Animaniacs Vol. 3: Ya Gotta Take the Bad With the Good
Animaniacs was like an animated version of Saturday Night Live: There were recurring sketches every week, and while some were funny, others weren’t. In A!‘s case, the best skits usually came from the Warners themselves, Pinky and the Brain, Slappy Squirrel, and occasionally the Goodfeathers. The stinkers were almost always Mindy and Buttons, Rita and Runt, and Chicken Boo. The good news? There’s no trace of the Hip Hippos on this third volume, so thank your lucky stars you won’t be subjected to their unfunny snootiness.
So, as with the previous two volumes, not every single skit on Volume 3 had me in stitches, but there are quite a few standouts. They include:
* “Frontier Slappy”: Daniel Boone tries to cut down Slappy’s tree. It’s a simple premise but has a lot of good gags, and Slappy’s sarcastic one-liners are always enjoyable. The cartoon is topped off with a male chorus trio that sings numerous parodies of the Daniel Boone TV theme.
* “Meet Minerva”: A sexy mink named Minerva battles a hound dog. StarToons perfectly captures Minerva’s sexiness with some quite risque drawings (well, for a kids show, anyway), and all the woodland animals’ reactions to her sex appeal are fun to watch.
* “Schnitzelbank”: Yakko, Wakko, and Dot sing an oompah-style song with a tubby lederhosen-clad man. From the wonderfully bouncy animation by Tokyo Movie Shinsa to the way the song gradually degenerates into the trio mocking the guy for his colossal rear, it’s giddy fun with a catchy song.
* “Up a Tree”: Rita and Runt skits are very hit or miss, especially if you happen to like physical comedy, as this team was more about the music than wacky antics. Nonetheless, this one’s a winner. It helps that the songs are fast and jazzy, as opposed to the slower, heartfelt ones that often appeared in these skits.
* “Wakko’s Gizmo”: Wakko builds an extremely complicated series of mechanisms to execute a whoopee cushion gag. The longer it goes, the funnier it gets.
* “Karaoke Dokie”: The Warners discover a karaoke bar on the lot, but are miffed when a William Shatner look-alike hogs the stage. This may be my favorite StarToons-animated short ever. It’s a joy to watch the way they captured Shatner’s physical mannerisms and nuances during the inbetweens, and there are lots of cute gags. And this is years before Family Guy parodied Rocketman on their show.
* “Woodstock Slappy”: Worth viewing just for its hilarious re-creation of “Who’s on First” (Slappy and nephew Skippy get tangled up over the band on stage (“The Who”)). But it’s also worth a watch for the hippie song parodies and, per usual, the excellent TMS animation.
* “Meet John Brain”: Brain runs for president, and the public misconstrues everything he says. (For example, “Vote for me and nobody will be hurt!” is interpreted as “Better health care!”) It’s a deliciously clever short and one of my favorites.
* “All The Words in the English Language”: Yakko sings while Dot and commentator follow his progress during the show.
* “Pigeon on the Roof”: The best Goodfeathers skit on the set, with the pigeons parodying the plot and many songs from Fiddler on the Roof.
* “A Quake! A Quake!”: The Warners are great at songs, and this one is no exception. It’s all about the 1994 L.A. earthquake, all to the tune of “The Merry Peasant.” Very fast and well-directed.
* “Baloney and Kids”: A parody of Barney, with the Warners unable to escape the clutches of the smiling, suited dinosaur. Filled with classic lines.
Finally, famously, “Please Please Please Get a Life Foundation.” Much as The Simpsons took a shot at the obsessive fans in “The Itchy and Scratchy and Poochie Show”, this short satirizes the fans as the Warners offer A! geeks professional help at their clinic. This one hit close to home in many ways, but that’s what makes it a success.
It’s a shame not everything in this collection could be as good as the above. The volume also comes with a lot of repetitive Katie Kaboom shorts, and Chicken Boo shows up too, though luckily he’s not used as much in these episodes. And there are a few non-comedic shorts, like “The Flame Returns”, which should’ve stayed a one-shot deal.
Animaniacs was worked on by a lot of overseas (and one domestic) animation studios, so the animation quality varies from cartoon to cartoon. My personal favorites came from Tokyo Movie Shinsa, a Japanese studio that mostly does anime work. They executed motion smears superbly, and they always had a bouncy cartooniness to their work. Sadly, by 1995, TMS was practically dropped from A! entirely and would only do a couple more before the end of the show’s run. Chicago’s StarToons was my second favorite studio, with its snappy character movements, solid poses, and penchant for comic timing. What they lacked in budget they more than made up for with an identifiable style. Taiwan-based Wang, with its spot-on sight gags and occasional smooth movement, would be my third choice. While they definitely got overused in the series at points (most notably on discs 4 and 5 of this volume), they were almost always reliable. Freelance (New Zealand) and Akom (South Korea) trail behind; both show talent once in a while but more often their shorts are just as uninspired and inconsistent, a sin for a show like this. If you’re curious who does what for each episode, this guide may be useful.
How’s the DVD? Unlike the Looney Tunes Golden Collections, the video isn’t cleaned up in any way, meaning you’ll see some grain, dirt, and even a hair or two. On the other hand, it also means you don’t have to deal with annoying DVNR or the overly loud colors that “cleaned up” sets often suffer. A few cartoons, most notably “The Presidents Song”, seem to have quite a bit color bleeding, though.
Special features on volume 3 include two featurettes. One chronicles the music on the show, especially in regards to composer Richard Stone. Music was a huge part of Animaniacs, with scene-specific cues and a full orchestra just like the golden age cartoons, so it’s fantastic that he’s given his due, even though posthumously. Four others who worked in the music department offer quite a few engaging anecdotes, too. The other featurette details some of the directors, storyboard artists, character designs, and art directors on the show. While it occasionally offers interesting info, you’ll know most of it already if you’ve even seen the show at all. The most intriguing section is about a recurring sketch, concerning an amoeba soap opera, that never made it onto the show.
Overall, while Animaniacs does have less-than-stellar material at times, when it hits, it hits. As such, I’d recommend volume 3. If you love old school animation, and especially if you loved Tiny Toon Adventures, you’re sure to love this. And besides, now that it’s on DVD, you can easily skip the shorts you don’t like.