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Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs: Vol. 1
As a splendid homage to the legacy of Warner Bros. animation, the Emmy and Peabody award-winning Animaniacs was arguably the most inventive and deliriously entertaining cartoon series of the 1990s. The series' appeal is at least two-fold: kids will enjoy the wacky characters and easy-to-follow comedy, and grownups raised on "Looney Tunes" and "Merrie Melodies" cartoons will love the show's knowledgeable movie spoofs, witty satire, and spontaneous lines of dialogue aimed squarely at an older audience with an appreciation for Hollywood history. Cartoon lovers and film buffs will benefit the most from repeated viewings of Animaniacs since the series was conceived by head writer Tom Ruegger (under the supervision of executive producer Steven Spielberg) as an affectionate tribute to the golden age of Hollywood, with its wild and wonderful cast of cartoon characters led by "Warner Brothers" Wakko and Yakko, and their ever-so-cute Warner sister, Dot, a playful trio of indeterminate species who were (fictionally) created in the early 1930s by the overworked animators of "Termite Terrace" (the actual name given to Warner's animation studios) and wreaked havoc on the Warner Bros. backlot until they were caught and captured in the studio's water tower. Every episode begins with their clever escape, leading to wacky adventures involving the entire cast of Animaniacs, a menagerie of colorful characters worthy of cartoon immortality.
This five-DVD set offers 25 beautifully preserved episodes (out of a five-season total of 99), mostly from the first season (1993), when Spielberg was also enjoying the success of Jurassic Park and Schindler's List. Premiering on the Fox Kids network, the series introduced delighted viewers to Pinky and the Brain; Slappy the Squirrel (a curmudgeonly veteran of decades in show-biz); the Goodfeathers (a pigeon-trio spoof of Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas); Rita and Runt (a dog and cat duo often featured in musical spoofs, the former voiced by Bernadette Peters); and a wide variety of peripheral characters who randomly appeared as part of the series' multi-segment format. Some segments are brief and brilliant (including many original songs that qualify as mini-masterpieces of educational entertainment), while others are cartoon-length adventures like the unforgettable "Bumbie's Mom," a riff on Bambi (and Disney animation) that's one of many first-season highlights. Smart, literate, and totally irreverent, Animaniacs benefited from all the prestige that Spielberg's involvement could bring, including a once-in-a-lifetime voice cast (honored here by disc 3's special featurette "Animaniacs Live," hosted by "Annie"-award-winner Maurice "The Brain" LeMarche) and amazing musical scores (many written or supervised by the late, great Richard Stone) that were recorded in the very same Warner studio where the legendary Carl Stalling scored most of the classic Warner Bros. cartoons. With creative and comedic highlights too numerous to mention, Animaniacs is must-see TV for those who missed it the first time around, and a welcome treasure for established fans who will cherish these DVDs for many years to come. --Jeff Shannon