Over the past couple months I watched the entirety of Animaniacs on Netflix. The show has a pretty strong cult following online, and it's easy to see why; between the tongue-in-cheek humor, (usually) strong animation, fully orchestrated music accompaniment and throwback to old-school Warner Bros. cartoons, Animaniacs had a bit of something for everyone. Which means that not every segment was a hit either. This top ten will be all about the different character segments of the show, ranked from my least-favorite to favorite!
Conveniently, all the full-length cartoon segments fit into exactly ten spots! This also means that I won't be including the shorter, incremental snippets like Mime Time, Good Idea Bad Idea, and that Randy Beaman kid. Onto the rankings!
WHAT IT IS: Two middle-aged, yuppie hippopotami relocate from their jungle home to the middle of the city, where they cause chaos with their obliviousness and massive girth. In some cartoons, a Jane Goodall-type attempts to document their progress, only to be met with a variety of painful outcomes.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: The Hippos only had a few cartoons to their name, and I don't think anyone really minded the small number of 'em. These characters were just tough to root for, coming across as unlikable and somewhat annoying, while seeing the researcher repeatedly injured also got repetitive fast. They did have a couple better cartoons near the end of the series (oddly enough, since most of the other segments got weaker then), but by and large, these two plus-sized lovebirds just didn't bring in the laughs.
BEST EPISODE: Amazing Gladiators. Some genuinely fun laughs come with the setting change, and the Hippos are more endearing here when put against a common, obnoxious foe.
WORST EPISODE: Can't Buy a Thrill. Got very old very quickly and just felt kinda mean-spirited. Some of Animaniacs' worst moments are when we see someone get tormented that doesn't really deserve it.
WHAT IT IS: Katie, an emotional teenager, deals with typical teenager problems in her suburban home, but tends to overreact dramatically to them, transforming her into an unstable monster.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: I didn't even know this segment existed until a few months ago! There are actually a few of these cartoons, but they're all pretty much the same--Katie gets upset about something and freaks out and ruins the house as a giant monster, then shakes it off. They're not terribly funny, but they are interesting since the rest of these are all pretty much about animals (or mostly about animals, in the case of the next entry). They don't overstay their welcome and are somewhat fascinating in their weirdness, but the repetition keeps 'em down.
BEST EPISODE: Call Waiting. Kind of a fun set-up and the phone monster Katie turns into is creative.
WORST EPISODE: The Blemish. Mainly since it's the only one that I can't remember anything particular about.
Buttons and Mindy
WHAT IT IS: Cute little tyke Mindy escapes the back yard and obliviously finds herself in trouble, so her trusty German Shepherd Buttons inevitably gives chase. Mindy always gets back safe and sound, but poor Buttons tends to find himself scolded by his owner for some minor misdeed.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: These cartoons frustrate me. On the one hand, it's a throwback to the ol' Looney Tunes "chase" premise, which I can respect. But while it's fun seeing a predator like Wile E. Coyote get his comeuppance, it's often just sad seeing it to a faithful dog that repeatedly saves a child's life. To add insult to injury, Buttons almost always gets scolded by Mindy's negligent mother at the end (usually for something accidental like landing in the flower bed while saving Mindy), which makes me feel even worse for him. Despite this, some creative spins on the premise and a handful of fun gags in most episodes save it from being lower.
BEST EPISODE: Night of the Living Buttons. A very fun spin on the formula with enjoyable action, good gags, and a break from all the repetition.
WORST EPISODE: Up the Crazy River. Again, can't remember anything about it.
WHAT IT IS: Minerva is a lovely yet self-absorbed mink who captures the attention of everyone who sees her. If she's not trying to win over a handsome suitor herself, she's outwitting a local hunting dog.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: There are only two Minerva Mink cartoons, because...well, just look at her! Apparently the network wasn't thrilled with the amount of skin (fur?) Minerva's revealing clothes displayed, nor were they keen on the testosterone-driven plot elements of both her cartoons. She was basically a throwback to the Tex Avery days of wild aoooga takes (see also: "Hellooooo, nurse!"), with her own little spin on the formula being that she'd flip out at some hunk at the end of the cartoon herself. Honestly, I thought both these shows were really funny and added a nice touch of edge to the lineup. But two cartoons can only take you so far, so Minerva stays in the bottom half of the rankings.
