When writing these posts, I generally edit myself, cutting back enough for a healthy word count, hopefully enticing more to read. I promise I’m doing that here, but there is a lot to talk about with Animaniacs (or officially Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs). I don’t just mean that from a nostalgia point of view, though I have plenty of thoughts about the show. This was an incredibly dense, but smartly written cartoon that actually appealed more to adults than children, which ultimately caused its demise.
The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister) were locked in the water tower in Warner Bros. Studios, along with their cartoons (which made no sense), because they were too wacky. They remained trapped there “until this very day.” Series creator Tom Ruegger never specified exactly what species the siblings were, other than “Cartoonus characterus,” though they resemble dogs. Animaniacs was a variety show sporting a wide range of recurring characters and segments in the vein of Looney Toons. While the Warners could be considered the main characters, they were accompanied by Pinky and the Brain, Slappy Squirrel, The Goodfeathers, Rita and Runt, Buttons and Mindy, Minerva Mink, and a host of others. All of those mentioned headlined their own segments.
Animaniacs is the perfect example of how to craft a show for children and adults alike. Many of the concepts were designed for adults from the ground up. Goodfeathers were a trio of pigeons that operated like mafioso, replete with Italian Mafia stereotypes. No surprise considering they were modeled after the R-rated mobster flick, Goodfellas. I doubt there was a kid watching the show at the time who saw the connection. I did. I saw Goodfellas (and Predator) when I was 8. My grandmother is awesome.
There are too many aspects of the show to cover here, it was a variety show afterall. Instead I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite. A recurring segment was the Wheel of Morality. This was often used when an episode was running over budget or short because it reused stock footage they were able to redub. “2B or not 2B, that is the pencil.” “If at first you don’t succeed, blame it on your parents.” ” You can teach an old dog new tricks, but you can’t teach Madonna to act.” There are too many amazing ‘morals’ to list — those are just a few of my favorites.
If there is one thing I think the show is known for, it’s the songs. A few were funny parodies, while many were educational. I still remember the quick jingle about Lake Titicaca. The two most famous songs from the show are “The Presidents Song” and “Yakko’s World.” While fun to listen to, they’re amazing tools to help teach youngsters about the U.S. Presidents and countries of the world.
Animaniacs ran from 1993 – 1998, across five seasons and 99 episodes. Fox originally produced the show for syndication, creating the requisite 65 episodes. An additional four episodes were made out of leftover scripts to make up season 2. WB purchased the rights, creating season 3 with 13 episodes. Along with the third season, Pinky and the Brain spun off into its own series. WB produced eight episodes for season 4, and nine for season 5. The show began causing advertising problems for WB: It was incredibly successful, but attracted more of an adult audience, completely out of the target demographic. Most of the later episodes were produced from leftover material. Animaniacs, along with Pinky and the Brain, were cancelled in ’98. The Warners were last seen in a direct to DVD movie, Wakko’s Wish, released before Christmas in ’99.
Normally I’d talk about the creative talent behind a show, but it’s nearly impossible with this. Too many talented people had their hands in the shows. For me, this stands on equal footing with DuckTales. A show that can be enjoyed at any age by the entire family, while slightly dated by some of the references, still remains a classic. A show as smartly written as this easily transcends the anachronistic material.
What was your favorite part of Animaniacs? Can you still sing any of the songs? Discuss!
I saw Rob Paulsen (Yakko) sing Yakko’s World at Comic-Con. Freaking amazing.
Tony loves talking about comics, movies, video games, books, and board games at thecredhulk.com. He wants you to join the conversation via Facebook or Twitter. Seriously, his friends have no idea what he goes on about and wishes they’d leave him alone.