Children's television nowadays is just depressing. Where are all the thinly-veiled references to sex, bodily functions and popular movies? You just can't get quality mental scarring anymore.
Animaniacs was the second animated series to be produced by the collaboration of Stephen Spielberg and Warner Brothers, in what Wikipedia refers to as the 'animation renaissance of the '80s, which is a slightly pretentious name for 'sneaking dick jokes into kids' TV without anyone noticing'. Then again, artists in the actual Renaissance seemed to be quite fond of that as well, as Cracked revealed previously.
The show had a number of inspirations, from the Looney Tunes cartoons to writers' friends and family. The main characters, the Warner Brothers (and sister) themselves, were designed after the '30s style black and white cartoon sketches. It was a running joke in the series that no-one could actually figure out what kind of animal the Warner characters were supposed to be.
I want to say... monkeys? Some kind of monkey-dog thing. Fuck, I don't know.
The series had no story arc, no character development, the writers were simply given free rein to parody whatever they wanted. Some were skits on what would happen if the insane, hyper-violent characters met people from history, others were simple one-joke affairs and others were based on the personal experiences of the writers.
We've all been there.
The show's two main staples were the musical numbers (there was at least one original song per episode) and what could be loosely referred to as 'educational content.' Aside from the obvious lessons, (don't trust deformed mice, dynamite merely musses clothing to hilarious effect) they included lists of American presidents set to the William Tell overture, a parody of 'Singin' in the Rain' called 'Slipping on the Ice' and probably the show's most famous tune, 'Yakko's World.'
Spielberg was quoted as saying that he felt the educational content balanced out the violent nature of the episodes, which is kind of like saying Dexter is suitable kids' TV if he plugs the three R's in between murders.
Here's a brief selection of some of the reccurring characters. This part of the article could go on for pages.
The Warner Brothers (and Sister)
The show's staple characters, these dog-monkey-puppy-children things were the show's main tying-in characters. They were drawn in the '30s, but promptly escaped into the real world. After causing havoc around the Warner movie lot (it's really difficult to write that without slipping into singing the theme tune) they were imprisoned for being too difficult to control. They consisted of Yakko, (wise-cracking, the usual source of the adult jokes in the script) Wakko, (inexplicably given a Liverpool accent, very gassy) and Dot (reads beat poetry, several ex-girflfriends' worth of violent)
Pinky and the Brain
If you are unfamiliar with these two characters, than go back and redo your childhood, cos you fucked it up royally the first time. Most often remembered for the household phrase 'What'll we do tonight, Brain? Same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world!' almost every word either of these genetically-enhanced mice uttered was comedy gold, if completely unintended for children.
Good Idea, Bad Idea
These short sketches were often used as a way of fleshing out the running times of certain episodes. It was a very simple concept but one that allowed a cartoon skeleton-man to experience horrible pain and a valuable lesson for five minutes a week.
This character was based on one of the writers' teenage daughters. Katie would literally explode with rage whenever something trivial (like her boyfriend being late) would happen, destroying her house and the surrounding area. Her family were terrified of her violent outbursts. Parenting 101: Your daughter has emotional problems? Be sure to parody her in front of millions.
Also, insinuate that she's fat. And green.
I can in no way over-emphasise this portion. Aside from the fact that even a lot of the cleaner jokes were aimed at an older audience, (they even included an intelligent satire of Hamlet's 'Yorick' speech) the writers of Animaniacs flat-out pissed on any and every censoring law they could get their hands on. Their most frequent targets were Disney and the network censors themselves, to the point where one of Yakko's most frequent catchphrases referred to in what way they were going to upset parents next.
Fuck you, Mom.
Their list of targets ranged from Barney the Dinosaur to the Power Rangers to almost every famous character in history. Part of the show's charm comes from its sheer lack of shame in sliding jokes past censors, to the point where you wonder whether the officials actually watched the episodes at all, or whether the Animaniacs came to the top of the list on a Friday evening and they just ticked 'Approved' without opening the box.
Did I watch what? Course I did! It had... stuff in it, right? Yeah. Stuff. Can I have a beer now?
There's an obsessively long wikiquote page on Animaniacs, but to give just two (out of about a hundred million) examples, here's what used to qualify as kid's humour before Dora started exploring the shit outa mediocrity.
When a Mayflower settler is looking for a turkey:
Miles Standish: Begone, pests, and give me the bird!
Yakko: We'd love to, really, but the FOX censors won't let us.
From a murder mystery episode: