Animaniacs, also known as Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs, is an American animated comedic musical Variety Show that ran for 99 episodes (consisting of 274 segments) over five seasons from 1993 to 1998.
Produced by Steven Spielberg, Animaniacs was a revival of an old show concept: a collection of cartoon shorts in a half-hour kids' show. Rather than recycling or remaking old theatrical shorts, Animaniacs relied on original stories featuring original characters (though it did indulge in a bit of self-referential cliché-riding at times). This approach was unique in the 1990s, since goofball/slapstick-type shows (think Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies) were being systematically driven out by Moral Guardians who thought that slapstick was too violent for children's TV (something that was frequently a target of the show's humor).
It originally aired on Fox Kids (on the Fox television network), and later Kids' WB!, both of which were programming blocks on broadcast network stations, making Animaniacs a godsend to kids without cable. On January 7, 2013, the show began airing on The Hub. The whole series is now available on DVD and digital streaming.
The animation was done by 8 studios: Wang from Taiwan (35 half-hours), Akom from South-Korea (24,5 half-hours), TMS from Japan (22 half-hours), Star Toons from Chicago (10,5 half-hours), Freelance from New-Zeeland (4,5 half-hours), Koko from South-Korea (2 half-hours), Philippine from Philippines (1 segment) and Varga from Hungary (1 segment).
Shorts were generally self-contained, though they frequently crossed over with each other without much warning. Each had a cast and premise of their own:
- The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister): This was the main segment of the show. Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell), and sister Dot (Tress MacNeille) were cartoon characters that resembled anthropomorphic dogs or cats note . Their Backstory indicates that they were created in the 1930s by the Warner Studios animators, then leapt off the page and ran amok through the studio. The Warners' cartoons ("which made absolutely no sense") were put in the studio vault, never to be released. As for the Warners themselves ("who made even less sense"), they were locked in the studio's water tower and the studio publicly disavowed any knowledge of their existence. The Warners eventually escape 65 years later, and Hilarity Ensues. Studio psychiatrist Dr. Otto Scratchansniff (Rob Paulsen), his exceptionally-hot female assistant (Tress MacNeille), dimwitted studio security guard Ralph (Frank Welker), and blustering studio president Thaddeus Plotz (Frank Welker again) suffer more from the trio's antics than anyone else. Some of the shorts involving the Warners were their "classic" cartoons, which played with different animation styles and tropes based on the cartoons of the time they were said to be from. When not following classic formulas, the Warners engaged in parodies of pop-culture or inserted themselves into history (wherein they would simultaneously both annoy and inspire famous figures like Abraham Lincoln and Ludwig van Beethoven). Not content with Breaking the Fourth Wall in their own shorts, they would occasionally come dashing through the other characters' shorts, usually with Ralph in hot pursuit.
- Pinky and the Brain: A pair of lab mice named Pinky (Rob Paulsen) and the Brain (Maurice LaMarche) live in a laboratory. The highly intelligent Brain is constantly thinking up plans to Take Over the World overnight, but his schemes always end in spectacular failure usually due to the interference of the dimwitted Pinky or his own hubris. Nevertheless, he resolves to come up with a new idea for the next night. The shorts became popular enough to warrant their own Spin-Off show.
- Rita and Runt: Two stray animals — a cat (Bernadette Peters) who sings show-tunes (with changed lyrics) and a dopey (Rain Man-inspired) dog voiced by Frank Welker — try to find a home throughout time and space. These shorts had a tendency to be a bit more melancholic than the others.
- Slappy Squirrel: A washed-up old cartoon star from "the good old days" (voiced by production writer Sherri Stoner) works through modern-day problems with old-school cartoon techniques (that is to say, violence — preferably of the extreme and/or explosive kind). Her personality is based on being old and cranky (with the occasional menopause joke), and (in typical "senior citizen" fashion) she thinks all the modern cartoon stars are no-good punks. Most of her shorts center around her Medium Awareness, and she is often accompanied by her nephew Skippy (voiced by producer Tom Ruegger's son Nathan), who helps to balance out her cynical attitude with his bright-eyed child-like optimism. Her opposite number is the equally elderly Walter Wolf.
- Minerva Mink: An oversexualized mink (Julie Brown) who used her feminine wiles to get what she wanted. She only starred in two shorts since she was considered inappropriate by the censors, but she showed up in others and Wakko's Wish as a background character and got a few dedicated comics in the Animaniacs comic book series.
- Goodfeathers: A direct parody of Goodfellas and other gangster films. Three New Yorker pigeons named Squit, Bobby, and Pesto (Maurice LaMarche, John Mariano, and Chick Vennera) try to run the streets under the watchful eye of the Godpigeon; the trio lives on a statue of Martin Scorsese.
- Buttons and Mindy: A toddler, voiced by Nancy Cartwright of The Simpsons fame, roams around unsupervised; she is completely oblivious to the dangers around her and asks questions of everyone she meets. The family dog, Buttons (Frank Welker), runs himself ragged trying to return Mindy to her parents, and invariably ends up being scolded by them for some minor mishap once she is safe.
- Chicken Boo: A giant rooster whose lame attempts to pass as a human incomprehensibly succeed, one person's protests notwithstanding. A minor accident (losing a baseball cap, for instance) inexplicably reveals Boo's true nature to everyone around him, wherein he is shunned and kicked out, but he always brushes himself off and walks away to find the next big opportunity.
- Katie Kaboom: A girl (Laura Mooney) who literally develops into a monster and then explodes with rage (causing massive damage to the house and landscape) over minor, stereotypical teenage problems, such as her boyfriend being late to pick her up. She was based on the teenage daughter of one of the writers.
- The Hip Hippos: An exceedingly heavy hippopotamus couple, Flavio and Marita (Frank Welker and Tress MacNeille, respectively), whose nouveau-riche lifestyle and utter reliance on luxury leaves them helpless in situations where money won't make a difference. They also have a tendency to get into dangerous situations, even though their heavy frames generally protect them from any actual harm. Occasionally shadowed by a naturalist named Gina Embryo (whose name is a parody of/reference to San Diego Zoo zoologist Joan Embery) who tries (unsuccessfully) to return them to the jungle or protect them from harm (which usually ends up befalling her instead).
- Other supporting cast members included Mr. Skullhead (in the "Good Idea, Bad Idea" shorts), a nameless, disaster-prone mime, a kid named Colin who is the friend of another (never shown) kid named "Randy Beaman", and Mr. Director (a crazed movie director based on Jerry Lewis and voiced by production writer Paul Rugg).
A Direct to Video movie, Wakko's Wish, was created following the show's run; rather than being a compilation of various shorts (old or new), it was a film with a self-contained plot which saw all of the show's main characters (and several background characters) interacting with one another. There was also a comic series which ran from 1995 to 2000, two years after the show ended.
On January 4, 2018, Hulu picked up the streaming rights for this show, Pinky and the Brain, and Tiny Toon Adventures while ordering two new seasons of Animaniacs direct to series. The revival premiered on November 20, 2020, with the Warner Siblings and the fan favorite Pinky and the Brain returning from the original series. On January 4, 2023, the 1993 series was removed from Hulu when its contract expired and was not renewed.
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