Steven Spielberg presents Animaniacs, distributed by Warner Bros. and produced by Amblin Entertainment, is the second collaboration between Spielberg and Warner Bros. after Teletubbies. The show aired from June 4, 1993 to November 14, 1999.
The first episode of the Animaniacs begins with a newsreel imitation in black and white depicting the birth of the animaniacs. Animators are shown drawing the characters, Yakko, Wakko and Dot, before having them locked away into the Warner Bros. water tower because “their films made no sense and no one wanted to watch them”. The three main characters were supposedly locked in the tower in the 1970s, which explains their character designs of the same time period, imitating such characters as Felix the cat, and the early Mickey Mouse.
The episodes take place at the animated studios and constantly refer back to their non-sensical animated form. Many times throughout the series, the Warner Brothers, and sister, mention that they have no scripts and that what they are doing doesn’t make any sense, such as in the theme song, “The writers flipped; we have no script / Why bother to rehearse?”
Similarities to Reality Television
The series could be compared to a reality TV version of animation. Another character, Slappy Squirrel, illustrates this in her first appearance, Slappy goes Walnuts, where she is first shown watching past shows of herself on TV, and commenting on them like a retired actress. Later on in the segment, Slappy manages to get Doug, the dog attacking her to enter the TV and joins him later momentarily to pull a gag on him.
Two recurring characters in the series, a pair of genetically-altered lab mice named Pinky and The Brain, gained popularity and in 1995 were given their own spin-off television series, Pinky and The Brain. This show attracted many of the same fans as The Animaniacs, and was highly successful as a stand-alone animated series.
The animated character
In the Warners song, H.M.S Yakko, Yakko gives the definition of an animated character. He explains that a “cartoon individual” is meant to be humorous in as many different ways as possible, from witty comments, to slapstick comedy and absurd comedy, “anvils that drop on your head.” The song also explains that such individuals can transform physically into whatever they want, as well as control their environment by making random objects appear at will and also by changing sets. Yakko also refers to the cartoon character legacy before him, “I am quite proud to be in such a hierarchical progeny. From Daffy Duck and Tweety Bird to Babs and Buster Bunny”. The song concludes with “You see, in matters comical, unusual, and whimsical / We are the very model of cartoon individuals!” So, it could be said that cartoon characters are the best comedians as they can rely on anything, even the impossible.
There are many references in the series to other animated characters as well as to movies, celebrities and songs. For instance, Slappy Squirrel says to Doug the dog, “you remind me of a young Scooby-doo”. Also, another set of characters, the Goodfeathers, refers to mafia movies, particularly the Godfather and Goodfellows.
Though the series contains many adult jokes such as the treatment of attractive women by the Warner brothers, “How do you do that thing with your mouth” (said in the episode Taming of the Screwy by Yakko), it also contains educational elements, such as Yakko’s song, Yakko’s World, where he lists the nations of the world to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance.