As much of a Disney fan as I am, I have to admit the best animated shorts have always been those put out by Warner Brothers. There’s just something about watching Bugs Bunny trick Elmer Fudd or Yosemite Sam that tickles my funny bone. Yeah, the cartoons may not have been as “nice” as the Disney shorts, but they certainly made me laugh. Waner Brothers tried to recreate this chemistry several times in the ‘90s with shows like “Tiny Toon Adventures” and, my favorite, “Animaniacs.” The results were surprisingly hilarious, continuing the legacy of the Warner Brothers cartoons.
The primary plot of “Animaniacs” follows three zany animated creations as they wreak havoc wherever they go, Warner Brothers style. Each of the animated siblings have their own trademark. Yakko is full of sarcastic wit and one liners. Wakko likes to eat things and follow that up with… well, the typical biological results that come from eating lots of things quickly. Dot is just cute and makes sure everyone knows it. With those shticks at their disposal, the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister) cause problems for everyone from studio security (who just wants to lock them up in the water tower) to classic figures like Captain Ahab (whose ship they mistake for the Love Boat) to celebrities like William Shatner (he won’t give them their turn at the Karaoke machine).
Interspersed with the shorts of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are a variety of other old cartoon shticks. “Buttons and Mindy” shorts follow a babysitting dog whose charge gets loose and makes him go through intense (and painful) obstacles to get her back to safety. “Slappy the Squirrel” features a geriatric cartoon character who still longs for the old days of dropping anvils on people’s heads. “Pinky and the Brain” is probably the most popular of the shorts, eventually spinning off into its own series featuring a pair of lab mice who try to take over the world on a nightly basis.
“Animaniacs" really takes advantage of what worked in older Warner Brothers cartoons while trying to build its own foundation. The result is a show that pays tribute to the hard work of cartoonists who helped build the industry and attempts to take cartooning one more step forward. I can honestly say I feel they succeeded in this area. “Animaniacs” remains one of my favorite cartoons due to its classic style and wit. You have to love a cartoon that is intelligent and diverse enough to parody literary works, movies, and William Shatner. It’s also one of those great cartoons that appeals to different audiences on different levels. Even if you don’t know the reference being made by who the Warners are spoofing, you can still enjoy the physical comedy that results.
I remembered “Animaniacs” as a very intelligent cartoon, but there is another side to the animated shorts that I had forgotten about: they frequently rely very heavily on bathroom humor. I don’t know how I had erased that portion of the show from my mind, what with entire sketches based on Wakko trying to go potty or belching classical music as “The Great Wakkorati.” Somehow, that portion of the show had faded, resulting in a bit of disappointment when I rediscovered it. How could a show that was clever enough to spoof Les Miserables go and spend an entire short having a character try and find a toilet? I guess that’s part of the show’s diverse appeal, though, so I can’t criticize it too heavily.
“Animaniacs” still remains one of my favorite animated shows, despite rediscovering how base it can be at times. The wit and creativity that goes into the show is more than enough to forgive its less clever elements. While it may not completely hold up with its classic Warner Brothers lineage, I do think the show offers enough to be remembered for quite a while, with a few pieces even achieving classic status themselves.
“Animaniacs” Volume 2 picks up where the first volume let off, almost literally. Instead of simply picking and choosing the best episodes to put in each volume, the series is being put out sequentially. It actually makes more sense to release the shows in volumes like this instead of seasons, since cartoon series seasons can be erratic in length. Comparing the set to an episode list shows one or to episodes were skipped over, but otherwise this is a good continuation of the series.
The set contains 25 episodes spread over five discs. Among the better segments are some of the creative, almost educational songs (“The Senses Song,” “Planets Song”), the meeting of Dracula and the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister), and one of those rare instances where someone out-Warner the Warners (“Survey Ladies”). Each disc gives you the option to watch all of the episodes without stopping or to jump to specific segments within an episode.
The only bonus material is the short featurette “The Writers Flipped, They Have No Script” which shows interviews with groups of writers from the show discussing the process of making the show and some of their favorite episodes. The one prevalent theme throughout the half hour is the freedom the writers were given while working on “Animaniacs.” It truly seemed to be an environment where they could do anything they wanted to. Not only were they unconstrained by the studio, but they even had access to resources most shows would kill to have (such as the Warner 40-piece orchestra). That freedom explains why the show turned out as diverse and wacky as it ended up.
After hearing the writers speak in the featurette, personally I would love to have had a few commentary tracks to get more detailed information on where these ideas came from. Sadly, those aren’t something we get, but “The Writers Flipped” does make up for it. Honestly, just having access to the episodes on DVD is more than enough for me, and it’s great to see them get a fairly decent treatment like this.