Animaniacs: How These '90s Characters Are Handling Our Chaotic World

Everyone's favorite childhood cartoon is back in reboot form with a lot to live up to, and yet might be exactly what everybody needs right now.

Recently there’s been an endless supply of reboots in television and movies. Some have been great quality, while others are just… unnecessary. Hulu just gave us something beautiful, however; a reboot that can break the fourth wall and discuss reboots. Yes, the Animaniacs are back in 2020, after ending their run from 1993 to 1998. 

The Steven Spielberg cartoon was full of classic physical stretchy cartoon humor, political and pop culture references, and all-around witty writing… you know, an animated sketch comedy show for kids. The reboot had a lot to live up to, along with a complicated new world to unleash commentary upon. How did it hold up?

There’s a strong start in a fantastic first episode. The Warner siblings take a musical number to run through the big changes in the world they’ve “missed,” concerning technology, the economy, and recent elections. They let the audience know that the writers are basically sending out a letter from where they are in 2018. They stop short of fully addressing Trump because they admit they know it’s 2020, but don’t know anything of the past two years leading up to it. 

Then they make “wild guesses” as to what they’re still missing between 2018 and 2020, and all I can say is… wow. The Warners are safe from and know nothing about The Virus. While they didn’t guess “global pandemic,” they did mention bunkers and it hits a little close to home.  

The Animaniacs also had a giant orange elephant in the room. They had to, at some point, addressing Trump. There’s a catch though. They haven’t been around for the past four years, and it seems as though anything satirical about him has already been saying and done to death. Yet saying nothing is just not an option for a show that’s topical, and isn’t afraid to take a political stance. He was the president (for them is) and has affected our lives too much to just pretend he wasn’t around at all.

I think, however, they did the best job they possibly could have. Their mentions were brief but cutting. Then everyone moved on to bigger, better, and more important stories to tell. He wasn’t worth their time, and thankfully he won’t even be a person in the absolute center of the spotlight soon anymore anyway. Kids watching the reboot 20, 30 years from now might not even get the subtler references, and that is the best future we could have possibly hoped for.

There were definitely different approaches possible for how to extract the Animaniacs and throw them into the 21st century. Ask how they would actually act if they were real and living in 2020. I would much rather have that version of the show than one that just pretends nothing changed and “tablets,” and “social media” are just things that don’t exist. Yes, it’s a little jarring to hear Yakko say “Facebook,” but I think overall it’s worth it.

Also, be warned that people who are holding this new reboot up to an impossibly high standard are probably just misremembering the original show. You can’t compare their best sketches to all of the new ones. The Warner siblings are doing a lot of the heavy lifting in 2020, whereas a great Warner’s sketch happened every handful of episodes in the ’90s surrounded by less memorable characters… sorry, Rita and Runt. Sorry, Mindy and Buttons. 

I think those who didn’t like the show aren’t giving enough credit to the changes they could have made but didn’t. For instance, the theme song was meant to be the same, just with updated lyrics for the second half. The cast of voice actors is largely the same. Steven Spielberg was the executive producer.

Tom Ruegger, however, who created Animaniacs was not a part of the reboot. He explained to SYFY Wire, “I am disappointed that the original creators were not involved, there were a lot of great artists and writers who made that original show and we all would have loved to have been invited back, but Warners and Amblin own the property, and they decided to go with a new group, that's the story.” 

While it’s always nice to have some carryover from the original team for any reboot writing, Ruegger thinks it’s totally fine if you enjoy the reboot also stating, “I certainly want people to love Animaniacs and if this new show could increase the audience and love for Animaniacs, that would be great, because I love the show and I want it to succeed.” 

This was certainly not a joyless cash-grab. The new writers took care to give us something of quality, and you could tell everyone was having fun working on it. Voice actor for Yakko and Pinkie, Rob Paulsen even said to SYFY Wire, “Thankfully, the characters that we love and that you love are being well taken care of, and well represented.”

One major change in the reboot was having only the Warner Siblings, and Pinkie and the Brain. No other ’90s characters appeared except for brief cameos in a very specific sketch. Honestly, it makes sense. These five characters really were set apart from the rest in terms of quality in the original series.

There were a few super short sketches that tried to introduce a few new characters or concepts, but these were largely forgettable. This is fine when the best writing and focus needed to go to the Warner Siblings, and Pinky and the Brain. Sure, I’d love to see a “Good Idea Bad Idea” sketch, or a “Mime Time” sketch, but I’d rather have just okay sketches than ones that try too hard to be something they’re not.

With the Warners in more of the spotlight, they had to enter different dynamics. We got to see more of their home life and how they interact with each other. Occasionally this meant their cartoon violence fell on each other, rather than solely the episode’s antagonist. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it just felt like it was against the rules somehow. 

I also really liked the new designs. They look like their old selves, but also now modern, yet not so modern they just look bad. Then the designs of the one-off human characters were so ugly I absolutely hated them, but in the way, we’re supposed to.  

Animaniacs reboot clip 2020
Image Source: YouTube

There was also a good balance of topical subjects and “evergreen” sketches. A particular area of strength for the show was the Pinky and the Brain sketches. Were the animation style different, many could have been snuck into the ’90s show and no one would know the difference. If you are on the fence about if the show will be “good enough” for you to watch, let that push you over. 

Yes, it’s “another reboot,” but the fact that the Animaniacs poke fun at themselves and break the 4th wall goes a long way. The writers handled these characters with care, and it’s clear they wanted to appeal to the adult audience who grew up with the show. I look forward to season two.

Kaydee is a writer who is always looking for her next favorite show. She also loves journaling, graphic novels, and late night comedy.

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