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.

Enjoy!

Image: Courtesy Warner Bros.

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Netflix’s New Year’s Eve for Kids (And Don’t Forget Mary!)

Here’s my personal New Year’s Eve philosophy — once the ball drops in Times Square in New York City, it’s all over. On the other hand, lots of other places hit midnight before Gotham, so just about any hour of the night, somebody’s shooting off fireworks.

So, there’s absolutely no reason why little kids need to stay up until midnight in your time zone. If you’re home with them on New Year’s Eve — or if you’ve left them with a babysitter — Netflix has come up with a fun way for them to count down to 2018 with some of their TV friends and still get to bed at a reasonable hour.

Netflix is offering on-demand, New Year’s Eve countdowns for kids. They range from two to five minutes long and feature some popular shows and characters, such as “All Hail King Julien,” “True and the Rainbow Kingdom,” “Puffin Rock,” “Beat Bugs,” “Skylanders Academy,” “Word Party,” “Larva” and “Pororo.”

Here’s a preview trailer:

To access these Netflix NYE on-demand countdowns, parents can search for “New Year’s Eve Countdown” or “Countdown” at any time during the day (they’ve been up since Dec. 26 and hang around for all of January). New for 2017, countdowns will also get their own icon in the Kids row for quick access to all nine videos.

Also, in case you were wondering, while Jan. 1, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is ordinarily a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, the USCCB has rescinded that this year because the holiday falls on a Monday. Of course, if you still want to go to Mass, feel free to do so.

You can also check out the “Mary” episode of our fast and fun catechetical Web series, “Catholic Central.”

Blessed Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, and Happy New Year!

Image: Courtesy Netflix

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Venerable Father Patrick Peyton — A Newly Ordained Priest

A newly ordained priest, recovering from near-fatal illness, looked at the world and prayed. He saw a world filled with violence, families torn apart, a pace of life that made it increasingly difficult for individuals to find time to be with people they love the most.

Authentic prayer would lead to peace. He believed in the presence of God, the compassion of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, and the goodness of people. He did not despair. He turned to prayer, and there he found hope and began a project that would consume his whole life.

That young priest was Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., who this week was declared Venerable by Pope Francis.

Previously he was named Servant of God, and being declared Venerable moves Father Peyton one more step up the rung toward possible sainthood. Learn more about him here.

The project idea that came to Peyton arose from his own experience growing up poor in Ireland and later emigrating to the United States. On the hardest days of work on the farm, the most discouraging days of poverty, Peyton’s family, (mother, father and nine siblings) gathered together each evening to pray the Rosary. The prayer gave them strength and consolation.

Later, as the siblings moved away to find work, many of them to United States, Peyton found that prayer sustained the unity of their family across great distances. He had a foundation of faith and love wherever he found himself. He knew he was not alone, and that he was loved. He wanted others to know that, too.

So, he started a national campaign to promote family prayer, especially the Rosary.

Not even five years ordained, and he had written every bishop in the country about his project. They responded enthusiastically. When offered radio time on a local station in Albany, New York, Peyton grabbed the chance. The response was overwhelming.

Peyton realized that the way to reach people was over the airwaves with mass media. In 1946, Father Peyton turned to Bishop Fulton Sheen, who advised the young priest on how to proceed. Within three years, Father Peyton had come to Hollywood and started a national radio program on the Mutual Broadcasting Network.

When searching for a tag line for his radio show, Peyton enlisted the help of ad writer Al Scapone. They came up with the slogan, “The Family That Prays Together, Stays Together,” now known all over the world. Peyton and the staff at Family Theater Productions produced radio plays with stars like Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Loretta Young, Kirk Douglas and Gregory Peck.

Radio led to film and TV projects, books and massive public prayer rallies in cities around the world, on six of the seven continents. (Sorry Antarctica.)

Here is an excerpt from a TV special, in which he prays the Rosary with Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta …

Father Peyton died in 1992 in San Pedro, California, cared for by the Little Sisters of the Poor. He had remained in California, so that to his end here on earth, he could continue his work at Family Theater, inspiring and encouraging families through media. His last projects were TV specials and a series of stories for teens.

As I write this, I am sitting in the very office that Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., worked in for the last 32 years of his life. I am sure that if he were here today he would be working with our production team making videos, posting messages on Facebook and photos on Instagram.

He would be doing it for the same reason our team here does it today.  We see a world filled with violence, families torn apart, a pace of life that makes it increasingly difficult for individuals to find time to be with people they love the  most.

We believe in the presence of God, the compassion of Mary the Mother of Jesus, and the goodness of people. Authentic prayer will lead to peace.

Father David Guffey, C.S.C., is the Head of Production for Family Theater Productions on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, California.

Image: Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Venerable Father Peyton — The Power of Family Prayer

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis had approved a declaration naming Family Theater Productions’ founder, Father Patrick Peyton, C.S.C., as “Venerable.”

He was previously named Servant of God, and this change moves him one step closer to sainthood (learn more here).

It’s a little crazy to think that a man who spent much of his priestly life in the heart of Hollywood (even today, our local neighborhood includes a strip joint) — and, having worked with many big stars, could properly be called a Hollywood producer — may one day become a saint.

But Venerable Father Peyton didn’t set out to be a producer, that was just the means he used to promote the idea of family prayer, especially the rosary.

As he famously said, “The family that prays together stays together.”

Over the last couple of years, we’ve spoken to Catholics at the annual Religious Education Congress in Anaheim, California, about a variety of subjects, including Family Prayer and, specifically, Father Peyton.

