“22 Years Later & Still a Knockout”: My Review of the ‘Animaniacs’ Revival on Hulu

This article contains potential spoilers of the Animaniacs reboot on Hulu, so don’t read ahead if you haven’t seen or are planning on watching the series.

Being my favorite animated program of all time, I have been actively following news of the reboot for nearly two years now, but the day is finally here!

Animaniacs was an animated comedy-musical variety series created by Tom Ruegger and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in association with Warner Bros. Animation. It aired on Fox Kids from 1993 to 1995 and then on Kids’ WB from 1995 to 1998. During its run, it produced 99 episodes and, in 1999, a feature-length film: Wakko’s Wish. It ran in syndication on various children’s television networks and streaming services throughout the 2000s and 2010s, which is how I became first introduced to it. In the similar style of the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies cartoons, Animaniacs featured short skits usually in the form of two or three segments and interstitial transitions and starred a large cast of characters. Due to the popularity of many of these characters and segments, a number of spin-off series were created; the most-notable being Pinky and The Brain, which aired from 1995 to 1998, producing 66 episodes. Animaniacs was best known for its music (featuring a 30-piece orchestra), parodies/satire, recurrent catchphrases, and adult humor. As a result of its popularity in syndication and, in more recent years, streaming services, a two-season revival series was ordered by Hulu.

The first season of the revival series, consisting of 13 episodes, premiered on Hulu on Friday, November 20, 2020; the next 13 episodes comprising season two are slated to premiere in 2021. Wellesley Wild, of the Family Guy fame, serves as the show’s new showrunner, replacing the show’s creator, Tom Ruegger — much to the chagrin of many long-time fans. When offered the opportunity to submit a script for the new series, Ruegger declined, stating, “it would be like an audition and I just didn’t feel comfortable auditioning for a show that I created.” Fans of the original series were also disheartened to know that (with the exception of Pinky and The Brain, who are voiced by Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche respectively, and the faces of the franchise, the Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister, also voiced by Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille), the original cast of characters were omitted from the new series and their voice actors were not asked to return. It wouldn’t be Animaniacs without the music, however, and returning to the revival includes composers Steve and Julie Bernstein, along with the 30-piece orchestra, and other composers trained by those of the original series’, Randy Rogel and the late Richard Stone.

The poster toons for Animaniacs are the Warner Brothers, Yakko and Wakko Warner, and their little sister, Dot; three cartoon stars from the 1930s who were locked away in the Warner Bros. Studio water tower, never to be released, until they escaped in 1993. The Warner siblings run amok around the studio lot, wreaking havoc to its residents, and also interact with various characters from pop culture, history and mythology, deeming them their “special friends” and typically driving them to madness. The Warners also serve to tie each segment together, either in brief interstitials between each sketch, or by introducing or making cameo appearances in other characters’ segments; one of the said segments being Pinky and The Brain, about two genetically-altered lab mice who continuously plot to try to take over the world.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

After 22 years, we are reintroduced to the Warner siblings through a spoof of Spielberg’s 1993 flick, Jurassic Park — in particular, the scene where the gang first sees a Brachiosaurus on Isla Nublar — featuring caricatures of Dr. Grant, Dr. Sattler, and Dr. Malcolm as themselves, a caricature of Spielberg himself in the role of John Hammond, a caricature of an executive from Hulu in the role of Gennaro, and the Warner siblings in place of the dinosaurs.

“Welcome to Animaniacs!”

This cold open immediately leads into the new theme song. Arguably one of the catchiest and most iconic cartoon intros in existence, the rebooted version omits all mentions of the original characters and the dated references of the 1990s, and replaces them with modern, more politically-correct lyrics...all still while rhyming!

The actual episode is split into a two-parter segment (“Suspended Animation, Parts 1 and 2”) starring the Warner siblings, separated by a Pinky and The Brain segment (“Of Mice and Memes”) in the middle. In Part One, the Warners return to the Warner Bros. Studio lot, including their home inside the water tower, and discover that a lot has changed in the last 22 years. We are reunited with an original character, Ralph the Guard (voiced by Frank Welker); and meet a new character, Nora Rita Norita (voiced by Stephanie Escajeda), the new studio CEO, who introduces the Warner siblings to the tablet — of which Yakko Warner subsequently eats. Part One ends with a song (“Catch Up Song”) sung by Yakko about everything they’ve missed in the last 22 years.

