Once again, it seems I will stand as the lone reviewer who enjoyed something. This time, it’s the”Animaniacs” reboot on Hulu. Critics have been quick to point out the “woke-joke” nature of the reboot, it’s lack of originality, and its exhausting self referential humor. While not invalid, they seem to miss the point of the show by idolizing the original a little too much. How quickly we forgot that “Animaniacs” was a show for children later hijacked by adults. It was ahead of its time, so much so that during its run it wasn’t revered the way it is today. So how do you revive a show that defies its own time but is also trapped in it? The answer is, you don’t.
We have to remember that “Animaniacs” was a manic, self referential show with an endless stream of timely adult jokes in the 90s. For the reboot, we aren’t in the 90s anymore. Things like “hello nurse” don’t fly today, and as much as we want to cry foul for the show endlessly mocking our pc culture (be it directly or indirectly), that is the world we live in.
Like it or not, this reboot can no longer exist ahead of its time, so it has no choice but to be present. With that comes a fine line between drawing one and crossing it. The 90s Warner sibling counterparts could leap over it because no one was paying attention to it. In 2020, we are so aware of the line that it seems to be all we’re looking for. We don’t want them to keep walking up to it, but we want to scream and shout when they cross it.
The “Animaniacs” reboot is more than aware of this, and operates somewhere in the middle. The show begins with a terrific “Jurassic Park” parody of Wacko, Yacko, and Dot’s return, a sketch that beautifully embodies the show’s nostalgia. The whole first episode front loads itself with self awareness and wall breaks that we’ve come to love from the original. It does so very successfully, and certainly transports the viewer back to a simpler time. The episodes following proceed to continue this trend, giving the Warner Brothers (and their sister Dot) a lot to do with returning guests like Pinky and Brain.
It is in the latter episodes that many critics find the schtick to become stale, with some even saying it’s downright mean in its satire of modern times. Perhaps it is and has always been my kind of humor, and perhaps I don’t find myself tiring of the “we’re in a reboot” jokes. I found myself laughing out loud at a number of unexpected cultural references and jokes 6 episodes in. I also don’t mind “Animaniacs” relentlessly mocking 2020, because let’s face it, no matter how dumb the Warners think we are, we kind of deserve it.
We may not like it, but this show isn’t really concerned with it. The show is just fine operating within the restraints of being present rather than futuristic. There’s so much that has happened since “Animaniacs” left, and you’d be foolish to think that their primary goal won’t be to pack in as many jokes about it as possible.
For its faults, this reboot does lack the manic nature of its predecessor. The reboot is relegated to only a few returning characters rather than the robust sketch cast we were accustomed to. While the Warners are as cheeky as ever and Pinky and the Brain adventures are seemingly endless, there is a lot missing for it to even be considered a sketch variety show. Perhaps is why the snark and smug humor of the Warners is so apparent in the reboot. They take up a majority of the screen time, and throws off the balance of the show’s original premise. The childish sketches and characters were meant to give kids a break from the adult laden humor, and without it, loses a bit of its target audience. Even when it attempts to explain the absence of these characters, they still don’t deliver on it.
There’s a lot to enjoy in the “Animaniacs” reboot. It’s still a bingable cartoon that can quiet your children down while you life at a Trump Cyclops who insists he has two eyes. It is lacking in cast and sketch diversity, and as stated, many critics aren’t too keen on its updated 2020 humor. For me, this is exactly the kind mirror we need.
The harsh truth is, we’ve given this particular cartoon a lot to make fun of, yet we’ve created a culture where you’re not suppose to do so. For a show with 22 years of material to pull from, are we really surprised that this went all in on the obvious? They don’t need to be as clever anymore because we don’t really want it to be. We say we do, but “Animaniacs” knows better. There’s no need to focus on the woke. Just sit back, sing along, and try and take over the world.
You can catch the animated series on Hulu now.