The Animaniacs reboot tackled the difficult task of balancing nostalgia and giving us something new in a self-referential, fourth-wall-breaking way that only they could pull off.
The Animaniacs were a huge part of my childhood. In fact, I think it was my first hyperfixation. Seriously, guys. I had Animaniacs plush dolls and posters and VHS tapes and shirts. I even had an autographed photo from the core voice cast that I got by writing a rather silly letter to them when I was about 7-years old. I was basically a superfan.
So hearing that it was going to be rebooted made me a bit nervous considering how near and dear to my heart I hold such a property. A lot of fantastic properties have not really been pulling it off lately and I was a bit scared. But I am beyond pleasantly surprised. I didn’t think a reboot could be this good. We are truly blessed.
The Animaniacs Smash The Fourth Wall To Pieces
The fourth wall does not exist here. From the very start of the first episode, everyone is self-aware that it’s a reboot and that there are certain stakes that come with this territory. They flat out say that they need to create something that proves it’s not our ‘dad’s Animaniacs,’ but also won’t alienate the dads either. Well, I’m not a dad, but I’m certainly from that generation at the very least, so it’s not too terribly far off the mark.
The opening sequence, which has never really given much consideration for the Fourth Wall, continues to chip away at it with references to how the show needs to get with the times:
Meet Pinky and the Brain who want to rule the universe.
A brand new cast who tested well in focused group research.
Gender balanced, pronoun-neutral, and ethnically diverse.
The trolls will say we’re so passe, but we did meta first.
It’s also worth noting that Dot is no longer listed as ‘cute’ in the song, but that she has ‘wit.’ This isn’t the 90’s anymore, and they are well aware of it. But before you really fault them for any of this, remember, as they say in the song, they did meta first.
Apparently, some people took issue with this sort of upgrade, and have been rather pissy about the clear gag that makes fun of Trump in the second episode. But that’s just a thing that’s gonna happen. Pay the trolls no mind. They tell you exactly what they’re doing upfront and you can take it or leave it. Some people, apparently, should just leave it.
Some of the meta is a bit dated as this was written in 2018 and they had no idea what’s coming. But they’re upfront about that as well. While Trump is still President (for the next 61 days) and the world is a terrifying hellscape (slightly different than depicted, but pretty awful nonetheless), I would appreciate it if the bit about not feeling pain were true. I’ve got a killer headache. But I’ll cope, I guess. Honestly, even though we’ve been through some pretty hellish situations the past couple of years, the delay wasn’t felt too profoundly within the writing of the show. It still worked.
The References For ‘The Dads’ Are Plentiful
The entire first sequence of the reboot is a callback to the ’90s. They take scenes from another Steven Spielberg creation – Jurassic Park – and toy with the idea that animated Grant, Malcolm, and Sattler are stumbling across some ancient oddity, much like they did when they stumbled across dinosaurs for the first time in the early ’90s. In the lawyer’s position within this meta Jurassic Park universe we have a Hulu representative, because of course. They soon find the Warner Brothers and Warner Sister who haven’t been seen in 22 years.
My goodness. How do we even remember what these creatures were like way back then? Well, you see, we remember. Us olds recall the ancient ways of these weird puppy children. And we remember Jurassic Park, too. The show immediately pulled the old school fans back in with this sequence, but made it funny enough that the youngins wouldn’t at all be bored. Despite the heavy nostalgia, there’s plenty of slapstick for the less referential-inclined viewers.
And I’m not even going to touch the joke from the Pinky and the Brain segment about what the Internet is mostly used for nowadays. It was basically a replay of the Finger Prince joke from the old school Animaniacs. It went over our heads then, but we caught it this time. Because we’re old now, guys. And I’m sure my constant reminder that we are old is not helping things. I’m sorry. Go take some ibuprofen and feel better!
Pinky and the Brain?!
How can we have a reboot without Pinky and the Brain? You can’t. They absolutely needed to come back with the Warner siblings.
Of course, their first adventure also catches them up with the times to get the ball rolling. Brain attempts to use people’s obsession with cute and silly animals on the Internet to take over the world. Now the funny thing is I’ve had this exact conversation with people before long before a reboot was ever in the works. If he was going to take over the world, this is the obvious path.
But the Pinky and the Brain fun continues beyond their meta episode. Their second appearance in the reboot shows them in a medieval setting complete with Game of Thrones jokes, classic slapstick comedy, and a Leeroy Jenkins gag. This duo is just as snappy, pop culture referential, and bizarre as they ever were. Their transition to the modern era is pretty darn successful.
Conclusion: Watch The Animaniacs!
If you loved The Animaniacs then, you’ll probably love The Animaniacs now. If, during these past 22 years, you somehow grew to find things like highlighting the 100th Anniversary of the Suffragettes with a fun song to be an offensive topic, you may not enjoy it this time around. There seems to be a sizable audience that’s kicking up dust about this sort of progressive social commentary throughout the series. But I guarantee that the fault is with you, not the show.
The world has moved forward and the fight for equality is part of the everyday conversation now. And that’s what The Animaniacs have always done: have a conversation about today wrapped up in silly gags, music, and pop culture references.
While the individual sketches may vary in quality, overall they are doing what they have always done, but are upfront with how they’ve chosen to adapt to the brand new world they’ve found themselves in.
You should listen to them and back out if that’s a problem.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.
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