Animaniacs holds a special place in my heart because I watched it intermittently as a kid when it was on (mainly until Looney Toons or something better started up on Toonami) but only as an adult (see: physically grown) did I appreciate it for what it was. Produced by that somewhat famous prodigal son Mr Steven Spielberg, Animaniacs is a perfect example of what happens when a clever adult gets given the reins on what could have been a mundane kids’s show. A revival of the show, with Spielberg at the helm (we’re talking no limitations here people, these revivals exist in a universe where Guillermo Del Toro made that At The Mountains of Madness movie too) would be something to behold.
Why? Well, I’ll tell you why!
1. It’s Looney Toons on Steroids
For me, Animaniacs is the beautiful unholy blend of everything Chuck Jones, Warner Bros. worked on for a glorious 60+ years distilled through a Hollywood giant’s cynical-yet-hopeful brain. The show was dripping with the slapstick, god awful puns and lampshade jokes that make Looney Toons timeless, but with twice the energy and feverpitch- you can’t go 20 seconds into this thing without some kind of wordplay, visual gag or oblique reference to pop culture. It’s the kind of comedy that stands the test of time because it is either inherently accessible (slapstick) or relevant to its modern audience (the pop culture references)
2. It’s Clever As Hell
I mentioned that the best cartoons appeal to an adult audience as well as kids and boy howdy does Animaniacs do this in spades. There are so many ‘how-did-that-slip-under-the-radar’ jokes intended for a much more mature audience it’s almost not funny. Really, google ‘Animaniacs Adult Jokes’. I’ll wait.
There, see what I mean? It’s coco bananas, I tell you. Other than this, Animaniacs held up a candle to the mirror of America to, well, make it laugh at itself. References to the Watergate scandal, pushy women insisting on taking surveys at the mall, obese people in the cinema to corpulent to fit past—Spielberg is doing one of the most intelligent things a writer can do; he’s painting a picture of middle America and making them laugh along. The reason the Animaniacs themselves are so crazy is because the world is so crazy. Who knows, maybe I’m getting a little art-nouveau, don’t-drink-the-water about things here but regardless, to pull off the kind of stuff that some authors spend their whole careers attempting in a kids show is impressive to say the least. This kind of stuff just doesn’t happen enough in animated features these days- it would be nice to have a cartoon for children not afraid to poke fun of its audience again.
3. Learning is fun!
Oh yes, Animaniacs was partial to that cardinal sin: teaching us stuff. Worse off, it went one further by teaching us stuff without us realising. The show was so clever you picked stuff up by osmosis through your goddamn tv. Thanks to Wakko Warner’s musical stylings, I’d say I know several more countries of the world than I would otherwise (circa. a world map of the mid 1990’s)- it took us back to the origins of Thanksgiving, taught us all the names of the Presidents of the United States in song (and again, circa. the mid 1990’s but I digress). Aside from my general gripe that not enough kids shows have musical numbers these days (grumpy-not-so-old-man rears his head again), it’s not Learning Channel levels of knowledge diffusion but these tidbits, these little factoid nibblets are the sort of things that make kids (and adults go) “but who was Sigmund Freud and why did Spielberg put him in a tutu?” With the power of google-fu, these little smart joke nuggets are the kind of inspiration children need to push them towards that educational buzzword: independent learning.