!”
Executive Produced by Steven Spielberg, this show came with high expectations attached to it. After Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List, this couldn’t possibly be just an ordinary cartoon. It wasn’t, and the two daytime Emmy Awards and a Peabody award are fair proof that this Looney Tunes inspired show would carry on the irreverence first mastered by Bugs, Porky and Daffy.
Animaniacs delivered some of the best parodies, satire, humor and spoofs imaginable in a format palatable for small children and adults alike. Kids loved the crazy cartoon silliness while grownups laughed at the subtle humor, pop culture references, and allusion to Hollywood history. Perhaps my favorite self-aggrandizing tongue-in-cheek reference came in the episode that featured a great and powerful emperor as none other than an animated Steven Spielberg.
Concurrently released with Anamaniacs Volume 1 was Pinky and The Brain Volume 1. This 22 episode, 4 disc collection of the Emmy award winning spinoff series is for those who loved the megalomaniac rodents and the distinctive voices of Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen. Perhaps the smartest comedy of the Animaniacs genre, Pinky and The Brain offer witty repartee and signature ridiculousness.
If you haven’t been indoctrinated into the world of Animaniacs and you love smart, irreverent comedy, these cartoons are right up your alley. Watch them with the kids, because unlike other great animated shows like Family Guy, these won’t get them sent home from school with a note for using inappropriate language.