The Animaniacs are back this week, and they have a lot to catch up on. This week, Animaniacs star Jess Harnell explained to PopCulture.com how the show has adapted to changes in the world and in the cartoon genre since it left the air 22 years ago. Like many fans, Harnell believes that now is the perfect time for the show to make a comeback.
Harnell reprises his role as Wakko Warner in the Animaniacs revival, under the guidance of showrunner Wellesley Wild. In an exclusive interview for our series, PopCulture @ Home, Harnell remarked on Wild's experience showrunning Family Guy, "which, like Animaniacs, you know, skews a little bit more adult," he said. "We were happy to see him arrive because we thought, 'OK, he gets satire, and he's funny." Harnell believes that part of Animaniacs' success in the 1990s was that "it was written on both levels," drawing adults in even as it entertained kids, and helping pave the way for the adult cartoons that would follow, such as Family Guy.
"There's all these different elements, and what's really cool about it is that all this stuff that you loved about it then is still going to be there," Harnell said. "There's just a whole new list of stuff to make fun of. So, no matter what might've followed in our wake and what shows have come out, you haven't had the Animaniacs take — and their catchy song and dance numbers about gun control — yet. But you're about to. I know you're thinking, 'well, how do you make a kid's cartoon funny about gun control?' You'll see."
Animaniacs helped pioneer the self-aware "meta" comedy popular today, particularly in fourth-wall-breaking cartoons. In a way, the shows that have come since owe a debt to Animaniacs for paving the way, and Harnell revealed that one show actually reached for an homage, but he and his castmates turned them down.
"One of the shows that you mentioned a minute ago, they actually reached out to us collectively," he said, without naming the show. "They reached out to Rob Paulsen who does Yakko, and Tress MacNeille who plays Dot, and me who plays Wakko about 10 years ago. They said 'Hey, we want to do a bit on this show' — and it's a really good show, very edgy, very adult — 'Where, whatever happened to the Animaniacs?'"
According to Harnell, the idea for this bit would have shown a grim look at the adult Animaniacs where "Basically, Yakko is like, a drug addict, and Wakko is in the water tower holding an uzi and shooting people. My agent sent it to me, and I read the script, and it was a lot of money, and I went, 'No, I don't want to do it.' I said, 'Well, I love Wakko, you know? Wakko means something to me. And wherever he may be' — and this was long before there was any talk about doing a reboot — I went 'Wherever he may be, I hope he's happy, you know? I hope he's doing alright.'"
Harnell revealed that Paulsen and MacNeille also turned down the offer of their own accord, and it turned out that their hesitation paid off. The Animaniacs revival premieres on Friday, Nov. 20, on Hulu. The complete original series is currently streaming on Hulu.