review: pinky and the brain, vol. 1

July 28, 2006

Lab mice. World domination. Poit, narf, zort, and troz. In combining these…unique ingredients, executive producer Tom Ruegger created the cult classic animated series Pinky and The Brain, the first 22 episodes of which are now available on DVD. Originally a small segment of another Warner Bros. series, Animaniacs (also a classic in its own right), Pinky and The Brain‘s explosive popularity led to its 1995 incarnation as a half-hour circus of lunacy showcasing the formidable talents of voice actors Maurice LaMarche (Brain) and Rob Paulsen (Pinky). Then as now, it is as entertaining for adults as for the children at which it is ostensibly targeted.

I am quite pleased that Warner Bros. has decided to release the episodes in sequence, as it gives us the opportunity to study the evolution of the characters and the ever-more-outrageous situations in which they find themselves. Each episode is unabashedly formulaic, but the fantastic rapport between Pinky and Brain makes even the most hackneyed of plots into a singularly enjoyable romp. The series is also rife with pop culture references, which, while dated, are still good for many hearty chuckles. Arguably the best of the included episodes is A Pinky and The Brain Christmas, in which a power mad Brain learns the true meaning of Christmas from an unlikely source (it involves a memorable trek to Santa’s North Pole workshop for suitably nefarious purposes). “Brain’s Song” and “It’s Only a Paper World” are also standouts (Chia Earth, indeed).

It is perhaps appropriate that this review follows my examination of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, given the not-so-subtle Welles references liberally sprinkled throughout the episodes. LaMarche himself sounds rather like Welles, for a start, a trait which the included documentary, Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?, makes much of. More overt is the episode “The Third Mouse”, which directly parodies Welles’ 1949 film noir The Third Man in featuring a clueless Pinky tracking down his friend (Brain) who disappeared under mysterious circumstances somewhere in post-WWII Vienna. Homages also find their way into “Napoleon Brainaparte” and “Snowball” in the form of quotations and frame compositions.

Considering the series’ age, it comes as little surprise that the surviving film negatives are far from pristine. Dirt is often an issue, and the colors seem to fade in and out from scene to scene. There is also noticeable stair-stepping in many of the character outlines, though this is only apparent on close examination. The audio, on the other hand, is first rate. The theme music in particular makes excellent use of the surrounds, and dialogue is always clear and articulate. If anything, it’s slightly too clear; I occasionally found myself distracted by the incongruence of the acoustics of the recording and the characters’ environment. In all, though, it’s really all we could hope for in a DVD release.

The golden years of animation have come and gone, but their memory lives on in this release. Pinky and The Brain truly has something for everyone, and it comes with my unqualified recommendation.

–D. S. W.


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