The revival of Animaniacs features predominantly Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (the Warner brothers and their sister). These characters were the mainstays of the original series, and they are not just back – they are so spot on that it feels like they never left. Also featured are the antics of Pinky and the Brain, two laboratory mice who try to take over the world (and brilliantly the show never reveals which one is the genius and which one is insane).
Let’s be grateful for what we have! Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner and Pinky) survived throat cancer a few years ago. It is wonderful that he can still work in voice acting. If not, this revival might not have happened. Having him back and working with Tress MacNeille, Jess Harnell, Maurice LaMarche, and Frank Welker provide the critical core casting that the revival required.
My complaint with the 2020 Animaniacs revivial, however, is that it lacks the Animaniacs. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are certainly the stars, and Pinky and the Brain were the second most popular part of the original series (they even received their own spin-off show). But the Animaniacs also had an ensemble cast that made it mysterious. Each day as you tuned in, you didn’t know if you would get Pinky and the Brain, Slappy Squirrel, the Goodfeathers, or someone else to be the cartoon presented in the middle of the episode. Occasionally you would even get a cartoon featuring completely original characters for a one-off performance.
But in this new revival, you can count on the same formula each time (the Warners, the Mice, and the Warners). Every time. It just feels a bit empty.
In one episode they did acknowledge the last of the rest of the cast, with the Warners lamenting that they have been doing a lot of heavy lifting on this reboot and asking if there there used to be more characters? Without any spoilers, I’ll just say that the end of this episode left me with even more of a desire to see these other characters in action once again.
Here are a few of my observations:
The Hip Hippos: Tress MacNeille played Marita Hippo, and Frank Welker played Flavio Hippo. Although these characters were never the most popular ones, there is no present-day excuse not to take one more look into the lives of the clueless rich hippos.
Dr Otto Scratchensniff: Rob Paulsen reprised his role as the studio psychiatrist for only one cartoon. Even in that, he was not featured in most of the episode. He was also removed from being tickled by the Warners in the opening credits (his part being replaced by Ralph the security guard).
Slappy and Skippy Squirrel: In the original series, these two were voiced by staff writers Sherri Stoner and Nate Ruegger. These two were not invited to participate in the revival, which probably explains the character’s absence. That is too bad, as Jess Harnell could have provided foil Walter Wolf once more.
Rita and Runtz: Is Bernadette Peters available to portray Rita? It would be delightful to hear Rita belt out another song, while Frank Welker could again provide voice to her clueless canine companion.
The Goodfeathers: I need to see what the pigeons are up to! Maurice LaMarche voiced Squit and the Godpigeon. Can someone track down Chick Vennera as Pesto and John Mariano as Bobby?
J. Thaddeus Plotz: In the revival, it is explained that this character retired and a woman took over running the studio. Frank Welker should provide the voice once more and let us see the former studio head in his retirement. Perhaps the Hip Hippos could be involved?
Announcer: Tom “We’ll Leave the Light on For You” Bodett currently appears on NPR’s “Wait Wait! Don’t Tell Me,” broadcasting from his home during COVID. That means that I know he has recording equipment in his home. We need some more “Good Idea / Bad Idea” and “Mime Time” voice-overs, please!
Mindy and Buttons: Nancy Cartwright is a big star working as Bart Simpson. Will her contract let her voice Mindy again? Frank Welker could provide the voice of Buttons, with its Scooby-doo reminiscent quality.
There are certainly others, but I would love to round out the episodes with these other characters once again. Was it matter of money? Was it the new creative team going a different direction, or not understanding the formula and characters correctly?
It’s time for Animaniacs!