With last week’s introductions of Rita and Runt and Mindy and Buttons, we’ve officially met Animaniacs’ entire first-string roster (i.e. everyone who warrants a theme-song mention). Sure, we still have the Hip Hippos, Chicken Boo, Minerva Mink, Katie Ka-Boom, and others waiting further down the episode list, but I think it’s safe to say none of those are “essential” to the Animaniacs universe. (Sorry, Mr. Skullhead fans.) So as fun as it is to see The Randy Beaman kid—whom Wikipedia informs me is named Colin—pop up twice in episode seven, his appearance is really only a footnote in an week that also includes what might be the series’ best Slappy The Squirrel short, a very good Pinky And The Brain, and two solid Warners shorts. Really, the only thing that’s missing this week is a great song, which the Gilligan’s Island parody “The Warner Lot” sadly doesn’t satisfy. It’s a little more robust than last week’s weaksauce Flipper parody, but only just—though it does work as a nice pre-credit sequence that isn’t “Newsreel Of The Stars,” which we’ve already seen quite a bit at this early juncture.
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are off the Warner lot for both episodes this week, going up against two new one-time adversaries: Flaxseed the candy-store owner in the aptly named “The Big Candy Store” and Wally Llama in the even-more-straightforwardly monikered “Wally Llama.” While Flaxseed gets points for naming his store “Totality Of Candy,” he’s a less interesting figure for the Warners to bump up against than Wally Llama, an enlightened super-yogi who just wants a break from answering constant questions when the Warners show up. Flaxseed is a pretty standard uptight-snob figure, and unlike last week’s uptight-snob figure, the concert pianist (tee-hee) Tympanini, his pompous-jerkitude isn’t inflated enough to play for laughs; he just serves to first ignore, than deride, then get flustered by the Warners, and has little in the way of memorable lines that aren’t direct responses to the Warners. Though some of those are admittedly great little comedic back-and-forths in the classic Warner tradition, like this exchange:
Wakko: “This is a great store, Mr. Candyman.”
Flaxseed: “I’m not the candyman!”
Dot: “Well you sell candy, don’t you kid?”
Flaxseed: “I’m not a kid!”
Yakko: “Relax, my good man.”
Flaxseed: “I’m not your good man!”
Yakko: “Hm, we’re running out of options here.”
Despite the missed opportunity to throw a Bugs-ian “Bub” into that list of sobriquets, there’s a great rhythm to these kinds of moments, where all three Warners gang up for a rapid-fire annoyance of their helpless target. And don’t let the Warners’ feigned innocence fool you into thinking they’re just insane, goofy, hyperactive kiddie types; they are most certainly targeting their hapless prey, as evidenced by Yakko ominously calling Wally Llama “our new friend… ” after he and his siblings get tossed out of Wally’s sanctuary atop Mt. Gesundheit. Flaxseed’s eventual comeuppance comes courtesy of a well-timed third party, Sister Margaret Mary June July—who sends up a quick prayer for a football team to come and trample Flaxseed in retribution for his mistreatment of the Warners and orphans—and is therefore slightly less satisfying than Wally Llama being driven up to and over the edge by the Warners themselves.
Wally’s also just a funnier, more memorable character in his own right: He informs Shirley MacLaine she couldn’t have been Kaye Ballard in another life because she’s an autumn (also ’cuz, ya know, Ballard isn’t dead); he uses his “smarty-brains” to hide from the Warners by “llama-llama-llama”-ing himself into nirvana; he’s so committed to not answering any questions that he refuses to tell the taxi he calls to escape the Warners where he wants to go; and his voice—courtesy of oft-accented character actor Richard Libertini—sounds kinda like Apu’s. I remembered all that without looking at my notes, whereas the only specific thing I can remember about Flaxseed is Dot yelling at him, as he ascends an impossibly tall ladder to retrieve some out-of-reach jellybeans, “Don’t look down! You might fall and hit your head and die and your brains would leak out allll over!” The Warners tend to be only as good as their adversaries, and consequently, “Wally Llama” is a much more memorable Warners entry. (Not to mention the fact that the Warners’ eventually revealed question, which drives Wally over the edge when he can’t answer it, is so sublimely dumb and cliché it provides a memorably groan-worthy capper: “Why do hot dogs come in packages of 10 and hot-dog buns come in packages of eight?”)
