To celebrate today’s release of the first new episodes of Animaniacs in 22 years that debuted on Hulu, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite moments from the original series. They may have been instant classics, or some jokes that took some time that my parents might have got when they originally aired. There are so many classic moments, ones that other fans might put on their list time and time again, so if you don’t see yours listed here that doesn’t mean it's not good or a classic moment and we’d definitely love to hear about it! The original series is currently streaming on Hulu along with the new reboot series, and I’ve conveniently included links to each episode on this list!
To have this one on this list is an absolute cliche, but it’s a cliche for a reason. This song that originally aired in the second episode of the series helped put Animaniacs on the map. To recap what I’m sure is already playing in your head, Yakko, for no particular reason whatsoever, just starts singing the countries of the world while pointing them out on a map. The song, set to an already familiar tune, is incredibly catchy though most people who sung along would usually trail out after a few lines. The segment is so iconic that not only was it parodied throughout the series and is referenced in the new episodes, but it also has been updated and performed by Yakko’s original voice actor, Rob Paulson, on his podcast and at comic-con events.
This one is on this list because this whole bit is one big Hollywood In-joke that took over two decades (and the advent of the internet) to pay off to most of the audience, directly over the heads of children, almost like a ticking time-bomb of animated comedy. The short version is that Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) had audio recordings that circulated Hollywood that showed how notoriously difficult he was to work with. One in particular was for a frozen food company where he was recording an ad for frozen peas. Maurice LaMarche, who performed Brain as Orson Welles, even went so far as to use this particular frozen peas rant as a vocal warm-up, but this time he was allowed to record his warm-up for real. The bit shows Brain in a faux behind-the-scenes look at how Animaniacs is created, being shown doing a voiceover recording session. Unbeknownst to most of the key demographic of the show back when it originally aired, this “recording session” is an almost verbatim recreation of this particular Orson Welles recording. “Yes, Always” seems kind of out of left field, especially when compared to other Pinky and the Brain bits, but that’s because this particular bit was layered in humor that for most, would take literal decades and the rise of media sharing on the internet to get. It was only later in life, when the original recordings started widely circulating and Animaniacs fans who might have been unaware finally put two and two together.
A milestone for nearly every child, especially in the 90s, was to watch the Disney animated classic, Bambi, and bear the emotional trauma of witnessing (kind of) the death of Bambi’s mother. It can be argued that that moment has since been replaced by the death of Mufasa in The Lion King, but I digress. Every kid deals with that moment. Tragically for Slappy Squirrel, she was there to witness this moment along with her nephew, Skippy as they watched the film “Bumbie the Dearest Deer” together, wherein Bumbie’s mom meets the same fate. Slappy must deal with her emotionally traumatized nephew who has a breakdown whenever he sees anything that reminds him of that moment, resulting in a trip to New Mexico to show Skippy the “actress” that played Bumbie’s Mom is still alive and well.
There are two segments of this episode that stand out to me. The first is later in the episode and could very well be one of the sources that shaped my sense of humor later on in life. Loading up on soda, Wakko is getting ready to perform a piece of classical music, with all the pomp and circumstance of a classical orchestra, fancy clothes, and full audience at the Hollywood Bowl. But as you think something serious and classy just might actually occur, Wakko starts performing Dance of the Hours simply by belching. I’d like to think that this is Jess Harnell (Voice actor who performed Wakko Warner) in a booth himself belching every note sipping soda, but that has neither been confirmed nor denied.
The second piece, opening this episode, sees the Warner siblings in a classroom with a frustrated teacher. The premise, like most episodes, is simple enough. It’s the rapid fire jokes and puns throughout the episode that keep viewers on their toes. While this sketch is full of traditional cartoon slapstick and over the top humor, Chalkboard Bungle is also commonly looked back on as one of the prime examples of how Animaniacs was full of subtle humor for adults. Pay attention to a moment when Yakko is asked if he knows you to conjugate verbs, which also includes a fourth wall break and my favorite running gag of the series with him looking straight at the camera saying “Goodnight Everybody!” Where Wakko has the gross out humor, Dot has the cute feminist wit, it’s here where Yakko really shines with his wordplay. This episode gets bonus points too for including a very timely (for the 90s) reference to a Diet Pepsi commercial.
Can you capture lightning in a bottle twice? You sure can as long as maps and a jaunty tune are involved. That’s exactly what happened with Wakko’s America. Where his older brother performed all the countries of the world, Wakko isolates it to the United States, naming all the states and their capitals. Instead of keeping it strictly the same, the tune is different and arguably even more catchy. For myself, this aired at just the right time in my education and helped me ace every quiz I had at the time, and I know I’m not the only one. The song features Wakko dancing around a map of the United States while playing the fiddle, and even includes a little fun fact about Elvis and some other tidbits. I’ve also included this on this list because just like Yakko’s World, it's pretty significant to the series with several callbacks in the new episodes as well. The list may not need updating, but like Rob Paulsen and Yakko’s World, Jess Harnell has also performed the song live at various comic-con events.
Throughout the series up until this point, we get a loose backstory of where the Warner siblings had come from, but it’s this episode that we get the full drawn out tale, all while taking a deep dive into a parody of animation history and styles from the early days of the artform. Most of the episode is done in a talking-head documentary style with appearances from other classic cartoon characters, and different caricatures of personalities relevant to the time period in which they are in. The plot of the episode is simple enough, a scorned animated character out for revenge, but the details and the subtle commentary about how serious Hollywood can take itself sometimes is fantastic.
There are so many classic moments from the original Animaniacs and the spirit of the classic show lives on in the new episodes which debuted today on Hulu. I was fortunate enough to see a few of the new episodes and you can read my review of the reboot series here. Now I have to go catch up on the rest! To quote Yakko in my favorite running gag of the series, Goodnight Everybody!