It’s been 22 years since Animaniacs graced the small screen (21 years if you count the direct-to-video film Wakko’s Wish). But in the age of remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings, nothing is ever truly over, so the Warner brothers Yakko and Wakko and the Warner sister Dot are back with new adventures and shenanigans from the Warner Bros. water tower, studio lot, and beyond.
Hulu has brought back Animaniacs for at least two seasons of new episodes, and the entire first season arrives in their streaming library this week. It is my great pleasure to tell you that this revival of Animaniacs hasn’t missed a beat. The animation style, the meta comedy, the pop culture references, the political satire, the complete zaniness, and of course Pinky & The Brain, are all back exactly as you remember them. It feels like they never left, and they waste no time getting back in the swing of things by mocking modern pop culture, politics, and society.
A selection of five episodes were made available to press, starting with the premiere episode, and followed by Episode 4, Episode 6, Episode 8, and Episode 10. Just like the original animated series, there’s no serialization or character arcs, so you can watch any episode at any given time without any worry of getting lost. Each episode is comprised of a few segments totaling around 25 minutes, starting with an adventure for the Warners, followed by a world domination attempt by Pinky & The Brain, and closing with either another Warners cartoon or some kind shorter bit featuring the Warners.
Out of the batch of episodes provides for review, the season premiere is undoubtedly the strongest. It features everything you love about the Animaniacs. After opening with a hilarious Jurassic Park sequence, we head right into the familiar Animaniacs theme, which has been updated just enough to be clever and self-referential for the reboot. Dot has wit instead of just being cute while Yakko still yaks and Wakko packs away the snacks. It’s like being welcomed back home after studying abroad for over two decades and your parents have made some lovely changes around the house. And yes, every single episode features that one fun variation in the lyrics just before the end of the song.
In the season premiere, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot return to the Warner Bros. lot. Weirdly enough, there’s no real explanation as to where the Animaniacs have been, so we’re really left to assume that they were just gone, but Steven Spielberg brought them back to life, just like the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. But now that they’re back, there’s a lot that they have to catch up on. Ralph the security guard is still around to round them up, but now he’s got a drone, and it’s one of the many things the Warners are introduced to, including a new female executive for them to frustrate.
There’s no better way for the Animaniacs to find out about what has happened across the last 22 years than a song from Yakko himself after he swallows a tablet and inadvertently learns everything from the internet. The brilliance of these songs from the Animaniacs cannot be understated. They’re full of lyrical genius and feel like full fledged Broadway numbers. There are pop culture and political references galore (the latter was more abundant than you might remember in the original series, but more on that later), and it’s fascinating to see which moments they chose to highlight in a song meant to cover such a long period of time.
But this is Animaniacs, and a recap of 22 years just isn’t zany enough. Since the script for this episode and the rest of the first season was written back in 2018, they have to take plenty of off-the-wall, wild guesses about what has happened in the last two years. It’s superb satire, and it’s only the first great song of this episode. A second one dives into the culture of reboots and remakes, and, I shit you not, those weirdos behind the scenes somehow figured out a way to make a reference to Oldboy. Yes, that’s Oldboy, the super violent South Korean neo-noir action thriller from 2003 that was remade by Spike Lee. This show is great!
Pinky & The Brain gets in on the catch-up fun in the season premiere too, but it’s much more enjoyable to see exactly how the mouse duo is brought into modern day when you see it for yourself. Let me just say that in the last 22 years, Brain has been much more ingrained in the happenings of modern culture, and his latest plan to take over the world may have been literally under our noses the whole time. And their further plans for world domination are as wacky as they’ve ever been, with plenty of classic sci-fi references to go around. All their best recurring gags are intact too, though unlike the overall Animaniacs series, their segment’s opening theme sequence has been updated, even as the theme song hasn’t been changed one bit.
The rest of the episodes don’t quite match the greatness of the premiere, but they fall right in line with the spirit and style of the original Animaniacs. There are many musical moments, tons of self-aware writing that is full of relevant satire and parody, and a classic kind of comedy that feels in line with the original Looney Tunes. In fact, I think this revival of Animaniacs may pull off a return to the small screen better than the new Looney Tunes Cartoons, which also had a lot to love.
There are few cartoons around today that have the kind of innocent slapstick silliness and wild weirdness that make kids double over in laughter along with the double entendres and suggestive lines that give adults a hearty chuckle. And of all that have existed over the years, from Rocko’s Modern Life to Adventure Time, I think Animaniacs is among the best. The original series contained references to movies and TV shows that were made decades before many of its fans were born, so it’s always been a show that was made for adults to enjoy as much as kids. And it’s never been shy about poking fun at anyone and everyone.
For some who only have vague nostalgia for the original Animaniacs, you might feel surprised (and maybe shocked or annoyed) at the level of political mockery in the series, especially when it comes to President Donald Trump, a not-so-thinly-veiled metaphor for gun control, and several shots taken at Fox News and their bounty of boneheads. There are also plenty of expected shots taken during an episode where the Warners learn there’s a Russian knock-off version of Animaniacs. But if you look back at the original Animaniacs, you’ll find plenty of jabs at the Bill Clinton, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and more. Not all political gags are one-sided in the reboot either, as several jokes are cracked at the expense of Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, and the political machine at large. Even late night talk show host Seth Meyers gets sent up with a handful of insults, including illustrating him holding a coffee mug that says “Smug.” Basically, no one is safe from the buffoonery and mockery of Animaniacs.
Though there are plenty of complimentary things to say about the revival of Animaniacs, fans may be disappointed in some areas. Other than Pinky & The Brain, none of the other supporting characters from the original series return in any of the episodes provided for review. Furthermore, descriptions of the rest of the season would seem to indicate that they’re not in any of those episodes either. But at the very least, Dr. Scratchansniff is mentioned in the description for the first season finale, and there’s a “Hello, Nurse” reference in the Russian ripoff episode. But the lack of prominent involvement of other characters like Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, Rita and Runt, Mindy and Buttons, Minerva Mink, and more seems to be confirmed by the opening theme sequence. Though the original opening has been meticulously recreated in widescreen format, with the exception of a few minor changes, the part where the camera usually rises above the roster of characters as the theme song says, “We’re animany, totally insany,” instead features the Warners rejoicing among a bunch of neon lights.
However, there is one single short included in the episodes for review that introduces two new characters. It’s called Starbox and Cindy, and it features an animation style unlike the rest of Animaniacs, and that includes any of the other supporting characters from the original series. It seems to only appear once throughout the first season, and it follows an action figure-sized, sludgy alien named Starbox who was meant to lead an invasion of Earth. But when he landed, he was picked up and turned into a toy by a little girl named Cindy. He keeps trying to escape, but Cindy keeps innocently holding him hostage while his entire alien army waits in the space around Earth for their signal to attack. I can see this being a recurring bit like some of the other characters, but I hope some of the other characters end up coming back in the second season now that it’s been established that Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain have been revived so effectively.
Overall, the Animaniacs revival is a true triumph. Bringing back shows like this can be tricky, but thanks to some outstanding writing, classic animation style, and the return of original voice actors Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and Maurice LaMarche, Animaniacs feels like it never left our televisions. Hopefully this series will get renewed beyond the initial two season order from Hulu, because I feel like they can keep this show going forever and it would never get old.
/Film Rating: 9 out of 10
Animaniacs brings new episodes to Hulu starting on November 20, 2020.
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