Slappy The Squirrel, on the other hand, doesn’t need an adversary (though she had one in Dug The Doug in “Slappy Goes Walnuts”), as she’s usually too cranky and tired to be much of an instigator anymore. I love Slappy shorts where she just plays off the naiveté and sweetness of her nephew Skippy, and “Bumbie’s Mom” is the epitome of that type of interaction, as Slappy uses all her classic-cartoon know-how to help convince Skippy that the on-screen mother of Bumbie, the dearest deer, isn’t actually dead—she’s just washed up in a trailer in New Mexico eating Weaner-Beaner mix and Fresca. As per usual with Slappy, there’s plenty of cartoon metaness going on in this short: Slappy uses her magic cartoon Squeegee to transition her and Skippy to the airport; she yells at the camera to dissolve to the next scene when Skippy gets airsick; and when the Warners make their customary run-through during one scene, she responds, with an annoyed look at the camera, “Well that was pointless.” Not to mention her showing Skippy how no one really dies in cartoons by grabbing a suspiciously Pluto-looking dog that she then bombs, runs over with a train, and drops a house on top of.
But as fun as those moments are to spot and nod knowingly at, there are lots of little sweet moments in “Bumbie’s Mom” that give it some depth beyond cartoon self-referentialsm. It goes a full minute into its short 8-minute running time without going for a laugh line, instead easing into the scene of Skippy watching Bumbie with adorably wide-eyed delight and Slappy telling the camera, “Life is good,” which is unusually heartwarming coming from a crank like her. And my favorite part of “Bumbie’s Mom” might actually be a wordless not-even-really-a-gag: Skippy’s stifled, hiccupping, chest-concaving sobs on the plane, an absolutely perfect representation of a little kid who’s reached the point where he doesn’t even have the energy to make noise, but still can’t stop crying. It’s cute, kind of funny (or at least Slappy’s reaction to it is), and sweet, as Skippy so often is, in contrast to the salty Slappy. There are few better combinations than sweet and salty, making “Bumbie’s Mom” the delicious salted caramels of Animaniacs.
The Pinky And The Brain short that makes up the other half of episode nine, “Where Rodents Dare,” is basically Where Eagles Dare filtered through P&B’s taking-over-the-worldview with a dash of ’90s international politics on top. You know, for kids! A 1968 Clint Eastwood/Richard Burton vehicle and Mihkhail Gorbachev don’t exactly sound like the makings of a Saturday-morning kids’ TV show, but such is the charm of Pinky And The Brain, which built its first short around a sitcom episode that debuted in 1956. Pinky is of course the “for kids!” element here, keeping things grounded in silliness, as is proper for a kiddie show. There’s a fun runner where the episode’s militaristic snare-drum score is actually Pinky, disrupting Brain’s plans at every turn; and of course Pinky’s response to Brain’s “are you pondering what I’m pondering” query is appropriately screwy: “I think so. But where would we find an open tattoo parlor at this time of night?” But Brain actually takes most of the cartoon pratfalls, getting squished into the gondola gears and falling off the rock face he’s scaling—both due to Pinky’s interference, of course. Pinky and the Brain aren’t so much a clown and straight man as two different types of clowns, and neither one works as well on his own. Like Slappy and Skippy, or the Warners and their victim-of-the-week, the comedy’s in the interplay between opposites.
- The opening music for “The Big Candy Store” is a riff on “Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy,” which is fairly subtle as far as candy-related song motifs go.
- The Warners approach Totality Of Candy riding a city bus like a Roman chariot; in the words of Yakko, “How’s that for an entrance?”
- I love the Warners showing Flaxseed what making fun of him really looks like: “We sell candy, we sell candy!”
- Another reason “The Big Candy Store” might seem a little less essential: It’s animated by StarToons, which does nice work with Slappy and other characters, but has a weird, off-brand take on the Warners.
- After Flaxseed gets turned into a chocolate bunny and donated to the orphanage, Yakko winks to the camera, “Wait until they get to the creamy filling,” which is a little unsettling…
- “Say one word and I’ll throw dynamite down your pants!” Thanks Slappy—I’m adding that to my list of go-to threats.
- Skippy sobs every time the words “Bumbie’s mom” are uttered; Slappy notes, “Pavlov would love this kid.” That is just a very smart joke. Two points, Slappy.
- The actress who played Bumbie’s mom, Vena Walene, used to date George Jetson. Do yourself a favor and don’t try to work out the chronology there.
- Slappy’s response when Road Runner and Coyote run through the New Mexican landscape: “Enough with the gratuitous cameos”
- “Helllloooo Llama!”
- In case you were wondering what Randy Beaman’s relatives are up to, his mom ate her pillow because she dreamt it was a marshmallow, and his aunt got her feet licked by a crazy dude.
- “Fade out already, we got the joke!”