Working from a rickety shack dubbed the Termite Terrace, the overworked, underpaid animators responsible for the Golden Age of Warner Brothers cartoons (roughly 1930-–1950) had no intention of creating art. Often openly at odds with their supervisors, their output served as the deranged Goofus to Disney's Gallant. Wild, squirrely, and anarchic as all hell, the protagonists in a WB cartoon seized control of their parallel universe. Where, say, Mickey Mouse would run shrieking from an enemy, Bugs Bunny would immediately launch a counterattack in the form of a well-timed hotfoot. When Disney animation resurfaced on television in the early '90s with the blandly vanilla Duck Tales, the gang at Warner Bros. duly rose to the challenge. True to form, they responded with anvils and dynamite.

Animaniacs, a refinement of the studio's earlier, fitfully amusing Tiny Toons Adventures, serves as the cartoon equivalent of Pop Rocks: fast, funny, and savvy about pop-culture without relying on the audience's recognition of same for easy laughs. As this five-disc set generously illustrates, the show at its best hit unexpected, occasionally surreal, heights suitable for both kiddies and adults. An Apocalypse Now parody where the title characters venture into the depths of the studio lot to stop a maniacal director is inspired enough; that said director is a bald, obese Jerry Lewis in full-on kvetch mode comes awfully close to glorious.

As with any multi-skit show, a number of duds can be found. The pigeon mob spoof "Goodfeathers" is pretty much a one-note gag, although the ultimate ambition of the characters to perch on a statue of Scorsese is an admittedly nice touch. "Buttons and Mindy," meanwhile, is a disappointingly standard pet-chase-baby scenario, with its only distinction being a level of violence that occasionally rivaled The Ren & Stimpy Show. As for the Bernadette Peters–voiced musical cat saga "Rita and Runt"—well, even without commercials, this set still offers plenty of moments where a viewer can safely hit the fridge. Still, it's easy to forgive a lot when balanced out against the marvelous "Pinky and the Brain," in which an Orson Welles–inflected genius mouse and his moronic sidekick endlessly plot to take over the world.

Like most cartoons, watching too many of these in a row can bring on an overstimulation headache. Taken in small doses, however, the sheer anarchic blitzkrieg is tough to resist, especially considering the current animation glut of nonsensically dubbed anime robot cartoons. When, within one 30-minute block, a show can permanently engrave all the countries of the world onto one's cerebrum via a catchy samba song (sing along with me, former kids and college stoners: "United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama ...") and then let fly with a joke about fingering The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, something's clearly going right. Somewhere, the former Termite Terrace folks are tipping a 40 in parental approval. And then bashing someone over the head with it.