DVD Review: Pinky and the Brain Vol.1
Title Pinky and the Brain, Vol. 1
Certificate Not Rated
Length 471 minutes
Number of Discs 4
Released 25th July 2006 (Region 1)
They're Pinky and the Brain. Yes, Pinky and the Brain. One is a genius, the other... well, you get the idea. Steven Spielberg's foray into cartoons may have left us with the derivative-yet-half-decent Tiny Toons, the altogether more manic Animaniacs, and, er, Family Dog, but of all of his creations, Pinky and the Brain are surely the most fondly remembered. By me. Discovering by chance that the first volume of episodes was being released on DVD was like discovering an old friend alive and well in your basement when you'd forgotten you even knew him. A piece of your life that you didn't realise was gone. I immediately placed an order from Amazon before I even had a chance to second guess myself.
However, as you can expect, while I sat paranoid and shivering in the night, the doubt did begin to set in. Was I merely attempting to buy back my childhood? Was I just wasting my money on what would ultimately amount to the ruination of my fond memories? It gnawed at me. It teased me. It left me questioning my every decision. When the DVDs finally arrived 10 days down the line I was a complete wreck. A twisted hollow shell of a man. Never one to shy away from confronting my own failures, I put the disc in and steeled myself for the worst.
And, well, that was a relief, wasn't it?
Yes, Pinky and the Brain, the tale of an evil genius mouse and his benevolent yet bumbling assistant is still as hilarious as the premise suggests. If anything, I'm finding it funnier now than when I was younger. The show still holds up, but as you're no doubt aware, a good show doesn't necessarily mean it's worthy of DVD purchase. Just how good is the set as a whole?
Packaging & Presentation
The packaging is good, but not great. The embossed front cover, featuring a triumphant Brain and a suitably zany Pinky along with a striking logo would be brilliant if not for the rather odd choice of a metallic silver background. The spine proudly proclaims "Vol. 1" (or, rather oddly, "1 Vol" due to some odd layout choice) suggesting it'll look good alongside further volumes in the future. The internals are a standard fold-out digipak with the disc contents and more of the same art from the outside cover, and the 4 siscs themselves arranged using the most horrible of digipack space-saving techniques, the half-overlapping method. It's nothing particularly special, but it's adequate enough.
Which is what you could also say about the menus. Again, there's nothing overly complicated. They're not animated, they're not interesting in themselves, in fact they're not actually anything more than static lists with yet more generic artwork and the theme tune playing in the background. I'm a big fan of simplicity in design, and these menus are certainly a good example of that. It's hard to hate menus that stay out of the way and let the material speak for itself, but that said, it seems almost as if.they've missed out the possibility of doing something more interesting.
The quality of sound and audio is again, nothing too extravagant, but for a 10 year old cartoon it's certainly acceptable. The video is in the original aspect ratio, and while some episodes look better than others, they've avoided letting through any obvious errors or artifacts. The audio comes as both Surround Stereo 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1. It has English and Portuguese dialogue tracks, both with subtitles, and the French translation is also available as subtitles only.
Somewhat unencouragingly for anally retentive collectors like me, the packaging claims to house "22 specially chosen episodes from the show's 1995-98 run" - luckily, on closer inspection, this is no "Best Of" set, and it in fact contains all 12 half-hour episodes of Season 1, as well as the first 10 from Season 2. Whether this represents the initial production run of a 22 episode season, or if it was collected this way solely to make it a more substantial collection is unclear, but the primary concern of all fans would be that no episode is missing, and this does apparantly contain all of the material, without any cuts.
As previously noted, the show itself may well have gotten even funnier as time has passed.The episode Of Mouse and Man where Brain gets a job wouldn't have been half as funny before I had a job of my own, and contains some surprisingly biting social satire for an all-ages cartoon. Between the slapstick moments (and peppering Brain's sublimely pompous dialogue) are references to everything from Orson Welles to Quantum Theory. The show itself lifts its material from B-Movie classics (Plan Brain from Outer Space) as well as the most celebrated cinema of the century (Das Mouse) from literature (Around the World in 80 Narfs) to theatre (Mouse of La Mancha). So rich are the references that when I look back at how much must've gone over my head when I was younger, I almost wonder how I ever found it funny at all.
I say "almost" because the character-based comedy (combined with the slapstick humour) is still the main focus of the show and that's what really holds it all together, whether it's Brain's long-suffering tolerance of his only friend, or Pinky's loyalty even in the face of a surly and unappreciative companion.
As noted, you get 22 half-hour episodes, presented as such, which using the occasionally short-format episode, amounts to a total of 31 complete stories and the near-legendary Brainstem Song. These episodes are exclusively taken from the show's solo run. Anyone looking for the original shorts will find them collected in their proper place, on the Animaniacs Vol. 1 DVD which itself is probably a pretty worthy buy.
Extras are undeniably lacking on this release. The only included additional material is the short retrospective piece Are You Pondering What I Am Pondering? which contains the voice actors Maurice LaMarsh and Rob Paulson, as well as voice director Andrea Romano sharing their insight and anecdotes about the fun they had making the show. It's a shamelessly self-promoting fluff piece, but on the other hand, it's nice that they took the step of gathering new footage and putting something together instead of simply including the usual half-complete animation tests and storyboard comparisons that most cartoon DVDs try to get away with. Not that those wouldn't be welcome, and a commentary or some deleted scenes certainly wouldn't have gone amiss. It's not a set you'll find yourself buying for the extras.
What should be pretty obvious by now, if you haven't skipped straight to the conclusion, is that Pinky and the Brain is an intelligent and witty cartoon that stands the test of time, and which is slightly let down by a DVD set that's trying to get away with the bare minimum of requirements. With Volume 2 announced for December already, the success of Volume 1 may mean that in future we'll see more in the way of incentives. Nevertheless, the cartoon itself is enough to make this worth buying, and while it's not a must-own, if you find yourself getting nostalgic for the heady days of youth where you planned to take over the world, Pinky and The Brain is the best way to re-live those urges without the likelihood of jail time.
A 5-star show, but for the DVD set...