‘Animaniacs’ returns for Hulu revival that’s once again zany to the max

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews Hulu's new 'Animaniacs'

“Animaniacs” was a childhood staple for a generation born in the ’80s and ’90s.

This Friday, the zany animated series gets a reboot with Hulu’s new “Animaniacs.”

Created by Tom Ruegger, the original series aired on Fox (1993-1994) and The WB (1995-1998) as the second animated partnership between Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation after “Tiny Toon Adventures” (1990-1992).

The revival kicks off with a clever spoof of “Jurassic Park,” but instead of Richard Attenborough unveiling his dinosaurs, Spielberg unveils the “Animaniacs” reboot as Jeff Goldblum says, “He did it,” while a Hulu exec says, “We’re going to make a killing.”

The nostalgia rush continues with Randy Rogel’s opening theme song: “It’s time for An-i-man-i-acs / And we’re zany to the max / So just sit back and relax / You’ll laugh till you collapse / We’re An-i-man-i-acs.” However, midway through the song, the classic lyrics get a modern update: “Gender balanced, pronoun neutral and ethnically diverse.”

The Warner Brothers, Yakko, Wakko and their Warner sister, Dot, rise from the grave and run home to their water tower above the Warner studio lot. Rob Paulsen returns as Yakko with a Don Lockwood charm, Jess Harnell revives Wakko’s British Beatles accent and Tress MacNeille returns as Dot after voicing Babs Bunny in “Tiny Toons.”

Together, they take pride in being the original post-modern pranksters, claiming, “We did meta first.” As such, they openly banter over what their first dialogue should be after such a long hiatus, making sure it appeals to both old and new audiences:

Yakko: “There’s a lot of pressure on our first lines. They’ve got to be funny, they’ve got to be irreverent, and most of all, they’ve got to be carefully crafted.”

Wakko: “But modern to show that we’re not your dad’s Animaniacs.”

Yakko: “But not so modern that you’ll alienate the dads because they’re a key part of our demographic…. Don’t overthink it.”

Dot (whacking them with a hammer): “22 years later and I’m still a knockout.”

The writers have fun with the fact that the show has been off the air since 1998. Yakko performs a song-and-dance number to relay the events that have transpired over the past 20 years, including Al Gore losing the 2000 election with hanging chads, George W. Bush searching for WMDs and Barack Obama’s inspiring “hope” poster in 2008.

Oddly, for President Trump, they say, “We think there’s still a President Trump, but the writers are writing this in 2018.” It’s a major flaw for viewers who regularly watch “South Park” spoof current events on a weekly basis. We agree with Wakko: “How is that possible? People rely on Animaniacs for outrageous and relevant content.”

Alas, there’s still plenty of relevant satire: “Facebook is a toxic waste dump, the Fox Friends are doting, the Russians are voting.” Most intriguing, the Animaniacs wear COVID-style masks in quarantine bunkers, so either the writers were eerily prescient, or the illustrators were able to hop in and update a few frames at the last minute.

Much of this will go over the heads of children, but you won’t have to wait long if you don’t like a particular segment. Each 24-minute episode consists of three eight-minute sketches with two “Animaniacs” bits bookending “Pinky and the Brain” in between.

That’s right, the lab rats are still plotting to take over the world. Maurice LaMarche returns as Pinky (“Narf!”), while Paulsen returns as Brain to methodically mutter his schemes, this time using social media to brainwash people. We’re reminded why the duo was so dang popular as to get its own spinoff “Pinky and the Brain” (1995-98).

Overall, the new “Animaniacs” is fun throwback stuff with title cards popping up for each episode like old “Looney Tunes” cartoons. Those who grew up on hand-drawn animation will appreciate the rounder, 2D animation style, rather than the jagged anime of today’s digital cartoons, though the latter appears in fast-paced dream sequences.

Personally, I miss my favorite segment, “Good Idea / Bad Idea.” For instance, a narrator says, “Good Idea: Playing catch with your grandfather,” as kids politely throw a baseball with their grandfather. Then the narrator says, “Bad Idea: Playing catch with your grandfather,” as the kids throw their grandfather’s frail body back and forth.

If you think that’s morbid, that’s the point. “Animaniacs” always got its kicks as a dark satire disguised as a family-friendly cartoon, featuring snarky quips for parents amid the bonkers child’s play. Young newcomers will undoubtedly find it hard to keep up, so this revival is mostly for parents seeking a nostalgia trip that’s zany to the max.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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