We join Pinky and The Brain back in the year 1998, with the former watching his favorite television program involving clips of silly animals. Pinky comments that he wishes he could carry the television with him so that he could watch the show all the time, inspiring Brain’s newest plan to take over the world. Fast-forward to the present day: Pinky and The Brain have entered the age of technology and everybody has the internet at their fingertips in the form of smartphones. The Brain intends to take advantage of humanity’s obsession with silly animal videos — something that has remained unchanged in the last two decades — by starring in one himself and using a mind control filter on it to make his viewers cater to his every whim, hereby taking over the world! And he almost succeeds this time too, if it weren’t for humanity’s desperately short attention span. By the time The Brain finally has the world at his grasp, the world shifts their attention to a new viral video, leaving Pinky and The Brain to come up with a new scheme, for tomorrow night of course, to take over the world.

In Part Two of the Warner’s segment, they realize how many other old shows (including theirs) are being rebooted for one reason or another, so they indulge us with yet another song (“Reboot It!”). The episode ends with Hulu giving the Warner siblings a heavy check for their first episode and Wakko stating, “When we sell out, we know we’re selling out, so it’s cool!”

For me, watching Animaniacs has always been a rerun. At the time of its original run, its subject matter was extremely topical and relevant, however, I wasn’t born until 1999 — five months after the last episode had aired to be exact — so all of the jokes, while funny, have always been sort of passé for me. So, although it was one of the things I was most highly anticipating upon hearing that the series was being revived, I thought it was bizarre hearing the characters reference Obama, social media, gun violence and other aspects of the modern-day! 

Another thing I’m so used to from the original series is the characters being off-model from segment to segment and episode to episode. The original Animaniacs was animated by several different animation studios — both American and international — over the course of the show’s production, therefore, the designs of the characters would sometimes look slightly different from the last time you saw them. In the revival, while still animated by multiple different animation studios, the animators follow a strict model and set of rules so as to avoid just that. I also find that the new character designs do not move as fluidly as they did in the original, which is most noticeable in the theme song. This could be because of the transition from the use of celluloid in hand-drawn animation to computer-generated animation.

After watching the first episode, I felt like I was 13 years old again watching an episode of the original series for the first time! It’s clear that the new writers have nothing but love for the characters that Mr. Ruegger created — and while I wish it were his name that had top-billing in the credits — I firmly believe that they do the old show justice. The characters haven’t changed a bit! I was not expecting TWO new songs in the first episode, and for that, I feel spoiled rotten! And since they reside on Hulu now, as opposed to daytime television, the show is rated PG and can get away with edgier humor and language than before (i.e., saying the H-word). The revival also introduces us to new characters and segments including Starbox and Cindy, about an alien attempting to escape the grasp of a little girl, and The Incredible Gnome In People’s Mouths, about a man who was transformed into an angry gnome and lives inside people’s mouths to speak for them.

Animaniacs tackled many issues throughout season one including the 19th Amendment, the French Revolution and the 2020 election, but there was one episode I did find unsettling. Episode five, the segment entitled “Good Warner Hunting,” involves The Warners being stalked by a deranged hunter obsessed with collecting and presumably killing the original characters of Animaniacs. In the end, it turns out just being Chicken Boo, a character from the original series, disguised as the hunter, with a jealous vendetta for not being included in the reboot. The episode was darker than most Animaniacs episodes I’m used to, and while it did answer the question regarding their absence, I felt it wasn’t the most respectful homage to the characters that Tom Ruegger created. Such beloved characters deserve more than a brief, silent cameo in my opinion, but nonetheless, the episode left me speechless and is probably one of the most memorable episodes of the season.

In inverse.com's recent interview with Jess Harnell, the voice actor of Wakko Warner, he described the series as “a kid’s show masquerading as a social satire.” After the troubling year we’ve had, Animaniacs is a godsend, and as somebody who feels indifferent toward Hollywood rebooting and remaking all of these old shows and movies, it’s heartwarming to know that the '90s kids who grew up with the original series can now share their love and passion for it with the next generation.

Animaniacs (1993) and (2020) are both streaming now on Hulu.