I think we can all agree that 2020 has been negatively zany to the max, making it so lots of people couldn't sit back and relax, with many so frustrated they could collapse. So I guess there's no better time than now for the return of Animaniacs, which helped to redefine children's animated series in the 1990s thanks in part to Steven Spielberg (along with Tiny Toons and the under-appreciated Freakazoid). Yakko, Wakko and Dot are back for more wacky action via Hulu's reboot, so we're taking a moment to champion the original series for being one of the smartest cartoons in existence.
Animaniacs' brilliance was multi-fold, of course, but we're focusing on just how often the animated series attempted to educate viewers via catchy, fact-filled songs that are still memorable well over 20 years later. So before diving from the Warner Bros' water tower into the new episodes, join us in celebrating Animaniacs' ten best educational songs from the original series run. (Note that with one quasi-exception, this list contains only songs that were featured on the TV show, and not audio-only tracks.)
10. The Planets (Season 1, Ep. 32)
One of two space-loving songs on this list, "The Planets" is admittedly a simple song that loses some of its educational cred by ending on a Uranus joke. But for children who are just starting to understand the solar system and the majestic orbs floating around in it, "The Planets" provides a relatively quick and fun way to commit all the names to memory. And Pluto defenders will also be pleased at the dwarf planet's inclusion here, around 13 years before it was officially reclassified.
9. When You're Traveling From Nantucket (Season 4, Ep. 5)
While there are a few statistical errors within the lyrics of "When You're Traveling from Nantucket," that doesn't take away from all of the legitimately valid information strewn throughout. This is a perfectly memorable introduction to the mind-expanding concepts of time zones, the Earth's rotation in relation to the sun, and general relativity. I'd love to say this song is just for kids, but as someone who still botches time zone change details this far into adulthood, I can make no such claims in Maine, Spain or Ukraine.
8. The Senses Song (Season 2, Ep. 9)
Three cheers to Animaniacs for introducing the idea that the traditionally accepted five senses are far too limited to include all of the other senses that humans are capable of. Such as those concerning pride, confusion, timeliness, fear, direction and plenty of other mental elements that can't be easily visualized by a picture of an eyeball or an eardrum. (This song's clip in the episode also features cameos from other characters like Pinky and the Brain, Dr. Otto Scratchansniff, Slappy Squirrel and more.)
7. Multiplication (Season 3, Ep. 7)
While I am not a very big fan of complicated math equations, I do love songs about numbers – shout out to Tom Lehrer! – and "Multiplication" definitely does the trick. Yes, it's mostly because this is all elementary-level information, but it's still a very smart way to teach the principle to children in a way that they'll both pay attention to and learn from. If only Animaniacs had similar songs about Algebra II and Calculus.
6. Be Careful What You Eat (Season 1, Ep. 23)
This is arguably the closest Animaniacs came to crafting a song that sounds like medicine ads that list seemingly endless side effects. Instead, though, Yakko, Wakko and Dot are singing about the seemingly endless list of hard-to-pronounce ingredients that make up just about all of the food we eat that doesn't come directly from the ground. While kids probably don't give this song too much thought, adults are well-aware of the importance of learning what's in our food, making it one of the more timelessly important songs.
5. All the Words In The English Language (Season 3, Ep. 5)
The perfect complement to "Multiplication" is definitely the term-filled "All the Words in the English Language," which is less about fancifully depicting a specific concept, and more like a word-of-the-day calendar. The song, which is split into three different parts throughout the episode, tackles lists of A-words, F-words (but not like THAT F-word), L-words and Z-words. In what other children's song will you hear the words "absentia," "fractal," "lipid" and "zither" in that order?
4. Yakko's Universe (Season 1, Ep. 3)
One of the earliest classic tracks to be introduced to Animaniacs viewers, "Yakko's Universe" is heavily inspired by the always-excellent "Galaxy Song," as penned by Eric Idle for the film Monty Python and the Meaning of Life. As a Python fanatic, I have no choice but to love this song, but it's helps that it's also highly informative about our always in-motion universe. Plus, it hits the kind of light-philosophical bent that younger viewers can appreciate without getting humbly freaked out out about how small and dinky they are.
3. The Presidents Song (Season 3, Ep. 8)
Like several other songs on this list, "The Presidents Song" does not feature the most up-to-date information about its subject matter, considering it aired 25 years ago, with seven presidential elections taking place after the fact. Still, modern presidents get covered endlessly on the news and elsewhere, so we already know arguably too much about them anyway, and it'll always be important to make oneself familiar with everyone who has led the United States since its formation. And thanks to Animaniacs, kids learned about Thomas Jefferson's marital issues, Ulysses S. Grant's heavy drinking, William Harrison's month-long term before dying, and Grover Cleveland's weight. Okay, so it technically isn't the most informative about all the Presidents' lives, but it does lay out their proper order, and remembering that is half the battle.
2. Wakko's America (Season 1, Ep. 21)
Let's expand from U.S. Presidents to the entirety of the U.S. itself with the first-season ditty "Wakko's America." Part of what makes this song great is that it's part of a Jeopardy! sketch within the episode, and Jeopardy! is precisely the kind of game show for which all of these songs can be put to good use. The song is basically a rhyme-time list of state capitals, and while not all of it is precisely correct – does anyone just call the capital "Jefferson" in Missouri? – it's still the quickest and catchiest way to learn/memorize key facts. At least, those solely about the U.S.A.
1. Yakko's World (Season 1, Ep. 2)
When it comes to the whole world, however, look no further than "Yakko's World," arguably the most widely known Animaniacs song from its original run, and one that was reprised several times throughout. The earliest tune to appear, "Yakko's World" is geographical word soup in the best way, with the animated character rattling off a huge list of countries while jumping from continent to continent. Granted, the song isn't an exhaustive list of nations, with dozens being left out, and given the way the world works, plenty of locations are known by completely different names now. All that said, no other track in existence can stand toe-to-Tobago with Animaniacs' most educational entry.
For those wondering, my honorable mentions would be "The Ballad of Magellan," "Bones of the Body" and "The Geologic Clock," with the latter being an unused song from the TV series that was first performed live in 2012, with songwriter Randy Rogel calling it the hardest song he'd ever written.
Check out the all-new Animaniacs revival, with all the main cast members returning, on Hulu now. Well, maybe after reliving all of the songs listed above, and after voting in our poll below for your favorite song. And then maybe after heading to our Fall 2020 TV premiere schedule and our 2021 Winter and Spring TV rundown to see all the other new and returning shows debuting soon.
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Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.