Depending on who you ask, we either live in a golden age of television or a deepening dark age. The rise of streaming media and the decline of traditional TV models has completely changed how Hollywood does business. Some say it’s a good thing. Some say it’ll lead to the utter destruction of the entertainment industry, as we know it.
I don’t want to talk about such dire issues.
Instead, I want to talk about “The Animaniacs” reboot.
It’s a relevant topic because this reboot just wouldn’t have been possible 10 years ago. It wouldn’t have been possible 5 years ago, either. It’s riding an ongoing wave of reboots and revivals. Many of them are banking on nostalgia from certain eras to attract an audience.
Is it shamelessly desperate in the never-ending fight for more eyeballs and subscribes? Yes, it is.
Is most of it utterly forgettable and completely unfit for the current media landscape? For the most part, it is.
That’s exactly why “The Animaniacs” reboot is such a wonderfully refreshing achievement. It’s doesn’t just bring back a beloved show that many kids in the 90s, myself included, grew up watching. It perfectly captures the spirit of that show while still embracing a modern aesthetic that fits perfectly in 2020.
It helps that this show didn’t try to completely reinvent itself. It brought back the original voice actors for Yakko, Wakko, and Dot. It didn’t significantly change the theme song, the comedic style, or the overall structure of the show. The only noticeable changes were updated animation and a more contemporary setting.
Everything else is as zany, irreverent, and meta as you remember. It’s the same style long-time fans grew to love in the mid-1990s. Remarkably, that style works just as well 22 years later.
A big appeal to that style is just how self-aware the show is of its absurdities. The Warner Brothers, and the Warner Sister, know who and what they are in the grand scheme of things. They gleefully mock, tease, and joke about anything and anyone that crosses their path.
Some of that humor is more mature than a simple pie in the face. Other times, it’s as simple as Dot hitting her brothers with an oversized mallet. Both brands of humor are still funny and cartoonishly over-the-top.
It’s the kind of humor that works for kids and adults alike. That was a big part of what made the original show so popular and endearing. In watching this reboot, I still found myself laughing hysterically at times.
My inner 90s kid and my full-fledged adult delighted in the same jokes and gags. It never felt like my love of the old show was being exploited or mocked. It just felt like a fresh influx of zany comedy that I had missed for 22 years.
Even the Warners acknowledge in the first episode that the world has changed. The type of humor they did in the 90s just won’t land like it once did. That doesn’t stop them from making plenty of 90s reference, but that’s not the sole source of appeal. It’s just a small part of it.
No matter the era, “The Animaniacs” works by sticking to a simple formula. Put Yakko, Wakko, and Dot in a strange situation, be it the gods of Olympus or in search of a donut thief. Then, let them be their zany selves as they encounter various characters and obstacles along the way. The comedy just naturally emerges from there.
This reboot did not radically change that formula, both for the Warners and for Pinky and the Brain. It just updated the dates and settings while not avoiding the many ways the world has changed.
There are hipster douche-bags running donut shops.
There are self-importance CEOs who don’t give a damn about anything other than profits and themselves.
There are assholes who take up way too much space in a movie theater.
Some of these things existed in the 1990s too, but they’re more relevant to current pop culture trends. “The Animaniacs” gleefully and hilariously rides those waves.
That’s not to say that all the jokes land. Not every episode is perfect. Some jokes just don’t land and not every musical number is as memorable as Yakko’s famous countries of the world song. There are still many more hits than misses. I argue their song about reboots is the best of the bunch.
Now, you could say a lot about how relevant “The Animaniacs” is in this current era of adult animation. There’s no doubt the landscape is very different than what it was during the 1990s. This show was part of its own golden era in the 1990s, but that era is long gone.
These days, adult animation is dominated by shows like “Bojack Horseman” and “Rick and Morty.” Those shows still utilize comedy, but their brand of humor is a lot darker, built largely on the increasingly cynical trends that have been unfolding since the early 2000s.
I don’t deny that the kids who grew up watching the original Animaniacs weren’t nearly as jaded as kids today. Even before the awfulness of 2020, generations of kids and adults alike have seen a steady decline in hope for the future. Given that kind of attitude, it’s a lot harder for that zany style of comedy to land.
However, “The Animaniacs” reboot finds a way. It resists the urge to fall into the same dark traps as many other failed reboots. It doesn’t try to be “Bojack Horseman” or “Rick and Morty.” It just tries to be the same Animaniacs we know and love.
That’s what makes it work.
That’s what makes it funny.
That’s what makes it totally insaney, even in a year as insane as this.
That’s exactly why I love it and highly recommend it to anyone with a Hulu subscription.