22 years after going off the air, Animaniacs is rising from the dead this week. But before you dive into Hulu’s reboot of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot spare a moment to reflect on what made this children’s show so legendarily masterful in the first place, so packed with useful information that it itself became sarcastically useless. That’s right: It’s time to revisit “Yakko’s World.”
Animaniacs was and is a show that constantly relies on gimmicks. Wakko is the brother who eats everything. Dot is the sass machine obsessed with her own cuteness. And Yakko is the educational and musically inclined one of his siblings. It’s that combination that led to one of the silliest and most subtly scathing songs in all of ’90s animation.
First released during Episode 2 of the series, “Yakko’s World” is exactly what it sounds like. In less than two minutes Yakko sings the names of all the nations of the world, or almost all the nations. An estimated 59 nations that were around in 1993 are missing from the list. On a surface level it’s a deeply impressive musical endeavor. Transforming a list of 160 countries into a song that not only rhymes but is incredibly catchy is a feat. The Animaniacs writing team was always a deeply intelligent one, a group of people who routinely paired references to long dead artists with slapstick hammer bashing. That writer Randy Rogel was able to craft this song while teaching his son geography speaks to how smart the creators of this show were.
Yet it’s this song’s uselessness that speaks to its brilliance.
Children’s animation is packed full of carefully crafted songs designed to teach kids important facts and life lessons. Dora the Explorer, Blue’s Clues, Sesame Street, even more modern shows like Steven Universe have examples of this modern trope. On the surface that’s what “Yakko’s World” pretends to be: educational. It’s only when you think about it that you realize that’s not the case at all.
Memorizing a list of nations in a random order doesn’t enrich anyone. It gives no insight into geopolitical relations, national histories, or geography. Really, “Yakko’s Song” is nothing more than an animated parlor trick disguised as an important lesson. And Animaniacs knows that.
Yakko, Wakko, and Dot are never meant to actually teach children anything. They’re meant to be funny and entertaining while mocking the illusion that cartoons can be a replacement for an actual education. Through that framework, “Yakko’s World” isn’t just technically impressive. It’s philosophically impressive in its dedicated admonishment of educational cartoons. You want an educational song? Fine. Here’s one that sounds impressive while giving kids absolutely nothing of substance. That’s about as punk rock as a cartoon can get.
That was the ethos that carried Animaniacs throughout its original five season run. Steven Spielberg’s cartoon was able to look at the animated landscape, examine what people and executives expected from it, and give everyone the middle finger with a smile on its face. That’s pretty impressive for two Warner brothers and a Warner sister, Dot.
View original post