Animaniacs (2020)

3 out of 5

Developed by: Wellesley Wild and Steven Spielberg 

covers season 1

Did I watch Animaniacs when I was a youther? Surely. Who didn’t? I’d say, only I’m sure there were people who fall in to that category, and… I feel like I’m adjacent to it. I can’t quite conjure memories of talking about the show with friends, but I have fair certainty in recollections of quotes and references that would work their way into the casual kid zeitgeist culture of the time; so people watched it, and I watched it. And I remember feeling fairly tired out by it: that the hit to miss ratio of sketches I enjoyed was about even, and that the show was a stepping stone to other types of animation which would more fully hold my interests. Trying to rewatch it as an adult was even tougher, as the original uniqueness of its more elastic, self-aware style has since been supplanted by shows which honestly improved on the formula.

Bearing that in mind, Animaniacs 2020 is incredibly representative of the same feeling: some bits work, some don’t. The main change now – and something that rather grates – is how the show tries to split the difference between its surely adult-aged audience and a kidly demographic, often without the “it works either way” approach of a lot of its contemporaries. This ends up being the hit and miss – instead of it being due to preference for a particular style of humor or characters, it’s more squarely split between when the show is trying to be too goddamned hip and winky and political and cutting edge and… just being goofy, and a good time. The trade-off is that those goofy, good-times are really good, owing to all the imitators in the wake of the original which helped to perfect upon the style of humor, and now Animaniacs can crest on the same, and add its own exuberant flavor to it. Occasionally you’ll get episodes that favor this fully, and it’s a glorious thing; meaning, though, occasionally you get the opposite, and it’s a drag.

The original voice cast is still perfection, straddling both modes of the show effectively well, and while the whittling down of much of the original cast to just our Warner trio and Pinky & the Brain initially seems limiting, I ended up liking that – it prevents dismissing sketches outright because they feature a character you don’t like, and encourages the kind of zany, sketch comedy feel of the show. But, yeah, I can only take so many in-yer-face political pokes and lampshades of nostalgia humor. Just be weird, Warners – it’s why I like you in the first place.