Here are some of them.

First, Bishop Vann, the Bishop of the Diocese of Orange (which includes Anaheim), talking about his own work promoting family prayer and what Father Peyton means to him:

Next is Joseph Nesta, the Senior Community Relations Officer for Immaculate Heart Radio, who speaks movingly of his personal connection to the Venerable Father Peyton and his work:

Finally, here’s Patrick Coffin, former host of “Catholic Answers Live” and currently podcasting and blogging at his own Websites — PatrickCoffin.net and PatrickCoffin.media — with a short and sweet message about Father Peyton and the power of family prayer:

And if you don’t know where to start, here’s Coffin’s own personal family prayer:

Image: Family Theater Productions

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

Stars and English Carols: Sting, Annie Lennox, Susan Boyle, Pentatonix and David Archuleta

As the current movie “The Man Who Invented Christmas” (reviewed here) reminds us, many of our current Christmas customs and decor date from the Victorian era in general, and from Charles Dickens’ 1843 novella “A Christmas Carol” in particular.

But an English Christmas doesn’t begin or end with Dickens, and here are some contemporary performers doing the Lord’s birthday, British style.

The Cherry Tree Carol

Perhaps dating back to the early 15th century, this is one of the few Christmas carols to feature Joseph — and it’s not a flattering portrayal (but, spoiler alert, it all turns out well!).

Here’s British rock star Sting in a 2009 performance at Durham Cathedral, a medieval church in England, currently Anglican but formerly Catholic (aren’t they all?):

In the Bleak Midwinter

A late 19th-century poem by Christina Rossetti set to music in the early 20th century, it’s sung for the BBC by “Britain’s Got Talent” runner-up Susan Boyle (she lost, inexplicably, to a dance group called “Diversity”).

The Holly and the Ivy

This is a traditional British folk carol (meaning nobody knows exactly how old it is), but it was first published in the early 19th century. Here’s a live version by rock singer Annie Lennox:

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen

Dating to the 16th century or earlier, this carol is actually referenced in “A Christmas Carol.” Here’s a very modern version by the a cappella group Pentatonix, which shot to fame after winning NBC’s reality-competition show “The Sing-Off.”

Coventry Carol

From the 16th century, this may be the only carol that refers directly to the Massacre of the Innocents by King Herod, and is a lullaby sung by the mothers of the doomed babies. The Holy Innocents are often left out of the Christmas narrative — not by us, as the Catholic Church has a feast day for them on Dec. 28 — but as horrific as the story is, this lovely carol commemorates them.

Here’s Sting again:

Here We Come A’Wassailing

The traditional English carol and New Year’s song dates from around 1850 — so if you see it performed in any version of “A Christmas Carol,” remind yourself that somebody didn’t do their homework.

Here’s a Celtic-flavored version featuring American singer/songwriter David Archuleta:

A Happy Christmas to you all!

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.

3 for Tuesday: ‘The Middle,’ ‘Scrooged,’ ‘Kranks’

The Middle

Our biweekly TV family-viewing guide returns with three choices between Tuesday and Thursday, starting with the Christmas episode from the final season of one of America’s favorite sitcoms, starring one of our favorite Catholic stars.

The Middle: The Christmas Miracle — Tuesday, 8 p.m., ABC

From ABC:

It’s Christmastime, and Frankie (Patricia Heaton) and Sue (Eden Sher) are devastated after Axl (Charlie McDermott) informs them that he’s not going to church this year because he’s beginning to question his faith. Meanwhile, Mike (Neil Flynn) goes to war with the Glossner kids after they keep defacing his new, giant inflatable snowman; and Brick (Atticus Shaffer) goes all out in an attempt to wrap his first present for a planned Christmas Yankee Swap.

Here’s a promo:

Fans know that Heaton is a devout Catholic, but they may not be aware that Atticus Shaffer is also an outspoken Christian. Here’s a clip of his appearance on season 2 of the interview show “Frankly Faraci” on Dove Channel (click here for season one; click here for info on season 2 on Dove Channel).

MythBusters: Star Wars Myths Countdown — Wednesday, 8 p.m., Science Channel

With “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” hitting theaters this weekend, seems like a good time for the MythBusters to look at the scientific truth behind a lot of the show’s most spectacular special effects.

Speaking of the movie, here’s an extended trailer:

Christmas With the Kranks (2004) — Thursday, 8 p.m., Lifetime

This one wound up on the USCCB’s list of recommended Christmas movies, Here’s what the U.S. bishops had to say:

Delightful yuletide comedy about a Chicago couple (Tim Allen and Jamie Lee Curtis) who boycott Christmas after their daughter leaves home to join the Peace Corps, sparking unforeseen reactions from their militantly merry neighbors (led by Dan Aykroyd). The film is based on the novella “Skipping Christmas” by John Grisham. Director Joe Roth delivers a dose of holly-jolly fun that is, by turns, extremely funny and poignantly tender, and its warmhearted message of selflessness, family and coming together as a community clearly embodies the truest spirit of the season. Some suggestive humor, comic violence and mildly crude language.

See you later with 5 for Friday, looking forward to the weekend.

Image: Courtesy ABC

Learn more about Family Theater Productions’ upcoming, new and vintage productions as well as our Hollywood Outreach Programs; and, of course, you’ll find us on Facebook.

Visit our YouTube and Ustream Channels for our contemporary and classic productions.