BEST EPISODE: Meet Minerva: This one's slightly the better of the two since I think the outwitting of Newt the hunting dog feels very much like a gender-swapped Bugs Bunny.
WORST EPISODE: Moon Over Minerva: This one's still good though.
WHAT IT IS: Chicken Boo cartoons always start off with the titular character inexplicably in some sort of disguise that's very obvious (i.e., a chicken wearing a hat and glasses). Everyone's fooled by this disguise--and even impressed by Chicken Boo's abilities--except for one Doubting Thomas in the group. Inevitably, the disguise falls off through some scuffle and the one guy gets proven right as Chicken Boo gets boo-ted out of the area.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: These cartoons range from stupid to delightfully stupid. There's really not much to them and there are a surprisingly large number of them through the series, but they're always brief and usually kinda funny in a dumb way. The better ones are probably the ones that play with the formula a bit to make it a tad less predictable.
BEST EPISODE: The Chicken Who Loved Me. A ridiculous Bond spoof with a lot of good, quick gags.
WORST EPISODE: Kung Boo. I dunno, picking the worst Chicken Boo cartoon is like...whatever. Most of them are pretty much the same!
WHAT IT IS: A parody of mafia movies in general, Goodfeathers focuses on three tough(ish) pigeons dealing with life in New York. There's no set formula to the cartoons themselves, but they do have a few recurring gags like the earnest Squit inadvertently insulting the hot-tempered Pesto.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: It's fun to listen to the Italian-ish gibberish of these three characters bickering about. Unfortunately, a lot of their shows end up shying away from much dialogue and devolving into one of Animaniacs' Achilles' Heels: generic, predictable slapstick. Not that slapstick can't be funny, but too much of it (and to characters that don't always deserve it) isn't all that entertaining. Regardless, the main trio (and their elder, the Godpigeon!) are fun enough to land in the top half of the rankings.
BEST EPISODE: Raging Bird. Fun Rocky references and solid animation and dialogue.
WORST EPISODE: The Boids. What could've been a great take on Hitchcock ends up being an exercise in tedium with way too many pain gags.
Rita and Runt
WHAT IT IS: Two strays--streetwise Rita and dopey, sincere Runt--are on an ongoing search for a home, although the places they end up all seem to put their lives in danger in one way or another.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: This was kind of an interesting cartoon for Animaniacs, occasionally working in a bit more sweetness and sincerity than the other cartoons. It's also very musical, but while the voice of Bernadette Peters is lovely, the songs often have mixed results compared to the great stuff Yakko, Wakko and Dot were singing. Also, a fair number of episodes kind of meander into dull territory, unfortunately, and the below-average animation hurts it at times. But for doing their own thing, I gotta give the cat and dog their props.
BEST EPISODE: Les Miseranimals. A terrific Les Miserables parody full of music and humor and a great little story in its own right. One of the best Animaniacs episodes of all!
WORST EPISODE: Kiki's Kitten. Mean-spirited and unpleasant from start to finish.
Pinky and the Brain
WHAT IT IS: "Gee Brain, whaddya wanna do tonight?" "The same thing we do every night, Pinky: try to take over the world!"
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: The top three segments are the ones I feel had a very high hit ratio and memorable characters, and these two famous mice (who eventually got a spin-off show) certainly qualify. Brain in particular is a classic character, with an impressionable Orson Welles voice and a ridiculous Napoleon complex manifested in convoluted world-domination schemes. All the Brain cartoons in Animaniacs are entertaining in their own ways thanks to a fun blend of smart dialogue and well-timed slapstick, even if the formula can get a tad repetitive at times.
