The '90s cartoon revival phenomenon has touched many a property these past few years — from "Ducktales" to "Tiny Toons," reboots have been a popular method to milk the people’s need for nostalgia in media. "Animaniacs," an animated variety show produced by Steven Spielberg, was not immune to the reboot treatment — but it works for them 'cause it's cool! (or so they say). But is it really? Now that the series has reached its untimely end, I'll catch you up on what you missed till that point, and then I'll give my personal verdict.
Season 1 of the "Animaniacs" reboot had high hopes and gusto to match, but it fell flatter than a villain hit by a giant mallet. It wasn’t terrible — save for a few gross-out moments that really didn’t add anything to the show other than the modern demand for gross out shots — but it did seem lacking. The Warner siblings seemed to be caricatures of their past selves. Yakko yaks (and sings), yeah, but what else does he do? Wakko, the self proclaimed “eating stuff guy,” does little more than stuff his face full of anything he can get his hands on. And Dot? Well, she’s still cute, but has more bite and sass than cuteness, making her feel unbalanced. The mice are closer in personality to their '90s selves, but Brain seems to lean more towards his megalomaniacal side in the reboot. The characters do change slightly over the course of the three seasons in the reboot, which ultimately does end up working out.
But something’s missing from this menagerie of madness. Where are the Goodfeathers? Slappy Squirrel? Rita and Runt? Simply put, they didn’t make the cut. The new series focuses heavily on the Warner siblings and the mice, but neglected to make Animaniacs what Animaniacs was — a variety show. There are other segments, new ones, but they aren’t nearly as memorable and there aren’t nearly as many. Some have their charm, such as Starbox and Cindy, but otherwise, not many would bat an eye at them.
Season one showed the reboot had potential, but would season two prove it's up to snuff?
Fortunately for the fans, Season 2 was much better than the first. The characters felt much more fleshed out, with personalities closer to their originals. The writing is also sharper. One example is a parody of “Duck Amuck” (“Yakko Amakko”) that has Yakko invoke his cartooney wrath on a new “friend,” an animator who thought it would be a good idea to mess with him. It’s a pretty cool segment, and incorporates some modernity into the old “cartoon getting drawn by animator” gag, making you wonder if this is what Duck Amuck might look like today.
The Warner sibs feel a lot more rounded out, and animation styles are played with more too. The strongest segment is clearly still the mice’s, with their friendship (relationship? As Pinky says of their relationship status, it's complicated) evolving. This season was promising, and made us wait eagerly for the arrival of Season 3.
While the variety show overall lacks major continuity, Season 3 picks up right where it left off. The new CEO, Nora, has been demoted to security guard because of her frustration with Ralph (the previous security guard) becoming head of Warner Brothers through lineage (don’t think about it too much). The Warner sibs are locked in the water tower once again. This time, they’re stuck, as Nora is a much more competent guard than Ralph would ever be. The siblings worry for their future, so they come up with a plan to get things back to normal.
We then transition to another segment of this variety show. This time, the stars are two genetically altered lab mice.
Pinky and the Brain has arguably been the strongest segment on the Animaniacs reboot, and the most popular. We start off the season in Pinky’s perspective through a how-to video livestream. In it he details “how to friendship,” using Brain as the subject of his video. Of course, Brain is hard at work preparing a ridiculously elaborate plan to take over the world — and of course, in attempt to try to get the megalomaniacal mouse to smile, Pinky accidentally ruins the plan.
The episode ends with the end of part one, where we see what Ralph as CEO of Warner Brothers looks like. Let’s just say he doesn’t have much variety in movie ideas. Eventually he resigns from his position as CEO and returns to being a security guard, to the siblings’ relief, and all goes back to its usual zaniness.
As the season progresses, we get several parodies. One tries to comment on child influencers (such as JoJo Siwa), others are parodies of well known films. For example, the Pinky and the Brain segments “Mad Mouse: Furry Road” and “Groundmouse Day” (…I’ll let you guess what those are parodying) among many, many other references and callbacks. This sort of balances out the meta humor they’ve used in the past to say “WE’RE NOT LIKE OTHER REBOOTS!!”, and while I find the excessive references to be a tad better than the excessive meta humor, I personally wish we could’ve gotten a better balance of them both.
They also did a holiday episode, which consisted of three segments: “How The Brain Thieved Christmas,” “Santamaniacs,” and “How The Brain Thieved Christmas: Part 2.” This special being heavy with the use of Pinky and the Brain was likely in reference to the special “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” from the "Pinky and the Brain" spinoff from the '90s, which was such a well made episode all around it won a Primetime Emmy Award in 1996. They do reference it in the reboot, I will say. The plot of the reboot segment is surprisingly similar to the Christmas special from the '90s, save for a twist at the end. I liked the episode overall, but found the Pinky and the Brain segment particularly sweet.
They even brought back a beloved character from the original (!!) … for only a minute. I won’t say who, but the minute the character appeared on screen just their mere presence made me smile, it had been such a long time and their humor was still the same. Suffice to say, this season, while strong in its characterizations overall (the Warner sibs feel much more like the Warner sibs), I found the excessive use of parody a bit much. It seemed as if they leaned more into that this season than they did last, which I feel comes from the fact that their parodies were directly referenced as a punchline rather than relying on viewer’s knowledge. Some references felt shoehorned in, which made me break from the moment a bit, but otherwise, they handled it as best they could.
Unfortunately, the series was not renewed for a fourth season, and instead of the usual 13-episode order, they only got 10 for season three. This meant significant plotholes in continuity (of the little they had) and much unfinished chaos for the Warner sibs to cause.
The mice’s plotline with a new villain, Julia, as well as their own relationship status had to be put to a halt. Storyboard artist Lisa Vandenberg (aka “geezerflakes” online) has posted storyboards both used and unused that they made, portraying the progression of Pinky and Brain’s relationship; Brain’s refusal to admit his feelings of companionship to Pinky had been portrayed before, mostly LGBTQ-coded in some way. These storyboards made that more overt — the show seemed to already be leaning towards developing the mice’s relationship in this way, but it might have been shown more in future seasons, which we know will never happen now. We did get to see a lot of this played out in “All’s Fair in Love and Door,” as well as other instances during the show’s run, but unfortunately, we’ll never see how it turns out for them.
I feel as though this season would’ve faired even better than it currently does now if only there had been the promise of another season — that way there would be a chance for loose ends to be tied. Even season 2 felt more complete in that sense than season 3; the second season seemed to have been written with an immediate end in mind, and while the characters’ personalities might not have reached their endpoint, they were alluded to in a way that makes the viewer wish for more, but ultimately must remain content about. Season 3 was much more ambitious on that end, so when it ended, it did so abruptly, and quite literally went out with a bang. It felt incomplete, aggravatingly so.
In summary, the reboot of "Animaniacs" was fun and nostalgic. It wasn’t particularly revolutionary, and some of the jokes felt forced at times; by no means was it perfect. But I had a good time watching it, and it was what drew me into the "Animaniacs" franchise as a whole, so I consider that a massive win. If you’re a fan of animation at all, I’d say to give it a watch. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but hey, they’re not the ones writing this review — and those are the facts.