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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

TV Show Review: Animaniacs 2020

Animaniacs 2020
November 20th, 2020
Creator: Tom Ruegger (Original Concept and Characters)
Executive Producers: Darryl Frank, Justin Falvey, Sam Register, Wellesley Wild, Steven Spielberg
Starring: Rob Paulsen, Tress MacNeilleh, Jess Harnell
TV Network: Hulu
Production company Amblin Television
Warner Bros. Animation
No. of episodes: 13
Running time: 22-26 Minutes
Related shows: Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoid!, Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain
They're back! Warner Brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and the Warner sister Dot, have a great time wreaking havoc and mayhem in the lives of everyone they meet. After returning to their beloved home, the Warner Bros. water tower, the Animaniacs waste no time in causing chaos and comic confusion as they run loose through the studio, turning the world into their personal playground. Joining Yakko, Wakko and Dot, fan-favorite characters Pinky and the Brain will also return to continue their quest for world domination.

What does one watch after surgery when they feel completely loopy and burned out from the way the world is going? Well, if you’re me, you glomp onto the new Animaniacs reboot as soon as you’re somewhat coherent post-anesthesia. And then you have to watch the whole season again a week later because, hi, anesthesia.

The original Animaniacs was huge when I in my teens, so I was probably in the original target audience. I was young enough that a lot went over my head at the time (though now, cheeky writer I am, I give a standing ovation to the Prince gag every time I see it), but definitely loved it and appreciated what they were doing. I had tried to rewatch the original when it came to streaming, and while I still liked it, I found that I had to do it in much smaller doses. For me, personally, the large cast of characters was too hit or miss, and it just got to be a lot if I was trying to watch it for long stretches at a time. When I saw the trailer for the 2020 reboot, though, I have to admit I was beyond excited. But had I reached an age where this just wasn’t for me anymore? Would rebooting it change what the show was? Just how was this going to go?
The big changes are that the core parts of the show are the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister!) and Pinky and the Brain. While there are mentions of the giant cast in one ep and a few cameos (Chicken Boo pops up, and Dr. Scratchansniff is in an episode), most of the series are the heavy hitters. There are a couple new segments towards the back half of the season, which personally I found delightfully weird and a good fit for the modern era. But we’ll get to that.

The Good:
Original Cast! I think this honestly makes the difference vs. where things could have gone. Everyone is still sharp, timing is still great, they still sound like the characters. There is a bit of lowering on the songs (I actually can’t remember if the pitch was raised in the 90s, though, so that may be a factor, or it could just be that voices change with age, which is normal). It just plain sounded like coming home. The animation choice made me so happy. It still looks like its old self, but better, sharper, cleaner, brighter. I personally love that they slimmed down the cast. For me, it feels like they focus on the things that are the strong points, which is a good way to ease back into things. I wouldn’t be against bringing more of the old characters back, but I always wanted to see more of the Warners vs. some of the other more one-note characters. The big cast was awesome, but where things like the Goodfeathers, Rita and Runt, and Slappy the Squirrel have a lot of story opportunities, things like Mindy and Buttons, Chicken Boo, and others are just so one-note, it became grating for me in the 90s. I feel like this gives the people what they want and associate with the show. If the opportunity presents itself to expand, great, but I don’t think it’s a necessity.

I love that they address the fact that the Warners have been away and need to catch up. In a lot of ways, Animaniacs always reminded me of a really sarcastic, smart update of Rocky and Bullwinkle’s large cast and social commentary meets obvious Looney Tunes tropes. And they’re still smart and take on pretty much everything. Most of the jokes had me laughing. The stories are a good range between Warners catching up to 2020 and interacting on the backlot. Warners in random situations like history, myths, and other situations, and what Pinky and the Brain have been up to. There’s a great blend of smart humor and slightly gross slapstick in the Warners segments. I found myself liking Pinky and the Brain a lot more this time around because it felt like the writing addressed Pinky and Brain’s relationship dynamics a lot more. Brain was put more into a situation with having to actually deal with things vs. just having his plots ruined. Also, I love Julia. Julia is amazing. Fave new character, want more, adore her.
The new songs are fantastic. There’s great tribute paid to things in the original show without a constant wink-wink-nudge-nudge. This is definitely a show for new fans as well as old. I LOVE the new chances they take. There’s an absolutely gorgeous sequence giving a nod to anime in an episode satirizing gun control. While the story itself is a little obvious (and they even make fun of this in the episode), that sequence is phenomenal. You can tell a lot of care went into development. There’s also playing with a more kawaii look and some other things, so I feel like the quirkiness and risk-taking are ramped up and match the modern era really well.

The bad: Not all of the pacing was quite as forward-momentum as I’d like. It felt like, at least for the first handful of episodes, that the Warners' lead segment was really strong. There’s a good solid Pinky and the Brain story, and then the end Warner segment had more potential to fizzle off at the ends. This got better the further in I went, but it felt like sometimes people just weren’t sure how to end things and not all the use of nostalgia and nudge-winking works. To be fair, that’s the same issue I had with a lot of the segments when the bigger cast was involved, so it’s always been kind of a thing. Some things just work better than others, and your mileage may vary on what you prefer. I still enjoyed everything, but a lot of the ending segments plain felt slower.

Okay, but what about the politics: Oh, you thought I wasn’t going there, did you? I honestly don’t have a problem with it. I didn’t find it heavy-handed simply because it is so much a part of culture at this point. Animaniacs has always laid into whatever was dominating the zeitgeist at the time. They hit the issue of reboots just as much if not more than political humor. It all tends to be tied together as commentary or jokes about how life generally is now. It doesn’t take up the whole series, so I don’t get what other reviewers were complaining over. Many, many segments deal with pop culture or just random weirdness as there are references to the news. Though I thought their commentary was freakin’ hysterical and timely.
There’s been a lot of debate on why older characters are cut and people being offended that certain jokes and schtick aren’t in it anymore or were changed. I don’t miss Hello Nurse. I never felt like that was all that funny beyond a tagline, so I have no skin in that game. I LOVE Dot being more assertive and the change to her line in the song. Before, it did feel a little like she was ‘the girl.’ She had some good moments, but she primarily was there to be cute. I like that now cute is her aesthetic, but she’s also pretty ballsy in a way she wasn’t back in the day. More of that, please. I don’t feel like any of this tamed the show—it’s a different world, a different time, a slightly different sense of humor. It still all works, it just isn’t exactly what we grew up with, and that’s okay.

The new stuff:
Two new segments run closer to the end of the series, and it feels like they’re feeling them out because there’s only one bit of each. Starbox and Cindy are reminiscent of Buttons and Mindy to a point. But it’s a different animation style, and the little girl monologuing is very much a real kid, giving it a much different sound than the rest of the series. She goes on about things while Starbox, the tiny alien, tries to escape her room to his spaceship that’s buried in the sandbox in the yard. While I don’t know how much of a running gag it could be, I actually found myself laughing at it in a way I wouldn’t have with Buttons and Mindy. The other new segment is The Incredible Gnome in People’s Mouths. A CEO was transformed into a rage-fueled gnome in a freak accident and now lives in people’s mouths, popping out to speak for them when they don’t have the confidence to speak up for themselves. This is weird. Like SUPER weird. It is a bizarre choice. And I freakin’ LOVE it. I want more of this. It’s such a clever, surreal idea, and while it doesn’t have the same feel as the rest of the show, it fits in a really offbeat way.

All in all, I am content. I really love Animaniacs 2020, and I’m excited to see where they go next.

4.5 still totally insanely sheep

About the Author:
Selah Janel is a writer who is trying to start doing that again instead of reading manga all the time.

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