Well I have finally watched two reboots that I have been anticipating for years: Looney Tunes Cartoons on HBO Max and Animaniacs on Hulu. So what did I think of the revivals of two of my favorite WB cartoon series?
Based on what I have seen, it seems like many at Warner Bros. Animation are making sincere efforts to resurrect some of the lost magic of the two best periods for WB cartoons: the 1940s and the 1990s. For the record, I have dreamed about a WB animation renaissance ever since the 20th century ended. I didn’t care if I had to watch something on YouTube. I just wanted to watch cartoons that felt like how they used to when I first fell in love with them (I was tired of people who didn’t understand who Bugs Bunny was making Bugs Bunny cartoons).
Having said that, I am smart enough to know that the most important aspect of any reboot is not to make it feel like the original per se. None of that would matter if it wasn’t entertaining to modern audiences.
It is easy to say, for example, that the recent WB Animation series Thundercats Roar (which Cartoon Network just cancelled) was a bad show because it deviated too much from the source material by turning a serious action drama into a clone of Adventure Time, but that is not the reason why I didn’t like it. I just didn’t think it was funny or compelling. You can deviate from the original as much as you want as long as you are making a good show (look at Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot for a recent example). Fortunately Looney Tunes Cartoons and Animaniacs are entertaining whether you are a fan of the original iterations or not.
Pete Browngardt first got involved in talks of a Looney Tunes reboot when he expressed to Warner Bros. Animation president Sam Register that he wanted to make a Looney Tunes cartoon in the spirit of the original series from the forties after turning down working on another project, so you can thank the Uncle Grandpa creator for inspiring the idea.
Browngardt actually hired Jim Soper as a character designer for the series based on his Instagram art, and directors like David Gemmill, Ryan Kramer, Kenny Pittenger and Browngardt himself as well as voice actors like Eric Bauza (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Tweety), Jeff Bergman (Elmer Fudd, Sylvester), Bob Bergen (Porky Pig) and Fred Tatasciore (Yosemite Sam) have done good jobs paying homage to those who came before them.
The animation is not as full as it was in the era of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett but make no mistake it is still amazing and much more flexible and expressive than most cartoons in an era dominated by CGI and flash animation, thanks to the efforts of Yowza! Animation (Toronto), Tonic DNA (Montreal), Yearim Productions (South Korea) and Snipple Animation (Phillipines).
I breezed through the first 30 cartoons after they landed on HBO Max. They are some of the funniest things I watched all year and production on additional cartoons is said to have begun in October 2020. I’m watching the classic Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies from the 1930s to the 1960s (which are also available on HBO Max) while I patiently wait for more to drop. Ten episodes were not nearly enough!
Meanwhile Family Guy writer Wellesley Wild was chosen as showrunner for the reboot of Animaniacs, which first gained steam back in 2017 following the renewed popularity of the original series on Netflix in 2016. Wild knew that recreating the style of Animaniacs was like capturing lightning in a bottle twice so his goal was to keep the lightning that was already captured inside the bottle as much as possible.
Amblin Television returned to produce and Steven Spielberg was heavily involved in its production just like he was with the first series, watching to make sure it was moving in the right direction and even making suggestions like how it should include more political satire.
Some aspects of the series have disappeared, including the Hello Nurse character who was excluded due to changing attitudes about objectifying women (the series is so self-aware that they hilariously reference their own political correctness).
Animation on this series was outsourced as usual, this time being provided by Yowza! Animation, Tonic DNA, Snipple Animation and the three South Korean studios Digital eMation, Tiger Animation and Saerom Animation.
You can definitely quibble that Animaniacs was better in the nineties, especially since the original series had a wider variety of characters (only the Warners and Pinky and the Brain have returned for the reboot) but that doesn’t mean the reboot isn’t great, and it would be unfair to compare the two series since they are both made by completely different people in two different eras. Even if there are things about it that I personally dislike (in my case, the absence of Slappy Squirrel), it is still one of 2020’s sharpest animated series. Pinky and the Brain are particularly just as brilliant as they always were. I actually laughed at their cartoons more than the ones starring Yakko, Wakko and Dot, which is how I always reacted to Pinky and the Brain even back in the nineties. They remain my favorite part of the series.
My overall verdict on Looney Tunes Cartoons and Animaniacs is that they are both excellent, hilarious and creative. Looney Tunes Cartoons arguably did a more impressive job because they had the bigger challenge of adapting Tex Avery and Bob Clampett’s styles to a modern age, requiring one foot to be set in 1940 and the other to be set in 2020 at the same time. They pulled it off admirably.
Along with WB’s recent efforts to reboot Looney Tunes and Animaniacs, their feature film animation division Warner Animation Group (WAG) has been busy revitalizing the studio’s other popular properties with films like Scoob!, Tom & Jerry and Space Jam: A New Legacy. In fact, WAG is in the process of building a cinematic universe for Hanna-Barbera with film adaptations of The Flintstones, The Jetsons and Wacky Races currently in the works.
In addition, WB Animation has shows like Scooby-Doo and Guess Who? and Flintstones reboot Yabba-Dabba Dinosaurs currently in production for Boomerang as well as the Hanna-Barbera crossover Jellystone! from C.H. Greenblatt (Chowder, Harvey Beaks) for HBO Max, which will feature Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Snagglepuss, Top Cat, Quick Draw McGraw, Pixie, Dixie, Mr. Jinks, Auggie Doggie, Doggie Daddy, Magilla Gorilla, Peter Potamus, Squiddly Diddly, Yakky Doodle, Jabberjaw and others.
And then there’s the upcoming Tom and Jerry in the Big City, Tiny Toon Adventures reboot Tiny Toons Looniversity and the hybrid live-action/animated HBO Max series Tooned Out which will be helmed by Who Framed Roger Rabbit director Robert Zemeckis and feature many WB cartoon stars (and apparently Christopher Lloyd).
WB Animation is finding success with its reboots so far. And the studio’s current shows Young Justice, Teen Titans Go!, Harley Quinn and Green Eggs and Ham are similarly killing it (speaking of Dr. Seuss, WAG is working on movies based on The Cat in the Hat and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! so does that also mean Dr. Seuss cinematic universe?) I only hope that Warner Bros. will give its artists the creative freedom to experiment and develop their funny bone the way that Leon Schlesinger did in the days of Termite Terrace, because that’s the only way WB Animation will truly be as great as they once were.