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Pinky and the Brain: Volume 1

Debuting in September, 1995 as part of Steven Spielberg's Animaniacs cartoon series, "Pinky and the Brain" quickly became one of the show's most popular recurring 'toons and was soon spun off as a separate entity. The premise was simple — two genetically altered lab mice, Pinky (voiced by Rob Paulsen) and Brain (Maurice LaMarche) had adventures stemming from Brain's attempts to take over the world, installing himself as ruler. Brain, a megalomaniac with a voice suspiciously like that of the late Orson Welles, often barely tolerated the goofy behavior of his dim, psychotic partner, while Pinky did the best he could with his limited resources to help Brain achieve his goal of global domination. The concept was brilliant in its simplicity — in the course of conquering the world, Pinky and the Brain could be placed in almost any situation due to the convoluted nature of Brain's plans. In the first episode aired, "Das Mouse," Brain hits upon the idea of using hypnosis to control humanity, but he needs the meat of a white crab that only lives in the wreckage of the Titanic — so they head off in a submarine, only to get on the wrong side of the CIA. In "Tokyo Grows," a take-off on Godzilla pictures, the pair are lab mice in a Japanese lab who plot to grow Pinky to enormous size so that he can terrorize the world as the (supposedly) mythical beast Gollyzilla. There were also odd ultra-shorts of the type at which "Animaniacs" excelled — like an educational song about the past of the brain set to the tune of "Yankee Doodle" (Neocortex, frontal lobe/brainstem! brainstem!/hippocampus, neural node/right hemisphere) and Pinky's hilarious song in "Cheese Roll Call" about his favorite food, which gives voice-actor Paulsen a showcase for his amazing facility with fast, tongue-twisting novelty songs. "Pinky and the Brain" was an often brilliant mix of silly slapstick, dumb gags, and surprisingly cerebral humor, with the mice using time travel to visit historic figures and often placing them is situations that only adults can fully appreciate, taking on popular films, literary classics, radio dramas and politics. In the silly department, one of the recurring gags was an obligatory exchange in each episode where Brain would ask, "Pinky, are you pondering what I'm pondering"? to which Pinky would respond with something utterly keeping with his stupid/crazy character — "I think so, Brain, but burlap chafes me so," "I think so, Brain, but this time you put the trousers on the chimp," and "I think so, Brain, but if we didn't have ears, we'd look like weasels" being just three of the many permutations on the theme. The entire "Animaniacs" stable was an important stage in the rebirth of Hollywood animation, offering smart scripts and top-drawer vocal talent, with each cartoon scored old-school style by the Warners orchestra, who recorded new music for each episode in the same manner as the studio's Termite Terrace days. Goofy, funny as hell, and made for grown-ups as much as it was for kids, Pinky and the Brain deservedly stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd as beloved, classic cartoon characters.

Warner's four-disc DVD release is the first volume of what the promise will be the entire run of "Pinky and the Brain," cherry-picking 22 episodes from the cartoon's three-year run. As with Warner's Looney Tunes releases, many favorites have been left out of the set for inclusion in future volumes, but this set does feature the Emmy-winning "A Pinky and the Brain Christmas." The transfers, presented in their original full-screen format, are very good, the colors bright and the picture as sharp as can be expected given the occasionally slapdash nature of farmed-out cel animation. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio (English or Portuguese, with optional French, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles) is excellent, presenting the cartoons' range of sound effects, dialogue, and musical orchestrations far more fully than one might expect from a kid's cartoon show. Also on board is a featurette, "Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering," with LaMarche, Paulsen, and casting director Andrea Romano (plus soundbites from other show runners) talking about the cartoon's creation. Folding digipak with paperboard slipcase.
—Dawn Taylor

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