Critics Say Certified Fresh Animaniacs Revival Is Nostalgic, Self-Aware Fun

Filled with classic characters, zany comedy, and catchy musical numbers, Hulu's latest animated offering is sure to please fans old and new.

by | December 1, 2020 | Comments

It’s been 22 years since the series finale of Animaniacs hit the air. Much has changed in the world of cartoon entertainment. But nostalgia never goes out of style. Hulu execs understood this when they announced the highly-anticipated reboot, now considered a Hulu Original, back in 2018. As an added bonus, all 99 episodes of the original series, which premiered back in 1993, were added to Hulu’s streaming library.

The original Animaniacs had an anthology format, but the program was generally centered on three zany characters: The Warner brothers Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell), and the Warner sister, Dot (Tress MacNeille). In each episode, these three troublemakers would escape their water tower prison on the Warner Bros. lot and wreak havoc as they went, interacting with celebrities and iconic characters from the big screen while delivering hilarious riffs on pop culture and some catchy songs along the way. And of course, there was Pinky (Paulsen) and The Brain (Maurice LaMarche) — the mouse duo hell-bent on world domination were so popular, they even got their own spinoff.

And now, Hulu has gotten the band back together. Most of the original voice cast has returned, along with Steven Spielberg, who is once again the executive producer on the series. All 13 episodes are now streaming. But is the return of the animated classic as satisfying as fans are hoping? Here’s what critics say about the now–Certified Fresh first season of Hulu’s Animaniacs.

How Does the Animation Compare to the Original?

(Photo by Amblin Television/Warner Bros. Animation)

One thing that’s clear from the start is that the production paid close attention to how the animation of the original worked when it was at its best. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot have been updated to 2020 without losing any of the zany stretching and wacky expressions that made them endearing in the first place. It’s by no means the same show (and the updated Acme Labs building and Pinky and the Brain intro should make that immediately apparent), but it pays all due respect to its delightfully disrespectful past. — Rollin Bishop,

It has an updated digital, vectored look. Much like the original series, seven different animation studios across the globe worked on this, but it manages to stay consistent. For starters, all the character designs have thinner outlines. There’s no shadowing and it leans more towards flat designs. The backgrounds, updated to resemble something like a watercolor painting, and the art direction are gorgeous. — Rendy Jones, Rendy Reviews

It copies the animation style of the original, though the now-digital format gives the human characters an uncanny valley feel. The clean lines and brighter tones clash with the show’s purposefully ugly moments—like watching a toddler scream or the new Warner Bros. CEO laugh maniacally at the idea she’d ever eat refined sugar. (It reminded me a bit of Tom and Jerry: Willy Wonky and the Chocolate Factory, which is something I never want to say again.) — Beth Elderkin,

What Other Characters Show Up?

(Photo by Amblin Television/Warner Bros. Animation)

It’s also worth noting that while several segments from the previous version didn’t make the jump — so long Slappy Squirrel and Rita and Runt — there do appear to be entirely new segments in the mix this time around.— Rollin Bishop,

We don’t have all the secondary characters back — yet. I am really hoping to see the Goodfeathers and Buttons and… well… everyone! We did get Pinky and the Brain though and that is something I cannot complain about. It was so great to see them still trying to take over the world 22 years later. — Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

Only one of the new episodes included a brand-new short in a similar vein, called Starbox and Cindy, that featured an alien trying to escape a little girl’s house. It had the most interesting animation choices by far and I loved how it featured an actual child’s voice, but it wasn’t an instant classic. It did leave me hoping to see more original shorts, though, as the episodes felt kind of repetitive without them. — Beth Elderkin,

You can’t have “Animaniacs” without “Pinky and the Brain,” and the series returns the saga of the two mice seeking world domination despite their “Of Mice and Men” dynamic. Even more than the Warner siblings sketches, these segments certainly feel like unabashed continuations of the same series. And even with some peppering of jokes about memes, or references to the movie “Ex Machina,” it’s easy for the show to feel like it’s on autopilot. It’s the same thing they do every night, but it’s still a segment that pales compared to Dot, Wakko, and Yakko’s antics. — Nick Allen,

Do the Jokes Still Land?

(Photo by Amblin Television/Warner Bros. Animation)

The same kind of humour found within the 90s series can be found in the new Animaniacs. It was both brilliant and nostalgic. — Britany Murphy, Geeks of Color

The series is as topical as things can get for writing the new episodes in 2018. Only five episodes were available for review and I quickly devoured all of them just before Election Day. There’s no shortage of material when it comes to jokes about Russia. The series even has an election special that is on the money–it’s a basic bit that satires what we see on cable news.— Danielle Solzman, Solzy at the Movies

The series fails in part because it didn’t update its nostalgia to make sense for fans who were kids then but are adults now. Instead, it’s stuck in the ’90s. This presents itself in dated references to things like Seinfeld’s “The dingo ate your baby” and a Cold War-esque view of Russia. During times Animaniacs skews more modern, the satire is not “biting,”—as Dot herself claims in an early episode—it’s weak. — Beth Elderkin,

Instead of going to the rich well of entertainment industry nonsense and historical larks that kept Ruegger’s “Animaniacs” afloat, Wild’s “Animaniacs,” relishes the opportunity to take shots at Politics Today in a way that has kept “Family Guy” running for years, but rarely fits the Animaniacs themselves. Yakko, Wakko and Dot are shrewd, sure, but they’ve always rather been agents of chaos accidentally on purpose upending the world than just snarky pundits commenting on its flaws. — Caroline Framke, Variety

Any Final Thoughts?

(Photo by Amblin Television/Warner Bros. Animation)

Some bits are far better than others, but thanks to the brief runtime for any given segment, nothing ever truly overstays its welcome. If the gang being extremely gross, then extremely cute, then extremely gross again doesn’t sit right with you, all you need to do is wait another eight minutes for something else to come along. — Rollin Bishop,

The show’s spirit is still completely intact. It hits all the beats that captured what the original was all about: the self-aware meta-humor, catchy music, unapologetic bashing of modern celebrities and figures, and satirical commentary on the state of the world that will fly over kids’ heads but that adults will immediately comprehend, all while being targeted towards a general family audience. — Rendy Jones, Rendy Reviews

So while the 1993 “Animaniacs” was aggressively self-aware, this 2020 version feels aggressively so, even defiant, as it constantly works to justify its existence. — Caroline Framke, Variety

Filled with hilarious songs, self aware main characters, and of course current event humor, the Animaniacs 2020 reboot is something that everyone can enjoy! If you like the original show, you are sure to love this one! — Tessa Smith, Mama’s Geeky

Hulu’s Animaniacs is fun, outlandish, nostalgic, and manages to bring a fresh modern perspective. — Daniel Hart, Ready Steady Cut

Animaniacs season 1 is now available on Hulu.

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