Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain, Volume 1 (DVD)

If you’re a child of the nineties, you’ll remember that back then, animated series had texture. They weren’t like today where it was colorful and filled with characters with no basic coherent storyline. Back then animated series had stories, arcs, brains, and influence. Gems like “Talespin”, “Captain Planet”, and “Mighty Max” were what made animation so incredible. But they were intimidating, and that’s why networks sought out to bring them down and cancel them.

Such is the case for “Animaniacs”, which was so influential, the network sought out to sabotage its presence by dumbing down its clever and sharp gags and historical references, and forcing it to include educational interludes that never fit with the program and talked down to its audience.

With dumb skits like the naming of states and planets, and the creation of the Declaration of Independence, “Animaniacs” suffered a death under the hand of parental counsels who demanded it include some educational context, which was then replaced with the inferior “Hysteria” which featured much of the same sensibilities of “Animaniacs” but was entirely educational.

The networks were intimidated by shows like “Animaniacs” because it brought a lot to the table. It was smart, it was hilarious, and it was too clever for its censors to understand. Who can blame them with the wildly funny and ahead of its time parody of the adult “Goodfellas” with a kiddy geared, but utterly multi-faceted parody named the “Goodfeathers” about three mafioso pigeons surviving the outskirts of New York? “Animaniacs” was educational but never as the parental counsels wanted.

They featured people like Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles, Beethoven, and Abraham Lincoln while spoofing pop culture like “Apocalypse Now”, Hercule Poirot, and Jerry Lewis films; Yakko and Wacko, were essentially takes on Groucho and Harpo Marx, and Dot, the comediennes of the golden era of comedy. Most cartoons of the nineties had the same influence on its audience providing healthy entertainment without a bad influence, and they were diminished in exchange for idiotic mind numbing fare.

The fantastic “Gargoyles” was replaced with “101 Dalmations: The Series”, “Freakazoid!” and “Road Rovers” were cancelled quickly, and further on until we were left with filth like “Super Robot Monkey Team Hyper Force Go!” and “Pokemon”. “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain” are surely mementos of my childhood and of a past where animated programs were about something.

“Animaniacs” had the pleasure of featuring some of the funniest animated skits of all time. Mime time, Good Idea Bad Idea, Chicken Boo, The Wheel of Morality, and the disgruntled Slappy the Squirrel, a bitter retired cartoon character who fought back at her idiotic nemeses with explosions and insults.

The new DVD sets of both separate series “Animaniacs” and its spin-off “Pinky and the Brain” are veritable gold mines for animation buffs such as myself, and for anyone seeking a break from the crappy animated series who want to show their children animation can have substance. One of the ahead of its time skits from “Animaniacs” was “Pinky and the Brain” which involved two genetically altered laboratory mice who were so intelligent they felt they deserved to take over the world.

Well, Brain did, Pinky really just helped, and enjoyed the simple pleasures in life. The great Maurice LaMarche who coined The Brain as an impression of Orson Welles, and Rob Paulsen as the utterly clueless Pinky. Though it eventually spun off with its own series, as many had guessed, “Pinky and the Brain” ended up being the more structured but basically weaker of the two, even though “Animaniacs”, which was basically “Monty Python” for children, excelled in pure brilliance and humor in spite of the fact that it was basically just a string of comedy sketches, parodies and musical numbers.

Little known fact: Maurice LaMarche who has made a career of voicing dignified characters is well known for his talents for enormously loud belching, which results in the great Wakko’s belching opera, a constant hilarious skit which appears in “Animaniacs”. A few caveats though is that the boxed sets are really barebones with only one or two real extras to it. I would have enjoyed interviews with the cast, or a documentary about the making of the show, but alas, nothing here really hits its stride, while “Pinky and the Brain” fans will take umbrage to the fact that the boxed set is only just a collection of random episodes, and not a season. This would stem from the fact that the show only lasted four seasons and jumped the shark when it became “Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain”, and then the show died.

“Pinky and the Brain” is a more grandiose epic series chronicling basically The Brain’s efforts to take over the world while contending with assorted characters, villains, and love interests, while Pinky works around him and discovers himself. In one episode Pinky attempts to get the world for The Brain for his birthday by inviting world leaders to a party, and Pinky becomes the president. “Pinky and the Brain”, while completely different from “Animaniacs” works because it’s completely different. Repetitive no?

Fact is, both shows are mementos of a decade where animation was animation, and not just crap. And the sets are well worth the money. And I’m not just saying that because we’re advertising for the company that promotes it. We really mean it. Now, if we only had a “Freakazoid” set, I’d be chillin’ like Matt Dillon.