The heyday of the television variety show was already long past when an animation studio decided to try their hand at it in the mid 1990s. Thank goodness they did, though.
What is it?
Animaniacs is a Saturday-morning-type cartoon series which ran for not quite 100 episodes, and then a movie.
What kind of story is it?
It isn’t. It really, really isn’t. This is straight-up sketch comedy, marrying classic variety-show stylings to something not entirely unlike Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but entirely in animated form. We meet a dizzying (and sometimes ditzy) array of characters and laugh at them. Sometimes with them as well, but mostly at them.
Why do you like it?
Animaniacs tried to have something for everyone: Slapstick cartoon violence, high-level wordplay, musical numbers, surrealistic romps, and so forth. Not all of it worked but much of it worked superbly well.
It was also a masterclass in making kids’ cartoons work for the adults in the room. It got away with the “fingerprints” gag, for Pete’s sake! Obviously, the creators were a subversive force to be reckoned with.
What might one not like about it?
Many, many, many ideas made their way into the show. Not all of them work… characters like the Hip Hippos, among others.
The variety show template has the potential for misfires baked right into the concept. Also, it’s still a kids show. Your tolerance for such things is a factor I cannot judge on your behalf.
Other thoughts about it?
Yes! So many! Such as!
- Some of my favorite bits are essentially running interstitial gags, such as “Good Idea, Bad Idea.”
- Obviously, were it not for Animaniacs we’d not have Pinky and the Brain, and that would’ve been a loss for modern culture too great to calculate, even for Brain.
- At least one person on the creative staff was a big Marx Brothers fan, and I appreciate the heck out of that.
- “United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Jamaica, Peru…” If I haven’t just earwormed you, then you need to go watch the show.
- Before there were Marvel Cinematic Universe “credit cookies” segments, there were gag credits in Animaniacs. “If You’d Like A Transcript Of Today’s Program- Start Typing!”
I could go on, but won’t. I could, though.
Where can I watch it?
As of this writing Animaniacs is available on Netflix. Barring that, you can pay to stream it on Amazon, or buy the DVD boxed sets.