This week marks the return of yet another 90s-era show, another piece of nostalgia revived for the hopeful adoration of fans around the world. This one’s a revival for audiences of all ages: it’s Animaniacs, the ultra-zany weekday cartoon that introduced viewers to the Warner Brothers (and the Warner sister), an exceptionally brilliant mouse with plans for world domination, a trio of wise-talking pigeons, and more. The new show is something of a mixed bag (to this writer), with a longer lead time of production making some of its jokes less than timely.
That said, the new show almost immediately jumps into one of the hallmarks of the original Animaniacs: songs. The original show boasted songs about everything from world landmarks to the human senses, and as we celebrate its return, let’s count down the 15 best songs from the original Animaniacs universe.
15. The Etiquette Song
There’s a lyrical style to the songs from Animaniacs that becomes clear enough if you listen to more than one of them in a row. That style can be summed up in one word: listing. For “The Etiquette Song”, that means the song is about Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (voiced by Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille, respectively) listing out the various items that make up good etiquette at the dinner table. There’s more than just listing various utensils in the song, but that’s the core of the number, as the three Warners continue their endless campaign in driving their psychiatrist Dr. Scratchansniff (also Paulsen) absolutely insane. “The Etiquette Song” has some funny back-and-forth, but is one of the list songs that barely sticks around.
14. Cheese Roll Call
As the opener mentioned, this list will encompass songs from the Animaniacs “universe”, which is basically a cover to explain why a song from the Pinky and the Brain spin-off is part of the list. After the eponymous mice – one a kind-hearted dummy, the other a heartless genius – became so popular on Animaniacs, they got their own show. “Cheese Roll Call” appeared in an early episode, as Pinky (Paulsen again) spent time in an imaginary world with anthropomorphized cheese comestibles that he wanted to gobble up. Like a number of songs from the Animaniacs world, the music isn’t original – it’s “Semper Fidelis” by John Phillip Sousa – but the lyrics are witty and surprisingly fit quite well into a piece that would seem utterly unwelcome to an ode to food.
13. Video Revue
Animaniacs wasn’t just proudly “presented” by Steven Spielberg; the show was knee-deep in popular culture, making references to films and actors who most kids might only be vaguely familiar with. Take “Video Revue” as an example. The quick song features Yakko, Wakko, and Dot in a video store (remember video stores?), name-dropping all sorts of late-80s and early-90s films as well as movie stars of the day. The stars are all pretty timeless even now, with names like Jack Nicholson and Dustin Hoffman being name-checked. But the films are…well, very 90s. The lyrics start with The Player before referencing The Hand that Rocks the Cradle and The Presidio. (You know, The Presidio. The thriller starring Mark Harmon. The Presidio. Your favorite film of all time.) This is mostly on the list as a nostalgia blast, a funny reminder of what was popular 30 years ago and how so much of it is ephemeral.
12. The Planets Song
None of the songs on Animaniacs ever wore out their welcome. Though a few served as the basis of a lengthier segment of an episode, most were no more than two minutes long. Then, there’s “The Planets Song”, which is – as you might be able to guess – not even a minute long. Since there are only nine planets for Yakko to name (this is before Pluto was demoted from planet status), the song itself is brief and pithy. And technically, only eight of the nine planets get a section of verse; that’s because the final planet mentioned, Uranus, gets to be the source of a final, Borscht-Belt-esque bit between Wakko and Yakko. This song is short and sweet, but sometimes that’s enough.
11. Yes, Brothers Warner We
When Animaniacs wasn’t educating kids on the names of states and their capitals, the planets, and more, they would throw in a reference or two to Gilbert and Sullivan. Such was the case with a segment entitled “HMS Yakko”, wherein the three Warners run afoul of a nefarious pirate – or, rather, he runs afoul of them. There are four different songs in this section of the episode (just the third they ever made), and two of them will be called out on this list. “Yes, Brothers Warner We” is a fun opener that plays up the personalities of the three characters; when Dot is referenced, Yakko and Wakko sing, “You’d like her if you kissed her”, amplifying the faux-cute style the trio evince. It’s not the best song in the episode, but a fine way to indoctrinate the youth of America to the wonders of light opera.
10. The Senses
From the title, you might think that “The Senses Song” is all about the five sense that each person possesses. But the writers of this song have a lot more planned, with fun wordplay based on the notion of the various “senses” we can all possess beyond taste, smell, and the rest. “There’s a sense of humor, a sense of doom or/a sense of awe or a sense of timing”, Dot says speedily, as “The Senses Song” is yet another Animaniacs number that must have proved taxing on MacNeille, Paulsen and Harnell, who would have to keep up with the lightning-fast pacing in even this short sequence.
9. I Am The Very Model of a Cartoon Individual
As mentioned, the best song in “HMS Yakko” isn’t the opener. It’s the closer, “I Am The Very Model of a Cartoon Individual”, in which Yakko and the other Warners get right down to the nitty-gritty of being a cartoon character. But really, the song is an excuse for the show’s writers to expand upon the metaphysical qualities of cartoons and the comedy underpinning such characters. “My animation’s comical, unusual, and whimsical”, Yakko croons, before accurately placing himself and his siblings in the same category as Daffy Duck and Tweety Bird. The balance of high and low humor is right in line with the Looney Tunes themselves, an earned comparison for our Warner trio.