BEST EPISODE: The Brain's Apprentice. A dialogue-free take on Fantasia with amazing music to boot, the very last Brain cartoon in the series is my favorite. Has a very funny ending sequence to wrap it all up.
WORST EPISODE: Don't Tread on Us. Still pretty good though, just loses a bit of something with the founding fathers stuff.
WHAT IT IS: A cranky, aging cartoon star deals with the annoyances of modern-day life.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: The character of Slappy is a treat to watch; she's got a great voice and a sense of self-awareness that's second to no one else on the show (outside of maybe Yakko). There are a lot of gags that come in reference to--or at the expense of--classic 1950s cartoons, and Slappy's ability to size up a situation never gets old. Her nephew Skippy makes a good partner in crime to all these scrapes, and while her cartoons aren't as consistent as #3's up there, I actually really like the creative premise and dynamic of a character like this enough to nail the penultimate spot.
BEST EPISODE: I Got Yer Can. A hilarious revenge piece that has Slappy playing the long game to give an opponent a complete breakdown.
WORST EPISODE: My Mother the Squirrel. A tedious cartoon centering on an annoying baby bird character.
The Warner Bros. (and the Warner Sister, Dot)
WHAT IT IS: A trio of manic cartoon characters from the 1930's escape their water tower prison and run amok in Burbank, California, annoying rude opponents with their antics and skewering all sorts of celebrities and films in the process. Word is, they've got baloney in their slacks.
WHY IT'S RANKED HERE: Could it be anything else? The Warners are the headliners for Animaniacs and the first characters anyone thinks of when the show is mentioned. Individually, they're all funny enough: Yakko with the Bugs Bunny/Groucho Marx type verbal humor, Wakko with the id-fueled visual gags, and Dot with the precocious sarcasm, but as a unified group of irritation, it's almost always enjoyable seeing them team up to take down some sort of obstinate bully.
Beyond the full-length cartoons, the kids also star in a massive variety of short cartoons throughout Animaniacs as well. Many of these--like Yakko's World or Wakko's Capitals or A Quake, A Quake--are full-length, ridiculously well-written songs. Some of the others, such as The Great Wakkorotti (where Wakko belches loudly to The Blue Danube) are simply silly, inspired madness. The Warners have by far the largest number of cartoons in the series, and while not every one is a winner, the good certainly outnumber the bad.
BEST EPISODE: Overall, The Great Wakkorotti. It's a couple minutes long, but it's silly, diluted fun in its finest form. Couldn't stop laughing the first time I saw it. As for as a longer cartoon, Chairman of the Bored. This was the funniest 7 minutes of the entire show, if you ask me. The Warners' bemused reactions to a completely oblivious, boring foil are hilarious and it's topped off with some of my favorite one-off gags as well.
WORST EPISODE: A few late Warners shows are really rough. I'll go with Cutie and the Beast for being a pretty dumb parody and missing on a lot of gags and songs.
So there you have it! All the cartoons ranked. All in all, the "never know what you're going to get" element of Animaniacs is one of its best features, but it's also one of the things that keeps it from being one of my all-time favorite cartoons. Some of the segments were just a bit too uneven, but it's still impressive that they were able to manage to cram such a variety into the show. What were some of your favorite Animaniacs segments? Anything you strongly disagree with? Until next time...
I can agree with your #1, and sort of pleasantly surprised that Pinky and the Brain didn't get the auto-win. Also a little surprised at your #2 (ha ha ha, toilet humor) but I do recall some good Slappy sequences. One in particular was a parody/homage of "Who's On First?" with the baseball players' names swapped with names of older bands (The Band, The Who, and one other). And I also liked Slappy's "end of credits quote" line that perfectly encaptured her crank and curmudgeon - "It's over. Go away." Classic! (by the way, I also appreciated the clever lines snuck into the end credits themselves. Something I think that animation studio started with in Tiny Toons)
But yeah, the Warners are great. Some of the best segments of that show were when it was focused entirely on the siblings. And those songs! Both funny and occasionally educational. My favorites include:
'No L' 'The Warners Won't Do' 'The Ballad of Magellan' 'Yakko Sings The Countries of the World'
But all their songs are (usually) really fun and a bit ear-wormy.
