Recently, my children discovered Animaniacs on Amazon Prime (if you have an account, it’s one of the currently free streaming options). As such, I’ve been watching more Animaniacs than I have since the early 90s when it originally came out. As such, I’ve learned a thing or two about myself and the show watching it as a parent with kids now.
5. The Show Can Be Incredibly Dated
There is no shortage of pop culture references in the show. There are references to Siskel and Ebert, both of whom are now deceased. Garth Brooks and Crystal Gale give out an award to the Brain in an episode, both haven’t been culturally relevant in a while. There are Home Alone references, Love Boat references, and, of course, references to Tiny Tunes which has been gone almost as long as this show. Not to mention the entire theme song includes “Wacko packs away the snacks, while Bill Clinton plays the sax.” My kids don’t know about Bill Clinton, or any President really before Obama as they’re 4 and 6, only starting to learn about history. And even if they did know about Bill Clinton, what they’d know would not involve his saxophone performance on Arsenio’s show.
4. Nothing About Slappy Squirrel is Redeeming
Do you remember the Slappy Squirrel cartoons? The curmudgeon of Animaniacs who was a “former Looney Tunes star” that everyone conveniently either forgot about or hated. She’s crabby, she’s rude, and she slaps people a lot. “Now that’s comedy” she says after hitting people. No, it’s sad and makes me sad for watching this character. The best moment from Slappy was when characters modeled after Siskel and Ebert talked about how not funny she was for a few minutes. Sadly, this was followed by Slappy stalking the two of them, strapping bombs to them, and eventually making fat jokes about Ebert. Now that’s comedy…not really.
3. A Lot of it Still Holds Up
While there are a lot of dated elements and I despise the Slappy segments, a lot of Animaniacs still holds up. There are two segments I have in mind when I say that. The first, is Pinky & the Brain. Their quest for world domination while being genetically modified lab rats still brings a smile to my face after all these years. The fact that, in the end, we still are not sure who the real genius is, is funny. And they seem to find different ways of making the whole idea fresh – from Brain becoming a country music star to somehow take over the world or stealing the Russian crown jewels, believing that would inherently make him the new Czar. It’s still a lot of fun and generally less offensive than some of the other elements of the show. The other part that is a favorite which I totally forgot – Chicken Boo. Why is a giant chicken getting into real life situations funny? Why is it these random scenes with Chicken Boo as a Confederate General, or as a ballet star, or as a random teenager’s boyfriend – just make me smile. And my kids like them too! But you’re not a man – you’re a Chicken Boo.
2. The Wheel of Morality Is Still Funny, But Lost on Kids
The Wheel of Morality parts of the episodes are awesome. For those who do not remember Animaniacs, as each full on episode is a collection of shorts which are generally unrelated to one another. Periodically Yacko, Wacko, and Dot would spin the “Wheel of Morality” to figure out what moral lesson they should have learned during the episode. Sometimes it’s to brush after every meal. One time it was, “Elvis lives on in our hearts, in his music, and in a trailer park outside Milwaukee.” The randomness which is also completely unrelated to the actual episode is a hilarious interlude to end the episode. That said, most of the jokes are either incredibly dated or lost on kids. The humor in it is not that it’s inherently funny to say, “Brush your teeth;” it’s that after watching an episode of Pinky and the Brain trying to take over the world, Chicken Boo dressed as a ballet dancer, and the Warners running around the countryside saying “Brush your teeth” is the moral seems so preposterous by juxtaposition that it’s hilarious. The disparity is the humor and that’s what I get out of this. My kids who, as mentioned are 4 and 6, like watching the Warners spin a wheel and giggle when they do.
1. My Kids Still Love It
It has it’s flaws. It’s old. It’s dated. It has some crass jokes at times. Slappy is pretty much just awful. But in spite of it all, my kids really like it. They sat for hours watching Animaniacs episodes. The references were so far removed from the culture they live in and there were episodes which were actually steeped in US history, making it hard to follow without a working knowledge of some of the basics. They don’t know, but they followed along and enjoyed the slapstick.
And maybe that’s it. At it’s core, Animaniacs wasn’t trying to be something bigger than a show with random, assorted slapstick humor. There were some deeper punchlines. There were some jokes which were bigger than a dude falling on a banana peel, but in the end – the dude slipping on his face is what little kids find funny. And frankly, so do us big kids too – is that really a problem?