US animated tv series (1993-1998; vt Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs). Amblin Entertainment, Warner Bros. Animation. Created by Tom Ruegger. Executive producer Steven Spielberg. Directors include Alfred Gimeno, Dave Marshall and Rusty Mills. Writers include Peter Hastings, Nicholas Hollander, Randy Rogel, Paul Rugg and Sherri Stoner. Voice cast includes Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, Rob Paulsen and Sherri Stoner. 99 21-minute episodes. Colour.
A sketch show mainly featuring anthropomorphized animals, the most prominent being three Warner Brothers' 1930s animation stars, their genus unclear: Yakko (Paulsen), Wakko (Harnell), and Dot (MacNeille) (aka "The Warner Brothers and their sister Dot"): considered too anarchic for public consumption, they were locked in the studio's iconic water tower and erased from the company's history. Sixty-five years later they escaped. Stories usually involve authority figures trying to impose themselves on the siblings, who react with shenanigans. Adventures include abduction by Aliens (with Alien (1979) referenced); going to hell; meeting Sherlock Holmes; a send-up of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (1993) (see Shōtarō Ishinomori); and Parodies of 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Star Trek.
Entertaining though Yakko, Wakko and Dot are, the best segments featured a pair of lab mice who soon had their own eponymous series, Pinky & The Brain (1995-1998). The other standout was Slappy Squirrel (Stoner), an aged Looney Toons star, violent, cranky and disdainful of modern mores. It might be argued this was the show's wildest conceit, given the twentieth-century animation golden age's lack of female protagonists (see Feminism). Steeped in the Clichés of cartoons ("thank you Mr Exposition") and tactically blunt ("somebody get me a peen-ball hammer"), the show leaves the fourth wall in a constant state of disrepair: a brief cameo by Yakko, Wakko and Dot elicits her remark to camera "that was pointless". Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is sent up. There are many explosions.
Other regular components with fantastic elements were Chicken Boo, a giant chicken who dresses as human and takes up many professions, where only one person – ignored by all – recognizes him as a fowl, others feting him until the scales fall from their eyes and Boo must flee; the Goodfeathers, three Mafioso pigeons; and The Hip Hippos, married rich hippopotami. Though the first has satirical touches about the recognition of talent in show business, these were largely unremarkable.
Animaniacs was a reaction to the then bland state of contemporary children's cartoons, the result of pressure from moral guardians – a situation that was Satirized in-show. It sought, with some success, to recapture the Humour and attitude of the Warner Bros. Cartoons, with a healthy dose of the Marx Brothers thrown in: there are wisecracks aplenty and much (cartoon) violence, plus occasional innuendo for the adults. The humour does not always target children, and sometimes not even their parents: one sketch's running gag that Milton Berle hated Yakko is presumably one for the grandparents. Much beloved, Animaniacs is an important chapter of animation history.
A subsequent film, Wakko's Wish (1999), though of merit, was released straight to video. Two further seasons have been announced, the first to be broadcast in 2020. [SP]