You may have recently heard Hulu’s newest reboot is The Animaniacs. Originally a kid’s program from the 90s, the Animaniacs was a sketch show with a large ensemble cast. It actually started on Fox, lucratively positioned between Speilberg’s Tiny Toons and Batman: The Animated Series. I remember it later as a mainstay of “KIDS WB” though.
The reboot has much of what made the original awesome: zany rhyming, gleeful high jinks, and buckets of sharp yet lovable satire. Even the promos and opening credits are reminiscent of the original’s wily ability to lampshade any problematic issues with a well-placed meta-joke.
So far the reboot is missing 90% of the original cast, including a personal fave, Slappy Squirrel. But this makes sense. A couple of the OG characters were probably open to “problematic interpretations.”
Besides to the original, there are some comparing the reboot to Bojack Horseman and Ricky & Morty, not that I understand it. Bojack and R&M aren’t reboots; they’re clearly products of now? Also… people usually stay super dead on Bojack and R&M?
It makes more sense to compare it to Netflix’s Sabrina and Riverdale: a classic kid’s story retold with the same characters but in a different cultural landscape. The difference here is Netflix rebooted two Middle-Grade IPs as young-adult dramas. Hulu took a kid’s show and rebooted it for the whole family.
To be clear, neither Bojack and R&M nor Sabrina and Riverdale are perfect comparisons though. The Animaniacs isn’t an existential character study or an everyman/every-witch sitcom of misadventures. It’s a children’s sketch show—basically, SNL for kids.
More accurately, it’s SNL for multiple generation viewing. As a parent, I can’t tell you how amazing it was to relive the old bits with my kids, laughing at the same sophomoric antics and screaming with laughter at various unexpected moments. It also immediately brought back my child-like curiosity with cultural references. As a kid, I remember watching my mom laugh at Bill Clinton jokes or watch Napolean’s wife warn him to “remember his hemorrhoids” before losing his temper. Why is the President playing an instrument? What are hemorrhoids and what’s it have to do with having a temper? (My question has now evolved to “Why did so many kids shows joke about hemorrhoids?”)
A whole world of adult information and references loomed before me in ever-growing curiosity. Once I was older and more educated, I would understand all these jokes too. Boy oh boy, wouldn’t that be the day!
Today I can happily say this has been passed down. My kids had a ton of questions: who’s Edward Snowden? Why is Air Force One flying to Russia? And it occurred to me as an adult how powerfully educational satire can be. It should have been obvious though—the definition of satire is “humor that inspires others to learn and think.”
That’s not to say every skit had a larger point; there were plenty of 100% silly stories whose “moral” was no deeper than Brain figuring out why he needs Pinky, again. But many were wider moment’s intended to discuss our current state of living.
Gentle enough for a child, sharp enough for an adult and funny enough for both, The Animaniacs is still leaving younger generations curious about their culture and adults dying laughing at their secret “adult” jokes.