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Animaniacs: Why the Beloved Show Is Still a Classic!



“Hellooooooo, NURSE!”

September 13th marked the 24th (that’s right, 24TH) anniversary of one of the greatest television programs ever created. On that day, a long time ago, in a land far away, Steven Spielberg and a hyperactive team of animators, writers, and musicians produced Animaniacs, a show with a name that holds a special place in our hearts. Following on the heels of Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs offered a fresh take on classic comedy and featured excellent educational lessons for kids and the right mixture of naughty humor for adults. Today, I still don’t know a single person my age who hasn’t seen (or at least heard of) this famous cartoon at some point.

So, plug up the Fox censors and head for the water tower, kiddos!

We’re going to see why Animaniacs is still an instant classic! 



I’VE HAD ALL MY SHOTS: SKETCH COMEDY GOLD

For millions of us 90s kids, Animaniacs was one of the first cartoons we ever saw. And when you’re a child sitting in front of the TV, watching cute cartoon characters dance across the screen, you’re not at all in store for what’s to come.  How about a curmudgeonly, snazzy old lady squirrel lifting her fur skirt to reveal can-can dancer legs? Or maybe you’d prefer a conversation between Yakko and his teacher when they talk about conjugation (wink)? Oh yes, people. This show actually went there. And we still adore every raunchy, clever, and timeless quote thrown at us. Some of the jokes went over our heads, but heck! Now we can join our parents in a great bout of cackling laughter, right?  



Where else can you be entertained as well as educated in one sitting? Animaniacs didn’t talk down to kids (or adults for that matter). Sure, we got our fair share of Looney Tunes-inspired slapstick and violence, but Yakko, Wakko, Dot, and their crazy friends also gave us daily lessons in pop culture, politics, global economy, celebrity drama, and even geography. Hardcore fans still find themselves humming “Countries of the World with Yakko Warner” and “Wakko’s America,” a little tour through American history. Even that cranky Slappy Squirrel introduced us to classic rock with “Woodstock Slappy,” where she inadvertently picks a vacation spot in the middle of the legendary music festival. “Welcome to the Jungle,” indeed, Miss Slappy!

Then, of course, there’s the unbelievably dirty collection of jokes and visual humor. I’ve always appreciated cartoons that appeal to children and adults, and the writers of Animaniacs obviously had the same idea. There are too many quotes to count…surprisingly WAY TOO MANY. One amazingly blatant incident involves a conversation with Michelangelo (“Hooked on the Ceiling”), where the Warners talk about painting naked people. And, of course, there’s one my favorites:



Personally, I don’t want to give any more away, because that’ll ruin the jokes and the whole purpose of watching this show!


ZANY TO THE MAX: ALL-STAR CAST

Still, what’s a story without memorable characters to bring it to life? Yakko, Wakko, and Dot lead an ensemble featuring some true icons including two scheming lab mice Pinky the Brain, a grouchy squirrel Slappy (and her nephew Skippy), the Goodfeathers gang, Rita and Runt, the sexy Minerva Mink, plus much more. And I don’t even have enough room for the celebrity cameos, including the eternal parody gems Christopher Walken and William Shatner and music icons Prince and Joe Cocker. With a cast this big, you know that every episode will be jam-packed full of side-splitting comedy and fun parodies. And it’s all thanks to the amazing voice talent.
Left to right: Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille led the ensemble cast as Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner
Like other sketch comedy greats In Living Color, Saturday Night Live, or Monty Python’s Flying Circus, the cast would have to take on multiple roles for each episode, adding to the speed, intensity, and insanity of each animated moment. So, instead of being mascots, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot Warner were the designated hosts, holding the fabric of the series together. So, in essence, the term “Animaniacs” refers to the entire cast (main and ensemble) and…if you’re feeling a bit Avant-garde…perhaps they were referring to the audience, too. I know I consider myself a designated “Animaniac,” even today. And that is how you break the fourth wall, kids! 


THE GREAT WAKKAROTTI’S HITS: THE MUSIC OF ANIMANIACS

Need more proof this was a gold-laced passion project? Look no further than the musical score, probably one of the most expensive and time-consuming for any animated project at the time.  This system has been utilized in the previous Tiny Toon Adventures, but series producer Steven Spielberg expanded its use for the production of Animaniacs. Want to make this more admirable? Most of the time, Spielberg and his team created an original theme or score variation for every new episode created. That’s over 99 edits for the series span. Featuring a 35-piece orchestra and spearheaded not by one…not two…but SEVEN composers (including the late great Richard Stone), the resulting score was a marvel that even the Looney Tunes creators would applaud.



In fact, the music team actually DID want to make these guys proud. All original pieces were designed after the works of Carl Stalling, composer of the Looney Tunes segments. It doesn’t get any better than that, guys and gals.  


WHY BOTHER TO REHEARSE?

To conclude…if I could pick one word to describe this show, it would be “organic.” There are still times when I feel like I’m watching actual, flesh and blood comedians instead of cartoon animals. As a character designer of eight years, I am still astounded by the speed and precision of this series. In fact, when I use this description, only one other program comes to mind: the Golden Age Chuck Jones-produced Looney Tunes shorts.  So, when the creators of Animaniacs sought to emulate the slapstick humor and hyperactive dialogue of Daffy Duck, Bugs Bunny, and the gang, I think they more than pulled it off.

Honestly, I think Animaniacs was the Looney Tunes of its time. Animaniacs is a brilliant gem that needs to be shared and adored by the world. Its characters are timeless. Its comedy is amazing. And its music eternal. This variety show is for the kid in all of us, and it is for this reason alone why it continues to hold up in the 21st century.

And those are the facts. 



What do you think of Animaniacs? Does it still hold up as a classic TV show? Let us know in the comments below! 

Animaniacs is available on DVD and Instant Video on Amazon.com and on Netflix in the US. 


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