Arts & Entertainment
Video Picks & Passes
BY STEVEN D. GREYDANUS
August 20-26, 2006 Issue | Posted 8/21/06 at 9:00 AM
Animaniacs: Vol 1: PICK
Pinky & the Brain: Vol 1: PICK
Looney Tunes: Vols 1-3: PICK
Animaniacs, Pinky & the Brain: Much slapstick violence, occasional crude humor and innuendo. Looney Tunes: Much slapstick violence (Vols. 1-2); some dated stereotyped humor (Vol. 3) that must be seen in historical context.
Where have decent Saturday morning
cartoons gone? The same place as everything else on
television — to DVD, where the best of them vie for sheer entertainment value
with big-screen computer-animated films and other
High on the list are Animaniacs, recently making their DVD debut with a five-disc first volume that offers 25 full daily episodes comprising scores of shorts (not quite the full first season).
Popular with adults as well as kids, the “Animaniacs” series was produced by Warner Bros. in conscious homage to the old Looney Tunes shorts, with an emphasis on fast-paced, wacky humor and musical comedy but a sly undercurrent of educational content. Some of the best cartoons combine all three, such as Wacko’s musical rendition of the names of all 50 states and their capitals (which I still hum to myself when I want to remember one) and the Warners’ whirlwind tour of all the presidents of the United States, which doesn’t provide much historical context but will at least give kids some idea who came when or after whom.
Viewed all together on DVD, the wildly uneven quality of the series is undeniable. “GoodFeathers” wears out its welcome pretty quickly, “Buttons & Mindy” fails to reach the heights of the Coyote-Road Runner humor it’s aiming at, and “Rita & Runt” is eminently skippable.
On the other hand, the Warner brothers themselves — and the Warner sister Dot — have some truly classic routines. Among their guest stars, the most popular, deservedly so, were undoubtedly Pinky and the Brain, whose shtick — two lab mice bent on taking over the world — actually got its own show. Although each episode features essentially the same plot, no other “Animaniacs” property came as close to the rule-based wit of the old Looney Tunes shorts. Featuring 22 episodes from the first and second seasons, “Pinky and the Brain” offers as much verbal wit, nonsensical humor and inspired antics as anything on TV since Bugs Bunny reruns.
Even so, as good as “Pinky and the Brain” and “The Animaniacs” are, the classic Warner Brothers Looney Tunes cartoons remain in a class by themselves, as the three DVD volumes to date amply demonstrate. Featuring the best of Bugs Bunny, the Coyote and Road Runner, Sylvester and Tweety, and all their friends, these four-disc box editions are indispensable for the serious animation fan.
Among the best and most celebrated shorts available in these sets are “What’s Opera, Doc?” Chuck Jones’ surreal Wagnerian spoof with Bugs Bunny in blond braids as the Valkyrie Brunhilde and Elmer Fudd as Siegfried, and of course “One Froggy Evening,” an inexplicable curiosity in which a singing frog is discovered by a hapless construction worker who dreams of the fortune the frog will bring him, but discovers that the frog will only sing for him.
Although not every cartoon is as good as these, the consistency of the high quality is truly remarkable, and a tribute to the creative team behind these beloved cartoons, notably Chuck Jones, Robert McKimson, Robert Clampett and voice artist Mel Blanc. Vol. 3, the most recently released, includes an introduction by Whoopi Goldberg noting that some of the cartoons in that series include some dated humor based on ethnic stereotypes that is no longer considered appropriate, but is nevertheless part of the history of American popular culture and animation.
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