Cool countdown, man! Thanks for this blast of '90s nostalgia!
Yeah, I don't think any list like this has anyone but the Warners at #1. Pinky and the Brain are very popular, and while I might say that the quality of their cartoons is overall better than Slappy's, I just really like Slappy as a character; her hyper-awareness of all situations and tropes just makes anything she's in funnier.
And the Warners do have a ton of great songs under their belt; there are probably over two dozen really good ones just sung by one of them.
I've been watching them again, and apart from some very out-of-nowhere endings (zero closure) they still hold up beautifully. And yes, the songs are the best thing pretty much ever done in cartoon form. :)
Get that baloney ready--apparently they're bringing back Animaniacs! Spielberg's heading the project. Hopefully it's good; unlike some shows, I can see this one segueing pretty easily into this century. It's always been pop culture heavy (in fact, some would say that was one of its problems) so modernizing it in that way would hardly be much of a detriment.
They need to change up the cartoon lineup though. The Hip Hippos don't need their own segments anymore, and Buttons & Mindy and Katie Ka-Boom would need some serious reworking to not get repetitive. Looking forward to seeing the Warners, Pinky and the Brain, and Slappy again though.
This is my first time to see this article. Well done, T-Bun. I agree pretty much entirely with your list, based on my memories as a kid. I might shuffle the middle of the deck a little - Maybe elevate the ridiculousness of Chicken Boo over the sometimes boring Rita shorts - but I think your rationale is sound. It's a great list.
Mixed feelings about Spielberg bringing the Animaniacs back. On the one hand, it was a quality show that always mixed current pop culture with the Warner Bros legacy, so it could come back easily without missing a beat. Yakko, Wakko and Dot were from the the 30s anyway, so who cares if they break out in the 90s or the 2010's? It's the same premise either way.
Buuuuuuuuut... in a way, every damn cartoon on TV is some version of Animaniacs, now. The anarchic, pop-culture adept, aiming jokes over the toddler's heads, crazed and inspired recklessness of Animaniacs is basically the template for most modern shows. It's a similar problem Mystery Science Theater has: What was once pretty radical is now basically the norm. So how do you justify your existence in that kind of media landscape?
Here are the things I'd want to see:
1) Don't bring everyone back. We don't need to see the Hippos or Katie or maybe even Rita and Runt again.
2) Add some new members to the cast who fit in with today's media landscape. Part of the strength of the show was how experimental it could be. Just bringing back old characters and situations for nostalgia's sake is kind of counter to that spirit.
3) This one's just a personal preference: Maybe cool it a bit with the Hollywood "Inside Baseball" gags. When I watch Animaniacs today, one thing I get a little tired of are all the showbiz jokes. Yeah, yeah, you're being made by a bunch of Hollywood lovies who like to make wry jokes about contracts and stuff. We get it.
I don't personally need more Animaniacs, but I'm not against the idea altogether. They just gotta make sure they don't just make it a mediocre revival aimed to revive the marketing brand. Considering it's Spielberg, I'm not entirely sure that's not what's about to happen.
@kriswright Thanks! I think one thing that can set Animaniacs apart from other modern cartoons that have a similar tone are its production values. The detailed, smooth animation and fully orchestrated soundtrack that matched up with every single episode (and most characters' movements, etc) really gave the show a theatrical, Looney Tunes type feel. I hope they don't cheese out with Flash-looking tweens and what-have-you for the remake. And I agree that the Hollywood bits could use some trimming down. Although Mr. Director is always welcome. Flamiel, freunlaven!
@Secret_Tunnel If this is the kind of skit we'll see in the revival, I think we're in good shape.