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Animaniacs, Vol. 4

The long, long wait is over.

At last, we have all the episodes of Animaniacs on DVD. All we need now is Wakko's Wish. But for now, any set of this hilarious heir to the Looney Tunes should occupy our time quite nicely.

Admittedly, it's a bare bones collection. Though the first of three discs in the set claims to have bonus features, they're really just trailers for upcoming direct-to-video productions, including the Scooby Doo reboot of the Blue Falcon. (Didn't know that was coming? We'll have to take a look at that later.) But really, the first volume took care of most of the interviews anyone would want. What's left but quality episodes that you can watch with the whole family?

Amend that: watch with the whole family and then discover that your kids might know more than you think they do, as Animaniacs truly followed in the footsteps of classic Warner cartoons from Termite Terrace, just as executive producer Steven Spielberg had intended. Granted, the sex jokes are from a bawdy vaudeville sensibility, but it's still kind of hilariously bizarre to see the Warner brothers Wakko and Yakko getting hypnotized by breasts.

But it's strangely prescient for the Star Trek parody Star Truck infect Spock with their same obsessions -- turned towards Uhura. Actually, if they didn't slightly change the names and make the Enterprise look like a monster truck, that little short on Disc 1 could pass for just a weird episode of the Star Trek animated series, albeit better animated.

That's one of the qualities of the show, which takes laser sharp (or phaser sharp) shots at the pop culture of the time, but with jokes that still resonate long after the zeitgeist has passed. Knowing that Spielberg once had a partnership in Dreamworks that had Hollywood holding its breath doesn't matter; the appearance of Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen isn't as funny as a bunch of cartoon characters fighting over the chance to pitch cartoon ideas to them. It's so ...meta.

By this time in the show, the loopy educational qualities had diminished a bit -- the songs are still snappy, but nothing has quite the resonance of the "Nations of the World" (which you can still get Yakko voice Rob Paulsen to sing at the drop of a hat). So no, the "Multiplication Song" won't offer so much knowledge as encouragement, and other songs are more funny than informative.

This set does feature what is my personal favorite segment, and not just because, admittedly, it was written by my college roommate, Marcus Williams. In "Boo Wonder," the oddest concept out of the show, a giant chicken that constantly tries to pass itself off as a human, gets plunked down into a city suspiciously Gotham-like. As the Caped Crusader and Boo Wonder go up against the villainous Punchline, friend and foe alike try to convince the Batman-like hero that he has teamed up with a chicken.

It's ridiculous. It's hilarious. And it actually features Adam West just before he became super-cool again. But he always was super-cool; it was the culture that had to catch up, and Animaniacs was on the cutting edge of that.

So do yourself a favor and give yourself a few laughs this weekend. Pick up Animaniacs.

Derek McCaw

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