'Animaniacs' Review: 'Shameless' nostalgia cash-grab wins with effortlessly clever and zany humor in reboot

The show effortlessly blends biting satire with comedy, bringing back the best of a classic show that's been too long off the air


                            'Animaniacs' Review: 'Shameless' nostalgia cash-grab wins with effortlessly clever and zany humor in reboot
(Hulu)

With the endless parade of reboots and revivals flooding television today, it's not uncommon for some shows to lampshade the phenomenon with a wink and nod to the audience. No show, however, has done it with as much joy and zeal as 'Animaniacs' has, and that's the show in a nutsell — satire defined by its absolute joy and zeal. Hulu's 'Animaniacs' has more than justified the decision to reboot it, and in a landscape full of satirical animated shows, it more than earns its place.

Before the show's release, we wondered whether or not the show would manage to stay relevant after 22 years of being off air. We needn't have worried, as the show both makes fun of and embraces the status quo of entertainment today right from the intro. The first episode milked the meta-narrative for all its worth, launching into a song and dance number about how all reboots and remakes are tired, shameless cash grabs — but as they point out by the end of the song, they admit they're doing it, so it's cool.

'Animaniacs' feels very much like the best of 'The Simpsons' and 'Looney Tunes' all mashed together. The show's mile-a-minute comedy mixes in satire, wackiness, physical comedy, deep cut references and meta humor together so smoothly they make it look effortless. Deadpool only wishes he could break the fourth wall that easily. There is a lot of clever writing behind every line, enhanced with animation that's filled with a frantic energy. The art's been slightly updated since the days of the '90s, but only enough to make it fit into modern times. It's a barely noticeable shift from times past. 

The show follows the wacky adventures of the Warner siblings, Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell) and Dot (Tress Macneille), who are very aware they've been off the air for 22 years. Each episode (with one or two exceptions) is divided into three parts — one main storyline featuring the Warner siblings, a shorter 'Pinky & The Brain' segment, and an even shorter sketch with the Warner siblings wrapping the whole thing up. The 'Pinky & The Brain' segments turn out to be a perfect middle between the two high-energy Warner siblings segments. There's a reduced focus on the show's supporting cast, but it feels like that works in the show's favor. 'Animaniacs' knows its strengths, and leans on them, hard.

Energy fuels every minute of the Warner siblings' comedy. The jokes keep coming at you, the ridiculousness is dialed up to an 11, and it's all so earnestly fun that it's hard not to laugh. While there's a timelessness to a lot of its humor, the show has no problem tackling modern issues as well, in its own signature way. One particularly memorable episode was its take on gun control laws, with adorable "buns" filling up the studio lot, threatening mass bun violence. The show doesn't bother to be subtle about its allegories, both in the Warner siblings and the 'Pinky & the Brain' segments.

As reboots go, it's hard to imagine any series that has done it as well as 'Animaniacs' has. It may be a blatant, shameless cash grab, but even if it is — it's a successful one.

All episodes of 'Animaniacs' Season 1 are now available to stream on Hulu.

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