To a certain generation, the Saturday morning TV series Animaniacs is more than just a wacky TV series from their youth. It has become an institution full of memorable catchphrases, gags, and characters that enliven the imagination. Along with several spin-offs, this Steven Spielberg-produced cartoon's lasting popularity can be seen by the choice to do a national tour featuring original voice actors, composers, and orchestral members. Following a sold-out 7 PM show, the La Mirada Theater in La Mirada, CA added a 2 PM matinee. It's likely that, if ethically possible, there would be even earlier shows added. Despite the TV series being off the air for 20 years this September, the cast and crew still know how to bring the show to life and remind audiences why Animaniacs continues to resonate. It's smart. It's silly. It's faboo.
So, what is there to expect at an Animaniacs Live event? For a show known for its variety, it mostly sticks to a strict schedule that explores the show's surprisingly rich history. The show is predominantly hosted by voice actor Rob Paulsen (best known as the voice of Yakko) and composer Randy Rogel. With a full orchestra and an occasional video accompaniment, the duo riff off each other as they explore the origins of the series and explain how songs like "A Quake! A Quake!" evolved from a silly idea to its final form. The show is as much a history and appreciation lesson as it is a chance for devoted fans to spend time with the cast. Thankfully Paulsen and Rogel are spry enough to make up for the sparse appearance of the other billed performers (specifically Tress MacNeille and Jess Harnell, or Dot and Wakko respectively). Even then, the ridiculously talented Rogel's songbook should be enough to get people in the door.
While the show lacked the stage space to reenact scenes, each of the songs were given very showy performances. Paulsen would wander the stage as he sang tunes like the satirized "Noel." There was even room for Hollywood parody as Paulsen and Rogel participated in recurring gags with the orchestra that involved bribing people to say nice things about them. Even with the fake animosity, there's a strong sense of camaraderie among everyone on stage. They're professionals who know the material well and, better yet, know how to entertain an audience. Even the seemingly dull stories about the animation process or marketing were given delightful spins, thanks in large part to Paulsen's gift for witty asides. When it came to describing where the voice of Dr. Scratchansniff came from, he suggested that "It's because Peter Sellers is dead."
As the banner suggests, this is a show for the central Warner Brothers (and Warner Sister). The small cameos from MacNeille and Harnell provided the show's best moments as the three riffed off each other antagonistically, as if in character. Harnell stole the show at several points thanks to his shiny, flashy suits that glimmered into the back row. His odd fashion was matched by his humor, which early on mentioned such odd topics as strip clubs. Even then, his enthusiasm for being involved with the production was clearly seen. During the show's best moment, the trio sing "I'm Mad," which details an egregious car ride with everyone singing over each other. The song was full of personality and embodied what the show did best. It took the mundane and brought it to comical life. As the show went on, there would be other songs about war and the spice trade. Before that, fans were treated to "Wakko's America" and "Yakko's World," the latter of which also featured updated lyrics.
In case the popularity of Animaniacs hadn't become clear after over two hours of laughing and clapping, the crowd dressed in vintage memorabilia ended the show by singing the theme song along with the cast. In that moment, Animaniacs shows its true power. It connects fans both young and old. As Paulsen notes, it's in large part because the show never talked down to the audience. There was a certain intellect to the show in which the characters could be very silly but also secretly smart. Part of it, as displayed constantly throughout the show, should be thanked to Rogel's ability to turn morbid subject matter into informational ditties. It also helps that Paulsen specifically has embraced the fandom (his Twitter account is YakkoPinky) and recites jokes from the show at various Comic Cons on an annual basis. The show may be long done, but its power continues to live on. Maybe audiences aren't in the same room when they do it, but there's a good chance that someone somewhere is singing "It's time for Animaniacs!" right now. The show continues to live on, and Animaniacs Live is the best example of why that is.