On Cartoon Reboots: Tiny Toons & Animaniacs

I was a kid of the 1990s, and like most kids I was a big fan of cartoons. Now, here in Norway we didn’t get all those fancy TV channels they had in the US, and while the most popular cartoons USUALLY made their way over here in some capacity, it was kind of hit-and-miss whether you’d be able to see them or not… depending on where in the country you lived, what TV service you had, whether you had cable and so on. Sometimes cartoons didn’t make it here until a few years had passed. 

But I still remember managing to catch two of the classic WB 90s cartoons, right in the middle of Warner’s “TV animation revival”: Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. And I loved them. The characters, the animation, the songs, the jokes. Much later, when I was older and got on the Internet, I managed to revisit the old shows to see if they held up… and, yeah, MOSTLY they do. At their best, both shows are witty, well-written, brilliantly animated and innovative. At their worst, they’re… not. Several episodes are just trite, lazy and uninspired. Animaniacs especially fell victims to this in later seasons, though the Pinky and the Brain spinoff stayed fresh… at least until they retooled it as Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain, a show that nobody except the execs at Warner wanted or liked… even back then the execs at Warner were total idiots.

Of course, the 2010s and 2020s are all about reboots of 90s properties, so it wasn’t a surprise when an Animaniacs revival came out… and an even smaller surprise that the Animaniacs revival made way for a Tiny Toon Adventures one.

With the wrap-up of Animaniacs 2020 and the recent launch of Tiny Toons Looniversity, I figured time was ripe for me to actually say something about these two shows. This isn’t going to be an in-depth review or anything, but a brief look at the two very different approaches the two revivals took with their properties: One tries to directly recapture the spirit of the original and only partially succeeds, the other takes on an entirely new spin on the franchise and gets the ire of all the fans of the original.

Animaniacs 2020 presents itself as a direct sequel to the original show. The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister!) are back after decades of in-animation, and pick up where they left off in the 21st century. As are the most famous side characters, Pinky and the Brain, ready to try to take over the world every episode again. I was really geared for the show when it started up…. and at first I really enjoyed it. Sure, I lamented the loss of most of the characters… the Warners and Pinky and the Brain WERE the most popular ones, but just chucking out Slappy Squirrel and the others seemed like a weird choice… but I still enjoyed the interplay between the characters. And the animation, while not the BEST I have seen, had moments of absolute brilliance. 

But… my enthusiasm faded as the show went on. While Pinky and the Brain generally held up, the Warners felt… off. It wasn’t just the over-reliance on gross-out humour, but more the inherent mean-spiritedness.  Now, the Warners were hardly angels in the original show, but they were overall more positive… their worst antics were reserved for jerks who deserved it; otherwise they tended to be well-intentioned and just created chaos because they were exuberant and liked to have fun. Even back then I noted that they weren’t funny when they were too mean. 

And… well… it took me a while to identify the problem, but I finally did: The 2020 revival TRIED to recapture the spirit of the old show, but funamentally misunderstood what that spirit actually was. The old show was anarchaic with a certain stick-it-to-the-man attitude, but was always cheery and upbeat about it. It looked at the world of the 90s, pointed out the ridiculousness, and just laughed at how absurd everything was. The new show looks at the world of the late 2010s/early 2020s, points out the ridiculousness, and then proceeds to grit its teeth and complain about how annoying it is. The setup is the same, but the attitude is different.

Now, Animaniacs 2020 still had some really great moments, like that entirely silent short consisting of security cam footage where the Warner fights a vampire as Ralph sleeps on the job, or the creepy story about a hunter that hunts Animaniacs characters (which had cameos by all the chars I missed), or the Oliver! parody, but overall it just felt like it missed the point of what the show was supposed to be about. 

Which brings us to Tiny Toons Looniversity. 


Tiny Toons Looniversity (TV Series 2023– ) - IMDb

Unlike Animaniacs 2020, this isn’t a continuation, but a total re-imagining of the characters and setting. Still about a group of young toons who are learning the ins and out of cartooning at a school where the classic Looney Tunes characters teach and mentor them, this series leans much more heavily on the “schooling” side of things. Acme Looniversity, which was presented more as a high school in the original, is re-imagined as a college, and the format has moved from skits and short cartoons to a slightly more grounded cartoon sitcom about campus life… well, as grounded as it can get when you have subjects like “Anvils 101” and “Advanced Wild Takes.” You might say that where the original Tiny Toon Adventures was a spiritual successor to the original 1940s-1950s Looney Tunes shorts, Tiny Toons Looniversity owes more to The Looney Tunes Show from 2011… you know, the cartoon sitcom with Bugs and Daffy as roommates in a suburban setting. 

Of course, certain fans were livid at the changes, like RAAAAAH HOW DARE THEY MAKE BABS AND BUSTER SIBLINGS WHY ARE THEY DOING THIS DIFFERENTLY WHAT IS THIS SITCOM CRAP MY CHILDHOOD MY CHILDHOOD MY CHILDHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!!!!!!  …but honestly? I kinda think the fact that this show decided to do its own thing instead of trying to imitate what came before was the right way to go. Where the Animaniacs revival suffered a little from the new showrunners trying to imitate the classic without quite getting what made the classic work, the new Tiny Toons is unashamed about being a new and different take, and as such frees itself up to develop its own identity while paying homage to what came before. I do think the show could stand to embrace the extended cast a LITTLE more … so many of the classic Tiny Toons characters are just background characters and bit players while the majority of the focus is firmly on the main five characters (Buster, Babs, Hamton, Plucky and Sweetie), but in this case at least the other characters are THERE, and get the occasional joke or storyline. 

Also… it’s genuinely refreshing at this point to see that the mean-spirited nature of the Animaniacs revival is nowhere to be seen here. In fact, this series is notably kinder and gentler than even the original Tiny Toon Adventures. There’s still lots of slapstick, anvils, explosions and old-fashioned chases, but it’s delivered with enthusiasm rather than cynicism.  It doesn’t deliver the big belly laughs, but I giggled a lot more here than I did at the Animaniacs’s constant annoyance with the world. Some will grumble at how it’s not as “edgy” as it should have been, but there’s something to be said for positivity in comedy too. It doesn’t have to be saccharine to be heartfelt, and it doesn’t have to be mean to be funny. Like the Muppets or the Fraggles at their best, the Tiny Toons have worked out how to deliver clever and often subversive comedy without kicking people who are down. It’s commendable.

As you can see, overall I think Looniversity works better as a series, and I think that is mostly down to how the showrunners wisely decided not to try and unsuccessfully copy what had gone before but instead made an effort to put their own spin on things. Though it’s still early in the series’ run, so… I suppose we’ll see which of the two revivals ages better!

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