So after a 22 year hiatus, we finally have been gifted with new Animaniacs cartoons on the screen. And while its return is great to see, it is not as perfect a return to form as one would have hoped.
The satire, wordplay, and slapstick comedy are all there, as well as bucketloads of cultural references and great music. There's no skimping on the animation work involved, as the show started with an animation "bible" that it used when outsourcing the animation this time around. There's some variation but nowhere near as obvious as the original run. The show also takes some chances on alternative styles and if you've seen the teasers, you'll know to expect a minute+ long segment animated to the level of detail of KIll La Kill for example. The VAs are showing a bit of age : Tress (Dot) sounds like she was having a bit of problems with singing, but in generally the VA work was very good too.
The biggest problem for me is how the Warners are handled. There are good segments for them that ring true to form, in which by happenstance they encounter someone that for no reason treats them or someone else poorly and they use their full cartoon powers to get just and appropriate revenge (eg an inconsiderate moviegoes manspreading in the theater to their dismay). But far too many of their shorts felt more like the Warners were rude themselves or picking targets from the start, and were downright vindictive for no purpose. Ultimately their "target" deserved it, but it felt far less natural compared to the original show, nor ended with a type of redemption or friendly conclusion. ("Hooked on a Ceiling" is a good example from the original run of where the Warners got on the mean side of their "target" but made everything work out in the end with great comedic effect).
And the other elephant in the room was the fact much of the humor relied on more timely references rather than timeless. (It is well known the show was written in 2018 and thus could not predict COVID, so some of the jokes were planned based on expected 2020 events like the Olympics, but that's beyond the writers' fault). The Warner segments weighed perhaps a bit too heavily on political humor of the last 2-4 years, hitting hard on Trump and Fox News. Not that the original didn't do its own hitting on political humor at targets like Bill Clinton, but it was far less obvious and frequent, and instead more about the entertainment industry as a whole. And you could sense that some of this snarkiness was to push a message - not a strong one, but enough of one that felt off and not the right tone for the Warners. To their benefit, the writers avoided too much excessive cultural references that would age poorly in these bits, but they still are topics that a few years from now we'll be glad they're long gone and not necessarily find as humorous.
What absolutely works without question are the Pinky and the Brain shorts. While these also have a bit more modern aspects to them, the shorts remain about Brain's plan to take over the world and Pinky's attempts to help - which more often hinder than anything. Compared to the Warners, these shorts rarely delved into the political or overtly timely issues, and when they do, it's for the sake of comedy (one short involves Edward Snowden and the NSA and its one of the better ones). The formula remains timeless and workable.
It is possibly the lack of the secondary characters that hurts it a bit (A hilarious short in episode 5 is essential to explain the situation around their absence). Having all Warners and PatB is great, but they do wear down a bit. The original series had these other characters that they could pull in as comfort food so that it wasn't so burdened by the two headliners. There are some non-Warner/non-PatB one-off shorts. Some work ("Math-therpiece Theater" is a great setup), and some fall flat. It is good to see the crew try to keep the "variety" aspect that the original show had, but it would have been nice to have the more original acts to help fill that space. That said, the episode 5 allusion leaves open the door to possibly some in future episodes. Further, none of the short bits like Wheel of Morality or Good Idea/Bad Idea made it here as well, which felt like could have easily filled some time gaps.
The new Animaniacs is still very much worth your time - it is still a great show doing as much as it can to capture what the original series had done and gets about 90% there. It is a show that knows that children will watch it but has been written for adults, and the staples of adult innuedo humor are perfectly executed (In one case, Brain asks Pinky "And do you know what most humans use the Internet for?" to which he replies "I do, but I don't think I can say...") This first 13 episodes with the overtly snarky Warners could be a result of initial jitters in trying to get the process down right, since we know another 13 episodes are planned for 2021. But once you get past that odd tonal shift, the rest of the show still lives up to the original series.