The Warner Brothers, and the Warner Sister, are back. They’ve been locked away for twenty two years but they’ve been dusted off, made into clean vectors and are coming to audiences in wide screen. They’ve got the same sense of humour they’ve had since the 90s. Spilling out of the water tower with biting satire and topical musical numbers, the Animaniacs are as zany as ever in this 2020 reboot.
In the five episodes (of thirteen) of 2020’s Animaniacs reboot sent for review, it’s clear the little monsters are picking up right where they left off, continuing to educate, lampoon and bring the laughter. The intro theme has been revamped, adding gags about gender neutrality and racial diversity, a jokey nod to changing audience demands and the new group of creators. The series remains meta as all hell, with the signature bits about being knowing cartoon characters living on a movie lot. The magic from the original show is back, not just because of the return of the excellent voice cast, but because the show’s tone remains intact. It passes swiftly between meta-gags about the studio, Wakko being a hungry l’il scamp, and satire. It feels like they truly brought your old friends out of hiding and it will have any 90s kid smiling the entire time.
Not just bringing back the old familiar charm, the show dabbles in new animation styles like anime and chibi, having fun with being unbound by physical reality. Each episode contains two sketches with the prime stars and a sketch with Pinky and the Brain. The duo has not missed a beat either and are back with familiar schemes and bits. This reviewer shrieked at that first “NARF!” Like the Warner siblings, P&B are able to poke fun at internet culture while remaining relevant by exploiting the “frozen for 22 years” premise. Taking over the world via an Instagram filter is an almost too perfect update to the beloved mice and the reboot timing gives it the freedom to do it.
Unfortunately, aside from cameos from characters like Ralph T. Guard and a reference to Hello Nurse’s Russian knockoff, the remaining side characters are not back in this reboot. Those looking for Buttons and Mindy might not get what they’re looking for, but anything can happen in upcoming seasons.
The show has also come back swinging with new original songs. Though fun, including a self-aware recap of the past 20 years up until 2018 and an off-the-mark bit on guessing 2018-2020, they’re not as memorable as their predecessors. Yakko’s World is hard to match, and the show swings and misses, but still delivers some hilarious tracks worth revisiting.
The show panders at fans, then makes jokes about pandering in the most Animaniacs way. It layers gags like in its dark portrayal of the current state of journalism which starts as a post-game press conference bit about an episode. It truly comes for it all from Fox News pundits, to gun violence, to climate change, and Russian bots.
For most of the five episodes made available for review, the show keeps its political leanings cards close to its chest, purporting to come for everybody like any other satire, but it does spill over into criticizing Russian interference and the close relationship between Russia and Trump. Though it’s impossible to avoid being political at any time, certainly now, the show could do better to take its foot off the American election gas a bit. There’s a self-aware gag in the first episode that notes the show was written in 2018 and they’ll have to make assumptions about the last two years. These assumptions couldn’t have predicted the bonkers state of the world in 2020, but with the foresight of knowing the next presidential election would coincide with the show’s release, they might have done a bit better with the timing of the material. Further, by centering too much of the show around the election, it becomes less of an escapist throwback cartoon, and feels more like a resurrection of a cancelled late night show back to parody current events while being a couple years behind.
Being that it’s a revival of a kid’s show aimed at the now adult audience, it makes sense to tackle themes the adult audience would be concerned with and the places wherein we hope to find humour. It’s warm to have our old friends back, graduating from teaching us the capitals to chatting about election fraud, but the rapid news cycle and desire for escapism make this element of the show a bit tough.
A really fun rehashing of the old favourite, the self-aware jokes about reboots don’t negate what the show is trying to do. But it doesn’t matter, because by making the self-aware reboot jokes, Animaniancs (2020) feels consistent to its style of meta-jokes about Warner media. It will be difficult for the show to get people to look up from their phones long enough to catch any easter eggs and reads a bit too much like a light background watch. But by covering itself in slightly dated but always relevant political satire, the show commands attention, attention it might simply not get.