That said, there are some jokes (mostly of the political variety) that feel immediately dated upon arrival. Perhaps all the Russian election interference humor seemed topical back in 2018 when the writers were doom-scrolling Twitter for Mueller Report updates, but that material feels passé in post-election 2020. One particularly Russia-heavy segment probably would have been played out even in 1993, with the way it relies on so many stale Cold War stereotypes. The series is at its best when it finds the balance between topical humor and timeless shenanigans. Thankfully, most of the segments manage to toe that line.
While the show sounds as good as it ever did thanks to the return of voice actors Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille, it looks quite a bit better. Again, the series has hardly reinvented its faux-retro WB animation style, and the switch to digital technology allows the animators to be bolder and more ambitious. There are plenty of catchy, visually enticing musical numbers. And occasionally the show will venture far afield, such as dropping a bombastic anime parody on viewers with no warning. The fact that all of this is achieved largely through the use of hand-drawn animation makes it all the more impressive. If you’re tired of sterile, CG-heavy cartoons, Animaniacs may well be a breath of fresh air.
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Fans will be happy to know Pinky and the Brain have also returned for the revival, and still voiced by Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche, respectively. These two have changed even less with time, though the first Pinky and the Brain segment does do a more satisfying job of exploring what exactly Brain has been up to these last two decades. These segments succeed in offering a comedic palate cleanser and a fun showcase for a maniacal genius and his “maybe not as dumb as he looks” BFF. Interestingly, there’s even a hint of an ongoing storyline here, which would be another welcome way of differentiating Pinky and the Brain from the standard Animaniacs adventures.
For better or worse, none of the original show’s other supporting characters seem to have made the jump, at least based on the sampling of episodes Hulu provided. There’s no Slappy Squirrel, Goodfeathers, or Rita and Runt here. The revamped intro teases a new cast of second-stringers who have been “focus-tested” for 2020, but there’s little sign of those newbies so far. Four of these five episodes follow a strict 1st Animaniacs segment/Pinky and the Brain segment/2nd Animaniacs segment formula, with only one introducing anything new.
But to be frank, that’s probably for the best. As great as the original Animaniacs was about experimenting and pushing against the confines of traditional slapstick WB cartoons, none of those extraneous segments ever connected as deeply as the Animaniacs/Pinky and the Brain tag-team combo. Doubling down on the big two ensures the revival sheds a lot of the tedious fluff of the original.
Animaniacs is, ultimately, a series that knows its audience and caters directly to that nostalgia for the hallowed days of Fox Kids and Kids’ WB. The original Animaniacs was a PG-13 series disguised as a PG series, and the revival seems even more directly targeted towards adults who want to see the Warners make a mockery of 21st Century life. That may limit the revival’s appeal somewhat, but if you fall within that target audience, it’s unlikely you’ll come away disappointed.
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