I’ve previously mentioned my all-abiding love for the 1990s cartoon series Animaniacs here on the blog. Produced by Steven Spielberg, the show was more than a mere cartoon–it was a cleverly-constructed show that appealed to both adults and children with a hilarious combination of slapstick-y violence, meta references, and witty send-ups of pop culture icons.
This week, the Mental Floss blog published an article on the show that instantly reminded me of how truly great Animaniacs was. When I was younger, I watched the show religiously. Though I didn’t understand all of the references at the time, there was nonetheless something appealing about the humor. It was cheeky and sly and filled with “adult” allusions, but most importantly, even though it was a “kid’s show,” the writers didn’t condescend to their audience.
The starring trio–the screwy Warner Brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and their so-cute-and-she-knows-it sister Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana Fanna Bo Besca the Third (known more commonly as Dot)–were the guiding force of the show, aided by a sterling set of supporting characters, some of which became breakout stars in their own rights (as with Pinky and the Brain, the laboratory mice determined to take over the world, who were spun off into their own series). There was something for every taste on the show: from the adorable adventures of Mindy and her put-upon dog, Buttons, to the cranky septuagenarian Slappy Squirrel (whose catchphrase provides the title for this post), to the combative Goodfeathers (a parodic take on the 1990 Martin Scorsese film Goodfellas), to the musical cat Rita (voiced by the incomparable Bernadette Peters) and her dog pal, Runt.
Watching reruns and clips of the show from the perspective of a much more pop culture-savvy adult, I can now appreciate just how deft the film parodies on Animaniacs really were. The writers had an obvious love for classic film, and quite a few movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood were given the Animaniacs treatment: gentle (sometimes sarcastic) prodding, witty reenactment, and a healthy helping of innuendo, tempered by a great deal of affection for the source material and frequent breaking of the fourth wall.
For this week’s entry in our continuing Saturday Morning Cartoons series, here’s a sampling of some of my favorite classic movie parodies that were tackled by Animaniacs. Mind you, this is only a handful of the fantastic film spoofs this show has to offer …
“Meatballs or Consequences”
Hands down, my favorite sketch from the show, ever. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot find themselves in Sweden facing “a literary personification of the state of non-being” in a game of checkers, in a phenomenal parody of Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). This one is filled with quippy gems. “All is strange and vague.” “Are we dead?” “Or is this Ohio?”
Slappy Squirrel’s nephew, Skippy, is traumatized by the on-screen death of “Bumbie’s” mother … much like the rest of us were. The look on Skippy’s face at the pivotal moment: priceless. [Note for Disney fans: Sherri Stoner, the voice of Slappy Squirrel, was the “motion model” for the characters of Ariel in The Little Mermaid (1989) and Belle in Beauty and the Beast (1991).]
“Our Final Space Cartoon, We Promise”
A take on 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). “AL 5000” is not who you think he is. The animators went all-out for this one–even the wraparounds in the episode were parodies of the film.
The Goodfeathers get a job as extras/”stunt birds” in a Hitchcock film, and soon come to regret it as they clash with a Jack Nicholson-type crow on the set and realize acting is not exactly the easy life.
“Mindy in Wonderland”
Of course, it should go without saying that the Alice in Wonderland parody is one of my favorites. Taking their cues from the 1951 Disney version of Lewis Carroll’s classic story, this one features Bernadette Peters stepping outside of her normal role as Rita and voicing the Cheshire Cat (Mindy, incidentally, is voiced by Nancy Cartwright, better known as the voice of Bart Simpson).
One of the more in-depth and effective parodies offered by the show is this spoof on the 1933 Marx Brothers classics Duck Soup, with Yakko in Groucho’s place and Wakko taking on a Harpo-esque role.