Monday, September 28, 2009
For years, every time I saw that glimmering Warner Brothers logo at the beginning of a TV show or movie, I was certain that the brothers Warner in question were none other than Animaniacs stars Yakko and Wakko. I was fairly positive. I mean, they came out the logo-emblazoned tower in the intro, right? Obviously they were the masterminds behind this multimillion dollar corporation. Really, who else would it be?
How was I to know of Polish immigrants Harry, Jack, Sam, and Albert Warner (nee Hirz, Itzhak, Szmul, and Aaron Winskolaser) whose pioneering exhibition work in the early 20th century earned them a rightful place in movie-making history? The only Warner Brothers I'd ever heard of were Yakko and Wakko, and of course the Warner sister, Dot. TV wouldn't lie to me. Would it? After all, these guys claimed to be animaney, totally insaney, in a show that's maney. Sounded pretty credible to me.
Animaniacs provided 90s children with an endless array of slapstick humor and sight gags sure to encourage all sorts of danger imitative behavior. Immediately on the heels of the success of Tiny Toon Adventures and character cameos in the full-length feature film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, the studio released this animated variety show intended to pay homage to many of the early animated greats. Not unlike Tiny Toons, the characters were crafted after the classic animated stars from the genre's earliest era. Wakko, Yakko, and Dot were ambiguous in species and resembled the stars of bygone black and white cartoons.
The premise of Animaniacs was undoubtedly complex for a cartoon, not too mention confusing for even the savviest of seven-year olds. Either way, I'll do my best to recount it as I recall, with a fair bit of research filling in the admittedly vast mental blanks. The title Warner brothers and sister were supposedly created in the 1930s to add a bit of spice to the traditional Looney Tunes fare. They managed to become veritable cartoon all-stars despite the fact that their show was both unconventional and completely insane. '
The trio was so crazy and wreaked so much havoc on the studio that the Warner Bros studio authorities eventually locked them in a studio water tower. In the 90s, however, the three managed to escape and continually sneak back into their hidden home. The studio unleashed upon them a Dr. Otto Scratchansniff to allegedly dezanitize the crazy group. A Warner Bros Studio security guard, Ralph, was also charged with reconfining the siblings after each subsequent escape. Pretty complex for a kid's cartoon, I'd say. I still don't totally understand it, though it was rather entertaining.
In the spirit of preceding cartoon variety shows, Animaniacs featured a number of recurring sketches and characters. While the series had a host of minor and lesser stars, let's explore our major animaniacal players:
Not so much a skit but a running gag, "Hello Nurse!" was not only a well-worn Animaniacs catchphrase but also specifically denoted the presence of the vixen blonde studio nurse. Typically when in her presence, the boys would shout, "Helllllllloooo Nurse!" and jump into her arms. The gag was also used with a variety of other characters, such as in the presence of a hefty muumuu-ed lady to which Yakko exclaims, "Hellllloooo large nurse!" See, it works so many ways. How versatile.
Pinky and the Brain
This sketch gained such popularity and such an intensely loyal following that it was later spun off into its own animated show. The Brain is aptly named for his smarts, whereas his sidekick Pinky is not much more than a moronic lackey kept around to do the grunt work involved in taking over the world. The Brain would usually ask Pinky, "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" only to be subjected to an utterly imbecilic and muddled response. Needless to say, their attempts to take over the world were less than fruitful, though they did provide a good deal of satire and entertainment.
See, it's educational!
Rita and Runt
These two put on a whole lot of show-stopping musical numbers through a veritable array of historical settings. Rita was a street savvy New York-accented cat and Runt was a dim-witted Rain Man-esque dog. The catch was that Runt hated cats with a deep fervor but was generally too slow to realize that his best friend Rita was indeed of a feline persuasion. The musical numbers were fairly impressive, largely due to the fact that Rita was voiced by Bernadette Peters. Due to the financial strain of maintaining Peters on cast and the mounting issues surrounding creating original musical numbers for each episodes, the two faded from the Animaniacs repertoire somewhere around mid-run.
Goodfeathers...Goodfellas. Pure comedic parody gold, right? Okay, so the pun is a tad groan-inducing, but the shorts were pretty cute. A takeoff of the movie Goodfellas, the Goodfeathers were a gang of New York pigeons just trying to make it. Oh, and fighting their rival sparrow gang. And courting Girlfeathers. All in all, not awful satire. Kids weren't all that likely to get it, but at least it gave their parents something to chuckle over.
Buttons and Mindy
The premise of Buttons and Mindy was incredibly simple and formulaic. Mindy's anonymous parents ("Lady" and "Mr. Man") would leave dog Buttons to care for their daughter. Sounds responsible, right? Mindy (voiced by Nancy Cartwright of Bart Simpson fame) was forever wandering off and causing trouble, to which Buttons would rush to her rescue and bear the brunt of the responsibility. I really just loved Mindy for her coinage of the phrase, "Okay, I love you, buh-bye!" She gave kids everywhere the verbal ammunition necessary to forever irritate their parents.
Uncommon for a kid's cartoon, this short's star featured an elderly star. Slappy was a anthropomorphic octogenarian squirrel living with her chipper nephew Skippy. Slappy skits utilized a lot of well-worn comedic territory such as the Vaudeville-esque skit below, thus introducing an entirely new generation of children to some very old but still funny bits.
Animaniacs ran a couple of seasons on FOX and finished off the remainder of its seasons on the burgeoning but now-defunct WB network. The show was not-only long-running but also aired in syndication for quite awhile following the end of the show, meaning a serious cache of kids grew up on this stuff.
There was also one direct-to-video movie release, Wakko's Wish, which can still occasionally be seen playing on TV sometime around Christmas time. While you can catch the first two and a half seasons on TV (with the remaining episodes pending release to DVD), feel free to use up all that pent up 90s childhood energy to campaign for DVD release of the full-length film.
That's all I got for you today, folks. In the ever-wise words of one Mindy Sadlier, "Okay, I love you, buh-bye!"