‘Animaniacs’ Was Unexpectedly Popular With Viewers Outside Its Target Audience
While cartoons may have a reputation for being for kids, cartoons of the recent decades have shown that adults can get in on the fun, too. This isn’t just the case for TV shows like South Park and The Simpsons; it happens with kids’ shows, too. In the early 1990s, Warner Bros collaborated with Steven Spielberg to make a spiritual successor to the Looney Tunes with Animaniacs. While the show was a hit with kids, it also struck a chord with older audiences.
What is ‘Animaniacs’?
Animaniacs was an updated take on a classic form of cartoon storytelling. While many cartoons had gone to a format with one or two stories that followed a specific narrative, Animaniacs was something of an animated sketch show. While its three main characters — Yakko, Wakko, and Dot — were featured in most skits, the cast of characters grew larger than any core member.
The show had all the slapstick comedy that a kid could ask for, continually lampooning movies, television, and current events in a funny and family-friendly matter that had been missing since the 1960s. It spawned several classic cartoon characters, including Pinky and the Brain, the Goodfeathers, Slappy, Ralph, Hello Nurse, and several others.
Some of the show’s bits, such as the ones where Yakko sings state capitals, became staples at school. It was a show that refused to stay in a single lane. One bit may be a long bathroom joke, while another may be a statement on politics, religion, or other hot-button topics. The show was a massive success and helped bring Warner Brothers into the 1990s.
Two decades after its original run, the show remains a hit on streaming services including Hulu, which recently released its revival of the hit cartoon. However, part of the show’s current appeal lies not in a new generation of kids but a demographic that is now old enough to appreciate it in ways older audiences did when it first premiered.
‘Animaniacs’ reaches multiple demographics
At face value, Animaniacs was the perfect show for kids. It had lots of laughs, lots of wacky antics, and short stories that didn’t require kids to sit down and watch for hours at a time. However, that was not its only demographic. When the show became a hit, people started to notice that older audiences loved it, too.
This might seem odd to those who have not watched it. But those who did appreciated the dated references the show made to Hollywood’s golden age, which not only poked fun at the times but paid homage to them. In between jokes about Wakko being unable to find a bathroom during a movie and Pinky and the Brain trying to take over the world were adult references that would go over the average kid’s head.
Building off another hit series, Tiny Toons, Animaniacs was the closest thing that the 1990s had to the cartoons of 50 years earlier. It also showed that a cartoon didn’t have to be The Simpsons to appeal to an adult audience.
‘Animaniacs’ helped to reignite interest in cartoons for adults
Cartoons don’t need a lot to cater to their target audiences, and Animaniacs could have been just another slapstick Saturday morning staple. Instead, the team behind the show decided to mature the humor while keeping the appeal for children.
This largely had not been done with cartoons since The Flintstones and The Jetsons premiered in primetime. Now, many cartoons cater to kids and adults equally — or even primarily to adults.