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“Animaniacs” 2020 – A reboot done right.

Finally: A reboot that does it right.

And it makes perfect sense that Animaniacs – an already meta, self-referential, topical episodic comedy show would work in today’s age where every children’s cartoon reboot seems to be a meta, self-referential, topical episodic comedy show.

Nothing has to change! 

Okay, maybe a few things do – but not the tone, or the characters’ personalities, or any of the aspects that give Animaniacs its unique identity and cultural placeholder. It just needs to catch up with the times – or at least to 2018, when the script was written.

Honestly…I hope they get more seasons. I need to see how they deal with *gestures vaguely at everything that’s happened this year.* I do not doubt that this show’s contract will be renewed. Because this is the reboot we need right now.

I watched my share of the original show growing up – even though it ended when I was three years old. I didn’t get a lot of it – but I remember enjoying it all the same. And while I’m leery of reboots – as soon as they released the new theme song for this, I knew it was going to be good.

But it’s also hard to review – at least using my typical format. But it feels appropriate to honor the show and its work to stick to its origins.

For those of you who somehow know nothing about Animaniacs and yet clicked on this review anyway – I’m not going to describe it – because what’s there to know other than the show is about the wacky shenanigans of the Warner siblings. While the original show had a wide cast of characters who were featured in their own sketches – the cast has been scaled down to just the eponymous Warners and of course, Pinky and the Brain.

Joining Yakko, Wakko and Dot, fan-favorite characters Pinky and the Brain also return to continue their quest for world domination. (Photo Courtesy of Courtesy Amblin Television/Warner Bros. Animation)

This is a downgrade as it means the latter sketches are often far too long – and there’s a distinct lack of variety. The episodes featuring new characters or concepts like a tiny alien who gets mistaken as a toy by a little girl and a gnome that lives in people’s mouths and speaks out against rude people. They’re done in a different art style and are pretty entertaining, there’s just not nearly enough of them.

Starting with Pinky and the Brain –aside from some of the segments being too long – many of them are pretty funny. I mean they spend an entire segment making fun of Edward Snowden, of all people.

I gotta know what he thinks of his appearance or if he even knows about it – because that’s just the start of the show’s NUMEROUS jabs at Russia. But my favorite segment was the one where they made fun of McCarthyism by having Brain disguise himself as a senator…I’m glad they’re still balancing the humor well enough to make it entertaining for kids and adults.

I definitely loved these segments when I was little. In fact, the show is so ingrained in my mind that it’s basically a reflex for me to respond to the question: What are we going to do tonight? With “The same thing we do every night. Try to take over the world.”

It’s a bit odd that they tried to give the two canonical backstories – these are beings that exist outside of time and space. They don’t need a deep motivation for doing what they do. That’s just the natural order of their world: Brain wants to take over the world and will always fail, due to Pinky or his own hubris.

That’s all this kind of slapstick cartoons do: punish those who do wrong. It’s the Warners’ bread and butter.

The show opens with our titular characters being reanimated in a Jurassic Park parody – and after re-settling into the water tower – it’s like they never left at all. They go on to torment Ralph the security guard, the new network executive who wants nothing to do with them, and Nils Neidhart, the buff Olympian to name a few.

And of course, there’s no shortage of Trump jokes.

I enjoyed the political segments this time around. Probably because in part – I actually understood them. There did seem to be a lot of them for the short amount of run time – but who can blame them? Memes and Internet fads would be too dated by the time the show was released. But mocking the government? And Trump? Evergreen.

While we know they would have mocked Hillary Clinton, had she been President — it’s pretty obvious the writers are having a great time making fun of Trump at every possible moment. They even made him into a Cyclops at one point – and there were references to his administration where he didn’t appear at all.

The only thing I can’t believe is that they didn’t have him appear as a literal troll instead.

It’s hard to review comedy since it’s all about the jokes and I don’t want to spoil those for you because it’s seriously something you need to experience on your own. But there are some great segments making fun of Tucker Carlson, the 2016 election, rich people, Putin, Trump’s relationship with Russia, and gun control.

That last segment was weird since they used “buns” (bunnies) and it took me some time to figure out what they were referencing. But it was still funny – better than that mess that O.K. K.O. did.

It’s good to know they’re also not running out of jokes that can stand the test of time, while still making fun of things like Zack Snyder. Also, they managed to get a very solid dick joke in one of the segments. A good Richard/Dick pun will never grow old. 

The one thing the show does amp up is FEMINISM.

But sometimes you gotta smack your audience over the head with your message or show them an entire segment about manspreading. Or both. None of this is new territory for the Warner siblings – Dot has called out her brothers plenty of times before. But now, the boys aren’t lusting over Hello Nurse…who is now doing Doctors Without Borders.

But Dot is now described as having “wit” rather than being cute, and she’s much more outspoken about her politics – having a segment dedicated to voting rights (for cartoons) and a whole song about the First Ladies.

The whole shtick still fits the Warners’ MO so it doesn’t feel like it sticks out too much to me. What the Warners’ do right when it comes to comedy is that they always punch UP – towards authority, government, majority groups, or only torture those who deserve it.

Much like Bugs Bunny, the Warner siblings are chaos deities, punishing those who are rude, hubristic, or egotistical. Unlike Bug Bunny, they don’t make their charges go through the social niceties to be punished – no, they will humiliate you instead. And they WILL involve those around them – whether they know it or not.

But they do have empathy for others – even their enemies. You can’t mess with somebody who is ill – their rules are far more complicated but it usually boils down to: the Warners don’t take crap from anyone. If you mess with one Warner, you mess with them all. 

But anyone and everyone can be a target. Including themselves! (but only if they’re doing it.)

NOT pointing out they aren’t doing certain jokes from the original – but rather incorporating old jokes in a new meta-comedic way that pays homage to the originals without being insulting is a huge point for the show.

So many reboots seem to want to make fun of their predecessor.

Teen Titans Go! Thundercats ROAR and Powerpuff Girls 2016 all make fun of aspects of the entirety of the predecessor without acknowledging that they wouldn’t be there without them or thinking their new audience is somehow superior.

Nope. Animaniacs focuses on the reboot aspect – by their contracts and writers. Much like how the original often broke the fourth wall. This is good – this how a reboot for a show like Animaniacs should work.

What helps, I believe is that a lot of the original cast and crew are involved in the production, and they all care deeply about the original show. And that passion shines through. They’re not looking to reinvent the wheel. 

Just fine-tune it a bit.

The show does make fun of itself – but doesn’t outright maliciously INSULT itself or the old viewers. The characters’ personalities are the same and have the same voice actors, which was a huge part of the draw for the original was how cartoony they were.

The new show doesn’t require you to know the old show to find it funny – it only makes certain things funnier. The physical humor happens to both the main cast and background characters. It’s genuinely just…good.

And to be truly clear, the show fucking slaps. 

Sure, it isn’t perfect. But what more can we ask for? Animaniacs was always designed to be in the moments – some parts don’t age, but many do. But what’s most important is that the show genuinely made me laugh. It was funny, entertaining, a little cringy but intelligent, and full of nice little Easter eggs for returning viewers.

That’s what the show is supposed to do.

And I have no doubt it will be renewed for more seasons. So, sit back, relax, take that baloney out of your slacks for a snack, and just enjoy the show.

And that’s the scoop!

…………………

Score: 9/10

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Year of release: 2020

Length: 13 episodes 24-27 minutes

Developers: Wellesley Wild, Steven Spielberg

Executive Producers: Steven Spielberg, Wellesley Wild, Sam Register, Justin Falvey, Darryl Frank, Gabe Swarr

Voice actors: Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Frank Welker

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