In 2020, apparently even Animaniacs can’t escape America’s political divides.
While it might seem out of place for a kids’ cartoon, the recent Hulu reboot of the ’90s classic has critics and fans alike debating exactly where the wacky, zany Warner siblings fall on the spectrum of political party alignment.
Politics is nothing new to the Animaniacs. As returning voice actor Jess Harnell (Wakko Warner) told Inverse, “At its heart, Animaniacs was always a kid’s show masquerading as a social satire, masquerading as a Broadway musical.”
The original played to multiple age groups back in the ’90s, with political jokes that cut across both sides of the aisle. “Hulu knew. We cannot weaken this. If anything, we make it more sardonic and edgier to take it to the next level,” Harnell said of the reboot’s approach to social commentary.
But making fun of Newt Gingrich and Al Gore with equal measure hit different for audiences two decades ago. When a majority of Republican leaders didn’t support a sitting president’s baseless refusal to concede to a peaceful, democratic transference of power after a legitimate election.
To state the obvious, the political landscape of 2020 is a different ball game. Matching that chaos energy, absolutely no one can agree on whether or not the politics of these cartoon characters is problematic.
In reviews leading up to the revival’s release on Nov. 20, critics were already pointing to the precarious position Animaniacs was in when it came to commentary on politics in the age of Trump. None of them seem to have come to the same conclusion when deciding how well they pulled it off, though.
For NPR’s Aisha Harris, the revival’s liberal-leaning politics read pretty loud and clear. According to Harris, the problem is more about how the reboot (which was mostly written back in 2018) pokes fun at all-too-fresh IRL wounds from the recent presidential election, like voter suppression. The new Animaniacs does take several explicit shots at conservatives, with multiple jokes at President Trump’s expense and even a whole episode on “bun” control, a paper-thin bunny analogy with pro-gun control sentiments.
Others had opposite takeaways. Collider’s review interpreted some of the gags — like the new theme song lyrics that mention its a cast being “gender-balanced,” “ethnically diverse,” and friendly to “neutral pronouns” — as proof of the reboot’s “conservative-leaning shift” and rampant “woke jokes” at the expense of overly sensitive millennials who are obsessed with PC culture.
Meanwhile, Slashfilm gave the most glowing interpretation of all, praising the show’s social commentary as sharp and equally critical of both sides.
Of course, there’s even more division online (namely on Reddit and Twitter, those bastions of productive political discourse), with fans expressing other polarizing reactions to the politics of Animaniacs.
Some are mad that Warner sister Dot has become such a modern feminist, calling the revival’s apparent wokeness and jabs at conservatives as “tiresome.” Despite acknowledging the fact that the original also included political satire, one fan argues that the reboot is just too “one-sided.”
Meanwhile, the other camp celebrates all those progressive messages, even expanding upon some to support popular headcanon like Wakko being non-binary. The longtime fan theory, while initially inspired by a much older comic panel, is believed to have been strengthened by new “evidence” from the revival.
Hilariously, there’s still another faction of fans who thinks the show isn’t left-leaning enough, promoting political commentary that appeases only more centrist liberal sensibilities.
“New Animaniacs is too left leaning.”
Do the warners call for the ppl to rise up against the owning class and seize the means?
No , just a few liberal feminist jokes and a dunk on Tucker.
The culture war is going to just keep getting stupider until civilization collapses, huh?
— Mallorie Malapert (@lunch__bug) November 21, 2020
The Animaniacs 2020 praising Nancy Reagan for her DARE campaign when it was just state-sponsored propaganda for the war on drugs and the mass incarceration of black people is peak libshit.
— 🦃 End imperialism 🦃 (@__MoBlack) November 23, 2020
If you ask me, every side of this divide is participating in some level of projection with varying degrees of self-awareness.
The original Animaniacs, while unanimously agreed to be pretty liberal-leaning, wasn’t more “one-sided,” and instead poked fun at the then-sitting president Bill Clinton with equal frequency as Trump. The non-binary Wakko fancam crowd seems the most grounded in reality of the lot, fully conscious that they’re mostly seeing what they want to see — and that’s perfectly fine. Certainly, the Warner siblings aren’t card-carrying members of Democratic Socialists of America, but can we really rely on children’s cartoons to more radical than the majority of liberals?
At the end of the day, the Animaniacs are in the impossible position of trying to navigate the 2020 political landscape without pissing too many people off. Expecting them to succeed at that is much zanier and wackier than anything the titular cartoons do.
Animaniacs is streaming on Hulu.