Hulu Bets on Family Viewing With an ‘Animaniacs’ Reboot

Parents who grew up in the ’90s — and a lot of other folks who were adults then — will be happy to hear that Hulu is rebooting the animated series “Animaniacs.”

That’s good news for fans, and good news for families, since they’re one of the reasons cited for the return of the show starring the three zany Warner siblings — brothers Yakko and Wakko, and sister Dot — who live in the water tower at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank.

Here’s a picture of them, from my office wall at Family Theater Productions in Hollywood.

Here’s what the press release had to say about why the show is coming back:

Hulu, Amblin Television and Warner Bros. Animation today announced a new deal to create and premiere a brand-new version of the iconic family-friendly cartoon franchise Animaniacs. Under the two-season straight-to-series order, Steven Spielberg will return as executive producer of the series, with Sam Register, President, Warner Bros. Animation and Warner Digital Series, and Amblin Television Co-Presidents Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank also serving as executive producers. The series marks the first Hulu Original made for families, and with the legacy of these beloved characters, is intended to provide a co-viewing opportunity and experience for families to enjoy together. New episodes are set to premiere on the premium streaming service in 2020.

In addition to announcing the new series, Hulu and Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution also inked a new pact that makes Hulu the exclusive streaming home to the complete library of all 99 episodes of the original Animaniacs, as well as Pinky and the Brain, the subsequent Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain, and the complete Tiny Toon Adventures collection. As of today, Hulu subscribers can watch, catch up and relive their favorite moments from the original series with the whole family.

So, today, I fired up Hulu and had a look at the episodes, to see if they’re as family-friendly as I remember — since it’s going to be a while before we’ll see new installments.

“Animaniacs” is fast-paced and wickedly funny, with both slapstick sight gags and witty banter. There’s a very inside-showbiz feel to it, and a fair amount of irreverence. For example, one segment has the Animaniacs bedeviling a toga-clad Michelangelo as he’s painting the Sistine Chapel. When “His Eminence” finally arrives to survey the results, he’s played by Steven Spielberg, and the ceiling has had a bit of an “E.T”-style makeover.

But, as with most of the show, there’s no intent to be insulting or demeaning, just to be entirely wacky. To their credit, the sibs are a bit concerned about painting naked people in a church (so were some clerics at the time).

In between the comedy, the show manages to squeeze in some actual education, such as Yakko singing all the names of the world’s nations, or the trio meeting Einstein and helping with the theory of relativity.

If you’ve never seen “Animaniacs,” here’s a helpful guide:

The show is from the ’90s, so younger folk might not get the appearance of a sax-playing Bill Clinton in the opening credits, and some of the animated stars featured may look a bit different now (such as “Lethal Weapon”-era Mel Gibson, who head-butts some food at a party).

The siblings are also always up for some outrageous flirting, especially when the brothers see the curvy nurse who works for their favorite frenemy, WB psychiatrist Dr. Scratchansniff — hence the show’s catchphrase, “Hello, Nurse!” As the boys leap into the nurse’s arms and plant kisses, Dot just sighs and goes, “Boys.” This doesn’t mean she’s above smooching and flirting with men herself. But that’s as far as the innuendo goes.

Characters also get squashed by cartoon anvils and blown up at regular intervals, but everyone survives.

The littlest kids won’t get most of the verbal humor, but they will get the physical comedy (and the occasional double entendre will sail right over them). On the upside, this is one show that older grade schoolers, tweens, teens and adults can all enjoy together.

Now, we’ll just have to see if the reboot manages to capture the spirit of the original. One problem with reboots is that times and tastes change — and these days, often not for the better. What seemed fresh and funny in the ’90s may upset today’s excessively-PC culture. Here’s to hoping that Spielberg’s clout means that we won’t wind up with a watered-down — or even worse, dumbed-down — “Animaniacs.”

In the meantime, parents can share the existing “Animaniacs” — and its spin-off “Pinky and the Brain,” and the equally wacky (and showbizzy) “Tiny Toon Adventures” (a younger version of Looney Tunes) — with the next generation.

It’s not “Veggie Tales” or “Davey and Goliath,” but it’s not meant to be. It’s smart and funny and endlessly imaginative — even more so if anyone in the family loves classic Hollywood and Warner Bros. animation.


Image: Courtesy Warner Bros.

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