"Traumatizing Wile E. Coyote since 1949."

STUDIO: Warner Home Video
MSRP: $44.98
RATED: Not rated
RUNNING TIME: 470 Minutes
"It’s All About the Fans"

The Pitch

Two mice, one dream: global conquest.

The Humans

Maurice LaMarche (Ed Wood), Rob Paulsen (Animaniacs), Frank Welker (Aladdin)

The Nutshell

Two enterprising lab mice plot daily to take over the world via the most Rube Goldbergesque methods imaginable. These ingeniously outlandish plots are hatched by the fiendishly clever Brain, only to be unwittingly sabotaged by his obtuse partner Pinky. Parodies, slapstick, musical numbers, and obscure pop culture references abound in this concluding set of episodes from the 1997-98 seasons.

It’s a long way to the top if you wanna subjugate the masses.

The Lowdown

I recall having mixed feelings about the American TV animation scene in the 1990s. There was undeniably some quality product out there, but I felt the domination of the airwaves by a handful of heavyweights like Warner Brothers and Disney limited variety, especially in terms of art design and tone. However, looking at the meager offerings on TV today, I’d be happy with WB programming 24/7 if it meant more shows as beautifully animated and cleverly written as Pinky and the Brain.

As the basic plot is the same nearly every episode, the show’s appeal is chiefly attributable to the insane methods of world domination Brain dreams up. Not only is each plan farfetched and impractical, but seemingly difficult to translate into global conquest even if completely successful. We rarely see the primary plan put into action, as most of them require first the acquisition of some resource, and thus an equally harebrained preliminary scheme which usually fails miserably.

For example, In "You Said a Mouseful" Brain hopes to shift the earth’s axis, thereby changing weather patterns and destroying the global coffee crop, and forcing coffee drinkers to switch to tea. Then he plans to destroy the global tea supply except for one teabag in his possession, and then…? Well, somehow become ruler of the world.

Pinky doing what he does best.

Anyway he first needs to reduce the Earth’s weight, and a TV commercial gives him the idea to lighten the human population by swapping helium for the air in a popular brand of inflatable sneakers (!). He concocts an elaborate team strategy to bypass the sneaker factory’s security system, but after a nasty knock to the head is only able to incoherently mumble directions to Pinky, who promptly fouls things up.

It’s all gleefully nonsensical, but one buys into Brain’s madness because he speaks with such erudite conviction. By the fifth episode you’ll think a plan to halt oil shipments using sea lions sounds perfectly reasonable. Though he’s EVIL and condescending, Brain really isn’t such a bad guy. He never tries to cause anyone physical harm, apart from occasionally whacking Pinky after an especially idiotic outburst.

Brain’s actually quite lovable in his own sinister way. It’s easy to relate to his suffering as a frustrated genius, watching mediocrity triumph while his hard work goes unrewarded. Versatile voice actor Maurice LaMarche, veteran of many notable series such as The Real Ghostbusters and Futurama, reportedly used Orson Welles as a model for Brain’s charismatic mix of bombastic egotism and defeatist sarcasm.

This DVD set is unrated for gratuitous Shalit.

The latter is brought on by Brain’s reluctant acknowledgement that no plan is too brilliant to be undone by Pinky’s well-meaning bumbling. For me Rob Paulsen’s high pitched, faux Cockney accent soon wears out its welcome, and his constant, meaningless interjections like "Narf!" get under the skin. I felt like throttling him after the episode "Just Say Narf!", throughout which he sings an appalling, interminable ode to his catchphrase.

For the most part Pinky’s antics aren’t particularly funny. In most episodes his comic highlight is the answer to Brain’s ritual question, "Are you pondering what I’m pondering?" It’s invariably a ridiculous non sequitur such as "I think so, but isn’t a cucumber that small called a gherkin?"

Like most of WB’s 90s output the show looks great, from its meticulous art design to wealth of facial expressions to fluid motion. I can’t say enough about the episode "Brainie the Poo," which, despite sounding vaguely obscene, is a lovingly accurate recreation of the world of Winnie the Pooh, right down to the characters’ physical behavior and storybook transitions. I’m sure A.A. Milne would have admired the handiwork.

"A tiny mind is a terrible thing to indulge."

As in the classic Looney Tunes shorts the music is expertly orchestrated to enhance the physical comedy, perfectly syncing with each painful indignity. I fear these days that is becoming a lost art.

Every episode contains some goofy slapstick that all can enjoy, but the frequent and sometimes obscure pop culture references are sure to elude children. While the series’ first season aired in prime time, this set’s episodes went straight to Saturday mornings, where Bea Arthur jokes and a Hamlet parody seem unlikely to resonate with audiences. I suppose the writers hoped to achieve the Spongebob effect, luring parents to watch alongside their kids. However, while always creative, the writing does tend to fall more under mild amusement than outright hilarity.

Nevertheless, some episodes really hit the mark. One of the best world domination tales is "Broadway Malady," a great send-up of the increasing commercialization of Broadway and starving artists in general. Naturally this all begins with Brain’s plan to paralyze humanity by adding the word "endlessly" to shampoo labels’ rinsing instructions. Printing labels costs money though, and Brain is inspired by the bright lights of Broadway to create a massively profitable musical.

I’d duck and cover if I were you, Bill.

Unfortunately the grim artistic integrity of his Angst the Musical instead reduces him to poverty, while elsewhere Pinky achieves financial and critical success with the shallow audience-pleaser Mice, one of the episode’s many unsubtle swipes at Andrew Lloyd Webber. In an unusually touching moment, Pinky reaches out his literally down in the gutter comrade, and bankrolls an extravagant stage production of Angst. One can’t help but chuckle as the momentarily triumphant Brain lustily belts out the "Schadenfreude Polka."

For my money though the parody episodes are by far the funniest. The aforementioned "Brainie the Poo" hysterically covers all the Pooh trademarks from the soothing narration (here by John Rhys Davies) to Winnie, or rather Brainie, getting stuck in a doorway. As in the original tale Brainie is after the honey in a towering tree, although he wants to use it to secretly replace artificial sweeteners in food, thus making the public fat, lazy, and easily dominated. Turns out all he needed to do was wait a decade. He’s joined by Pinky as Pinklet, a disturbing fusion of Tigger and guess who called Jagger, Christopher Walken as a psychotic Christopher Robin, and everyone’s favorite environmentalist standing in for Eeyore as the tediously longwinded Algore, who comes in handy as a hot air balloon. Unfortunately these are all impersonations, but a good number of actual celebrities do pop up in the series, including Carey Elwes, Michael McKean, and Jim Belushi.

At least the Florida votes were only counted twice. This episode is bound to live on in reruns forever.

The Package

Volume 3 is nicely packaged with some fun art of the twosome, although the purple background is a little drab. The transfer is excellent, and yet the colors not quite as vibrant as one might hope with such a recent series.

Disappointingly, the only extra is the brief documentary "It’s All About the Fans", in which LaMarche and Paulsen lavish praise upon their adoring public, including celebrities like Al Franken. To some degree they mirror their characters, LaMarche sounding more sophisticated and articulate. Nothing interesting to see here, but it’s a nice gesture to the fans.

Megalomaniacal geniuses don’t get no respect.

The comedic genius of Looney Tunes may never be quite equaled in animation, but for a modern production Pinky and the Brain comes admirably close. Even if big laughs are infrequent, it’s consistently zany enough to hold your attention. It’s not every kids show that has the nerve to literally make an ass out of a sitting vice president. If only it could have lasted four more years…

7.5 out of 10