See the original Animaniacs today is probably the closest you can get to rolling through a TikTok feed from the mid-90s. The Madcap variety show was like Looney Tunes using the golden age Saturday Night Live, a pre-social media era meme factory that seemed more interested in parodying show business and celebrity than actually entertaining children. (The first episode is about a dang psychiatrist to the stars!) The funny thing is, the kids loved the Warner brothers and sister’s antics when they barked and hit their way over studio parties. Adults, on the other hand, laughed at the jokes that actually took place on said studio-masses ̵
The new Animaniacs, restarted and now streamed on Hulu, replicates the manic energy of the original, but not really in the service of something that feels transgressive or groundbreaking. The premise is simple: After the show’s cancellation in 1998, Warner siblings Yakko, Wakko and Dot have spent the intervening years roaming a forgotten land, until cartoonist Steven Spielberg – in a Jurassic Park pastiche along with cartoon Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum – find them. And then they’re brought back to the Warner Bros. studio.
To Jurassic Park mashup is a good teaser for what you can expect from the mentioned pranks: Looney Tunes-desque characters looking at pop culture and current events. In one episode, Warners recreates himself The Odyssey, posing as Greek deities, helping and hindering Odysseus on his journey while drowning in a pop culture satire (the cycles of history are Trump). There are many jokes about the restart and the creative bankruptcy they designate, and ways Hollywood has or has not changed since the 90s. When Dot meets a female top executive, she asks for advice, only to be told “I believe in pulling the ladder up after I climbed on it! ”
There are also segments with songs, while stories with other characters are mostly limited to Pinky and the Brain. The wide list of players that the original show had is largely absent in the reboot. Some of this is for good reason – Hi Nurse, a pinup throwback mostly there to drive the Warner brothers wild, is a amazing sexist character for a 90s children’s cartoon – but otherwise do not expect any segments dedicated exclusively to Slappy Squirrel or the gangster pigeons The Goodfeathers.
Mostly the new Animaniacs seems to be trying to succeed using the old formula. The problem is that there have been other shows that do excellent showbiz satire in Animaniacs‘absence, like BoJack rider, who managed to spearhead Hollywood and the new media ecosystem that now covers it. Rick and Morty is a genre-jumping adventure that delights the genre while also has a lot to say about the entertainment landscape. And Family guy has created an entire TV genre where the whole point is in self-awareness apart from the audience. (It’s worth noting that showrunner for Animaniacs restart is one Family guy alun.) Animaniacsmeanwhile, an entire Pinky and Brain segment spends smashing Seth Meyers and cute animal memes. It’s a weird segment that makes fun of a version of Seth Meyers with no basis in reality – Meyers is the late night host who is most openly interested in broadcasting unusual topics and sharper political commentary. Applying the same joke to a more junky host like Jimmy Fallon would not be much more fun, but at least it would make sense.
Problems with the show lie in part in changes in the industry around it. The original Animaniacs existed in an era when monoculture ruled; the supposed audience watched the same shows and movies that the kids picked up. (One recently GQ The George Clooney profile has the star emphasizing how diverse that industry was at a time when a TV show could have 40 million viewers.) Parodying celebrities was reliably fun at a time when no one had easy access to review a celebrity’s Instagram account, and it was even more fun to watch a “kids” cartoon do these parodies. Things are different now than they were when Yakko, Wakko and Dot first made a mess of the Warner party. Restart seems to get stuck just pointing it out.
BoJack rider‘s comedy succeeded because it was specific. The show was made by people who knew it Exactly the kind of person who would see it, and it almost always shone their taste also to be a work of extraordinary emotional honesty. It does Animaniacs feels like a relic from another time. It might as well be a dinosaur.