“Schnitzelbank” is, and you must believe it, a real song. It’s not just that the tune itself came before Animaniacs – the song itself is really…real. Within the show, the context is that the three Warners are learning the international friendship song from Professor Otto von Schnitzelpusskrankengescheitmeyer, which escalates in pacing from verse to verse. First, things start out simply enough as the Warners and the professor identify things like a piece of chalk, before they decide to identify the professor’s gut and his butt. While the good professor (forgive this writer for not writing his long last name again) seems happy enough at first, by the time the Warners have yanked off his clothes for a good joke, he literally kicks them out of town. “Schnitzelbank” is a fun piece, in which the pacing and lyrics get snappier and faster as the song progresses.
7. Yakko’s Universe
Like a number of other Animaniacs songs, the concept of “Yakko’s Universe” seems like it might be list-driven. But “Yakko’s Universe” is a bit more highfalutin, as songwriter Randy Rugg takes his inspiration from the “Galaxy Song” from Monty Python’s Meaning of Life. This one isn’t nearly as puerile or profane, but it does have witty lines like “We’re all just tiny specks/About the size of Mickey Rooney”. “Yakko’s Universe”, like a few of the other songs on this list, is both snappily funny without ever feeling like it’s being mean or cruel. This is the one element of the show that may be missing most of all in the remake, but it’s nice to revisit these songs to remember the unique brand of humor you could find on the original Animaniacs.
6. I’m Mad
“I’m Mad” is a double rarity in the Animaniacs universe: it was first released as a theatrical short in front of the 1994 adaptation of Thumbelina, and it features both original music and lyrics. Randy Rugg came up with both, as we watch Dr. Scratchansniff try to get the Warner trio out of their water tower so they can visit an amusement park. But the process of doing so is stress-inducing, as we watch the Warners act very much like children, yelling at each other, acting bored, getting frustrated, and so on. The song’s one of the best from the show (though it first premiered in theaters, it did eventually air as part of a regular episode) because it feels relatable to both kids and parents, with the lyrics balancing between being spoken and sung. It’s funny all around.
5. I’m Cute
If Yakko Warner is the one with a gift of gab, and Wakko is the oddball with the English accent, then Dot’s identifying trait is her cuteness. Tress MacNeille got a showcase number with “I’m Cute”, as Dot (with her brothers serving as gradually bored and displeased backup singers) explains just how cute she is and why everyone goes gaga over her. The song has a bouncy rhythm, with MacNeille, Paulsen, and Harnell’s voices adding a welcome energy. Yakko and Wakko may have had their horndog tagline of “Hello, nurse!” (the subject of a song that’s…not on this list), but Dot’s cuteness merited a really solid song.
4. The Monkey Song
This one might be cheating just a little bit, but when a musical sequence works, it works. You may recognize “The Monkey Song”, because it’s a Harry Belafonte song from the early 1960s. But while some of the lyrics remain, the context is much different as we hear from the hapless Dr. Scratchansniff about what the monkeys (better known as the Warner siblings) will or won’t do. Part of what makes the song work goes beyond the lyrics or the music – unlike with the Belafonte original, we can now get a visual of the “monkeys” being destructive little creatures. Paulsen – the real MVP of the cast, all things considered – throws himself into the various performances, making Dr. Scratchansniff an abject figure of pity because he’ll just never win.
3. Wakko’s America
One of the most playful things about the songs from Animaniacs is how the writers often found just the right pre-existing musical material to match with the right kind of lyrics. Take “Wakko’s America”, for example, in which Wakko explains all of the states and capital cities in the United States of America. He does so to the tune of “Turkey in the Straw” (think of the music from the seminal Disney short Steamboat Willie). Jess Harnell’s faux-Liverpudlian accent as Wakko pairs quite perfectly with the syncopation of each city and state. What makes a song like this – and really, any of the songs that are so list-heavy – so impressive is that the structure is repetitive without ever feeling repetitive. It’s all, as Wakko would say, faboo.
2. Animaniacs Theme Song
The theme song for Animaniacs is just a hint of the madness to come within each episode. The original series made it clear that the show would be a melting pot of pop culture, general knowledge, and old-school WB wit and physical comedy even as the characters were being introduced. And of course, one of the great charms of the theme is that one of its climactic lyrics was largely variable, changing from “Here’s the show’s name-y!” to “Come back, Shane-y!” to “Frasier Crane-y” (yes, really), and so on and so on. Even for kids who may have only understood the cadence of the humor in the song, the Animaniacs theme was a blast to listen to and remains one of the great 90s themes.
1. Yakko’s World
The premise of “Yakko’s World” is as simple as they come: it’s about naming the nations of the world. Yakko walks through all of those nations, as written by Randy Rugg. The music is what we know as the Mexican Hat Dance. So what makes this song so special? Partly, it’s the wit in which Rugg is able to place various countries within the scansion and pacing of the Mexican Hat Dance, but a lot of this can be chalked up to Rob Paulsen’s exuberant performance. “Yakko’s World” appeared in the second-ever episode of Animaniacs to air, and it served as a mission statement to adults and kids alike. The show doesn’t initially appear to be remotely educational, but songs like this prove a sneaky willingness to feed kids some knowledge along with the laughs.
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