Picture this: It’s a hot summer afternoon and you’ve just plopped on the couch. Remote in hand, you flip through the channels. And suddenly, you’re lost in “SpongeBob SquarePants” (1999–) and a “Phineas and Ferb” (2007–2015) marathon, with the occasional “Ed, Edd n Eddy” (1999–2008) episode thrown in. Before you know it, mom’s home. You spent the day enjoying some cartoon violence and comfort television. Good for you!
In this column “Comfort Cartoons,” my goal is to revisit some of the most formative and re-watchable animated shows. We’ll be discussing their nostalgia, their merits, how they’ve held up and what it’s like to watch them again as a (relative) adult.
This week, we’re looking at “Animaniacs” (1993–1998, 2020–), the wackiest animated comedy out there. The series originally ran in the ‘90s but was recently picked up for a shiny reboot. Both iterations follow the adventures of Yakko Warner, his brother Wakko and their sister Dot. And the structure’s the same, too. Each episode’s a variety show, including a segment for the genetically modified mice Pinky and the Brain. The Brain starts each episode hellbent on taking over the world; he fails, and the never-ending cycle continues.
The older “Animaniacs” episodes hold up very well. The animation’s richly detailed, and the plots are easy to follow. There’s a larger cast of characters, each of whom contributes their own unique personalities and jokes. The show’s almost slapstick qualities, along with the characters’ self-awareness, keep the jokes and gags fresh. And there’s plenty of satire and racy humor to laugh about — in the first moments of the pilot alone, we’ve already got a Ronald Reagan joke and Hello Nurse, a curvy character whom Yakko and Wakko lust over.
Despite focusing on younger audiences, “Animaniacs” markets itself as a show for all ages. Jess Harnell, the voice actor for Wakko, has said that, “At its heart, 'Animaniacs' was always a kid’s show masquerading as a social satire, masquerading as a Broadway musical.” Perhaps it’s more of a show for the whole family, something akin to “Phineas and Ferb.” Regardless, “Animaniacs” thrives off of its main trio’s boundless energy and insane antics to keep everyone entertained. That’s even more true for the reboot, which cut most of the original cast.
That’s only one of the adaptations the reboot has made to fit into the 21st century. From its theme song’s lines about being “gender-balanced, pronoun-neutral and ethnically diverse,” to plotlines about technology, fancy donuts and Russia, the “Animaniacs” of 2020 explores everything happening in our modern day. It’s especially political, with an episode satirizing gun fanatics, and Trump appearing just about everywhere. The Warner siblings are still as wild as ever, and the audience feels much more involved in “Animaniacs” than before.
That’s a good thing. The reboot focuses on the Warner siblings as characters who are simultaneously just like their old selves and disillusioned with some aspects of today’s culture. It’s almost like they’re grown-up versions of themselves; it makes re-watching “Animaniacs” just as much of a pleasure in adulthood as it was in childhood.
“Animaniacs” is available on Hulu.