Yakko, Wakko, and Dot burst back onto the small screen with the exact same sensibility it left with in the ’90s, for better and worse.
The first line of a review for the Animaniacs reboot should be funny, self-aware, and irreverent. It should have that familiar set up and punch, something to show old and new audiences that The Siblings Warner have changed very little, for better and worse. One should never waste their first sentence of an Animaniacs review.
Wakko, Yakko, and Dot return to the Warner Watertower after two decades for a contractual two new season reboot. The revival follows the same format as the original cartoon series with two Animaniacs skits and another featuring extended universe characters, but most frequently fan favorites Pinky & The Brain (Brain, Brain, Brain, Brain…). There are clever songs, perhaps not as catchy as before, but clever all the same. Nevertheless, always topical and satirical with tongue firm in digitally drawn cheek, this reboot proves Animaniacs can still take on and take down popular culture.
If you were a fan of the original series which ran from 1993-1998, little about the new series will disappoint. This series is for you more than for any newcomers. However, the profound existential realization of your age and that 1998 was 22 years ago might dampen your experience. But don’t worry, Wakko, Yakko, and Dot have plenty of salt to season your wounds.
Right away, Animaniacs is happy to show us just how crisp everything looks now that it’s in HD Widescreen, and boast it should. This series looks absolutely gorgeous. And now that it’s able to more widely and readily experiment with different animation genres, Animaniacs has become even more visual bologna in our slacks.
One of the biggest challenges in a reboot with this level of cult magnetism is getting the tone just right. Steven Spielberg and former Family Guy producer Wellesley Wild manage to recreate the intellectual and biting comedy perfectly. The characters are all still the same silly sardonic siblings we knew back in the 1990s. It’s the strange circumstances of life in the 2010s that are new, and where the series finds most of its humor.
But The Warner Siblings seem unsure if they even like being in the 2010s while the contemporary pop culture industry gives them plenty of material to burlesque, the series is deeply cynical. There’s a highly self-aware song and dance number about “reboot culture” in which The Warner Brothers and Warner Sister, Dot admit that they’re part of a toxic capitalist regurgitation industry which starts cheerful but ends quite sobering. Similarly, in another episode, Dot has a song in which she turns the world cute “again,” only to have the cuteness drive The Warner’s to the brink of their insanity.
Now, more often than before, the audience – their consumerism, their political beliefs, their sheepishness, is the target of the show’s barbed tongue. What made the satirization powerful in the original run was the sense that some part of United States culture and its people were still being loved and/or celebrated. This time around, Animaniacs finds little worthy of either and it’s a little disheartening to see.
Now that it’s able to more widely and readily experiment with different animation genres, Animaniacs has become even more visual bologna in our slacks.
Animaniacs (2020) doesn’t know where it is in time, which is important for its absurdity to have a cutting edge. It has a longing for a “simpler” “easier” time like the 1990s before smartphones, social media, and The Internet. It makes nudges to diversity, gender equity, and gender-neutral pronouns, yet mocks contemporary political correctness. But clearly, some things were worth changing. In the theme song, Dot isn’t “cute,” she “has wit.” And say goodbye to “hellllooooo, nurse!”
Not only is Animaniacs on unsure footing with the times ideologically, it’s also admittedly out of step materially. In the first episode, we are told that these sketches were written in 2018 and boy does it show. There are fidget spinner jokes, isn’t that cute? It doesn’t feel “out of touch” so much as it does “out of time.”
But how could the showrunners have anticipated the decades between 2018 and 2020? Watching these new Animaniacs episodes feels nostalgic and comforting at times when it’s intelligent humor is singing like it used to. But every so often, you catch a punchline in the jaw, causing you to stumble back and see the bigger gulf between “then” and “now.” It’s totally insaney. But “those are the facts.”
Animaniacs goes totally insane-y on Hulu November 20th.