Welcome to Saturday Morning Cartoons, our weekly column where we continue the animated boob tube ritual of yesteryear. Our lives may no longer be scheduled around small screen programming, but that doesn’t mean we should forget the necessary sanctuary of Saturday ‘toons. In this entry, we review the first season of the new Animaniacs reboot on Hulu and compare its brand of madness to the original.
Ressurection is a scary proposition. Digging into the ground, yanking out a firmly rooted corpse, and blasting fresh air into its bloated zombie lungs cannot possibly produce a pleasant sight. The impulse is understandable — we’ve all watched Pet Sematary — but the reanimated never resembles the creature that once gave you comfort. As the monster told his bride, “We belong dead.” Let the expired remain so.
Leaving well enough alone is not in Hollywood’s prerogative. Reality is grim, and audiences seek the familiar for distraction. Make us feel like kids again, and we’ll fill whomever’s coffers oblige.
Complaining about remakes, sequels, reboots, and rebootquels is such an utter bore. You may as well bemoan the wetness of water. Get a new schtick.
Animaniacs 2020 knows it’s stepping into a minefield of doubting trolls, and immediately, during their slightly updated theme song, takes a jab at these keyboard clacking cynics. As they did thirty years ago, they do today. The writers anticipate the peanut gallery and roast them on the spit before their negative thoughts can formulate in their heads. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot got your number, and you will need to erect a fifth, sixth, or seventh wall as a means of meta protection since they’ve obliterated the fourth before you even booted up your television.
Stepping back onto the Warner lot, their home, the three siblings anticipate your anticipation. Yakko knows that his first lines are important/meaningful. He wants them to be good for you, for us.
In highlighting their significance, as Wakko points out, he’s already flubbed the job. He’s ruined the first lines of the series, and Wakko has ruined the second lines of the series. It’s on Dot to save the scene, and she does so in knockout fashion, complete with a ginormous pancake smashing mallet.
Sixty seconds, maybe 120 seconds, into the new era of Animaniacs, and whatever trollish worries you may have had will evaporate. The voices are the same (welcome back Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille), and their attitude is as bent, peculiar, and giggl-icious as ever. No one does dumb quite so smart as these ‘maniacs.
The opening Jurassic Lark sketch is a deceptive gateway into the new era as well. It’s a spot-on spin on the classic sequence where Dr. Grant comes face-to-face with his lumbering boyhood fantasy, replacing the Brachiosaurus with our three bounding leads. It signifies the miracle of new life for Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, but it also pins the satire to their birth decade, the ’90s.
Do not worry. Animaniacs does not hitch its wagon to nostalgia…well, no more so than the original did. Jurassic Park and the ’90s simply slip into their toolbelt of references alongside Orson Welles, Godzilla, and whatever. As they prove in their first musical number of many, these Animaniacs are itching to savage today’s characters. Fox News, Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, and Jeff Bezos all get a devious rubbing. If the hellscape outside our window is good for anything, it’s giving Animaniacs plenty of fodder to feast upon.
The universe of animation changed dramatically after these ‘toons first broke free from the Warner tower. While Animaniacs‘ fashion is easily recognizable, showrunners Tom Minton and Wellesley Wild allow the siblings to rampage through various house styles. Here and there, you’ll spot the flat sheen of Cartoon Network as well as the kinetic firepower of anime.
In what may be the highlight of the new season, Episode 4’s “Bun Control” sees the Warner siblings go to war with next-door neighbor Dwayne La Pistol after the bunnies he sells them go full-bore Tribble on the lot. As her rage-meter hits ten, Dot Warner ignites a sequence where the siblings transform into Dragon Ball Z pastiches, and La Pistol ruptures into a roided-out Akuma from Street Fighter. Is it fan service? Is it a mockery? Is it both?
Animaniacs operates on This is Spinal Tap logic. Everything cranks to eleven. If they were holding back, then we’d be concerned.
The references race like lightning, and it’s impossible to catch them all. They’re not Pokémon. Relax.
The brilliance of the jokes is that recognition doesn’t matter. You’ll get the tingles when you spot a wink, but even the winks that fly under your radar are stuffed with the basic comedy food groups: slapstick, bodily humor, irreverence. Each gag is cushioned by two or three others.
What about Pinky and the Brain? Yep, they’re there. So are a whole bunch of other old and new folks. They work well, but the Warners remain the stars.
Animaniacs calls its shot a la Babe Ruth or a saxophone-slinging Bill Clinton and smashes it out of the park. The series is so self-aware, we should probably be afraid of its Skynet capabilities. Thankfully, Judgement Day is already here, and Yakko, Wakko, and Dot promise to soothe our anxiety by lambasting it. We’re not crazy, or at least, everything is crazy. Chaos reigns and its agents are back on TV where they belong.