After the success of Tiny Toon Adventures in the very early 1990s, Steven Spielberg helped produce a new series created by Tom Ruegger called Animaniacs that pushed the envelope a good deal further than Tiny Toon Adventures ever did. And that's really saying something, given how Tiny Toons had already famously "cracked up all the censors." Wakko, Yakko (the Warner Brothers) and Dot (the Warner sister) were three early cartoon stars who had been locked up in the Warner Bros. lot since the 1930s and now they were free to wreak havoc. And, indeed, havoc they brought.
Among many other things, the theme song famously noted that the three cartoon siblings have "baloney in their sacks," so even before the episodes began, they were already working in all of the innuendos they could into the show. However, that was far from the extent of how far they would push the envelope, content-wise. They would even begin to note their own efforts in the episodes themselves. Here, then, are 15 instances where the show pushed the censors (plus one example where they went too far and got caught). Honestly, you might be surprised by how much these ostensibly fun little cartoons actually got away with -- we certainly were!
16 IT'S GOOD TO BE KING
In "King Yakko," Yakko becomes the heir to the throne in a small country and, as you might imagine, he does not handle his new reality well. Hello Nurse (the Warner Bros. studio nurse who helps keep track of the Warners) is his Prime Minister. When he addresses his Cabinet, he proceeded to talk to an actual cabinet instead.
When Hello Nurse quizzically asks him, "Sire?" he tells her, "Wait 'til we're alone." That is a dirty play on the word "sire," which can mean a term you call a king (which is how Hello Nurse was using it) and it can also mean to procreate (and sire a lineage), which is how Yakko was using it. When you're sneaking things past the censor, double meanings are always going to be your friend!
15 WHY HELLO THERE, NURSE
As noted, Hello Nurse is one of the recurring characters on the show as it is partially her job as the Warners studio nurse to keep track of the Warners, which is no easy task. One of the recurring gags throughout the series is how Wakko and Yakko continue to fawn over her (this is all based on an old vaudeville routine where a good looking nurse would walk by and men would fawn over her and say, "Hello Nurse!" with the O elongated.
Hello Nurse was consistently used a sought-after object throughout the series, including in dream sequences or parody stories, like in "Pun for Hire." In the episode, a parody of the old Sam Spade detective stories, she plays a damsel in distress who shakes her body when she is upset, shouting, "No no no!" Yakko has her repeat her movements for his enjoyment. It's amazingly blatant.
14 FINGER PRINTS
One of the most famous dirty lines from the Animaniacs was, of course, another play on words (you can almost always hide your dirty jokes if you at least come up with the pretext that you're saying something else entirely). In one episode, where they're trying to solve a mystery, Yakko tells to Dot to dust for prints.
Dot then pulls out the musician Prince, shouting to her brother that she found Prince. Yakko replies, "No, no, no, fingerprints!" Prince stares at Dot and grins suggestively before Dot decides against taking the suggested action and instead throws him out of a porthole. What is shocking about this gag is that it is barely even a double meaning, as they had already established that Dot had confused "prints" with "Prince."
13 MINERVA BRINGS ALL THE BOYS TO THE YARD
Minerva Mink was an example of a character who ultimately went too far. She was an alluring mink (a play on the fact that good looking women would often be referred to as minx), but the censors ultimately found her entire existence as a character just too much for the show, as her whole set-up was that she would walk around in skimpy clothes and people would go crazy about her.
In one notable sequence, she is about to go skinny-dipping and Dot has to pull Yakko and Wakko away and put them into a suitcase to keep them from her. She then pulls down a shade for privacy and disrobes. However, even in silhouette, it was probably a bit too suggestive. So while she continued to appear in the Animaniacs tie-in comic book, Minerva Mink rarely showed up on the TV show.
12 WHAT A MOUTH FOR A SUCH A FAMOUS MUSICIAN
The Warner siblings would frequently break through time and space in episodes, as the show was all about just finding the best gag. So there were no real "rules" as to how the Warners would time travel or break the fundamental laws of physics. It was just a simple matter of, "If the story needed them to interact with the past, they'll interact with the past."
In one episode, they are chimney sweeps who run into Ludwig van Beethoven while he is trying to compose his fifth symphony. They don't know who he is, so he says to them, "I am Ludwig van Beethoven, world famous composer and pianist." The show then plays up how the word "pianist" can sound like a certain part of the body. They act shocked at his language. When he repeats himself, they wash his mouth out with soap.
11 FUN WITH VERBS
A regular gag on cartoons for years, including the Disney Afternoon shows that were coming out at the same time as Animaniacs was in the early 1990s, was to take an otherwise innocent word and treat it like it had a different meaning based on it sounding similar to a "dirty" word. This is different from "pianist," which actually does sound like another word.
No, we specifically mean the way that cartoons take the word "conjugate" (which means to give the different forms of a verb depending on who is using the verb, what tense they're using it in, etc.) and confuse it with "fornicate" and "conjugal." So when the teacher offers to conjugate with Wakko, he finds it all quite dirty (things are made even dirtier when she pulls a marker out from her brassiere at one point).
10 TWERKING GIRL
In general, while Minerva Mink and Hello Nurse were both commonly depicted as sexual objects, the same was not really said for Dot Warner, which is a good thing, since the Warners are all ostensibly children, so it would be kind of weird (although not at all out of the ordinary for many cartoons of the era).
One exception is an episode where the Warners are sitting around the campfire and get their hot dogs and beans ready for the fire. Yakko shouts, "I got the beans!" Wakko shouts, "I got the ketchup!" and then Dot shouts, "I got the buns!" and turns around and begins, essentially, twerking. Yakko then dismisses her claims by saying, "Says you." We don't want to see a little kid shake her buns, Dot!
9 FUN WITH GEOGRAPHY
Along with words with double meanings (like sire), another way that you can get away with "dirty" content is by using real life words that just sound like dirty words, even if there technically is nothing dirty about them. This was clearly at play with the notable Animaniacs' song, "Lake Titicaca."
There is an actual lake by that name that is on the border between Bolivia and Peru, so the Warner siblings sang an ode to it, which the censors couldn't very well object to, since it is legitimately the name of a real lake. Thus, even though the name clearly evokes certain parts of the female and male anatomy, they were allowed to sing an ode to it on a kids cartoon show. Bonkers.
8 SLAPPY BEGINS TO LIKE IT
Animaniacs actually had a bit that they would specifically use to call attention to when a particularly dirty joke has been made. Right after the joke, someone (typically Wakko, but not if it isn't a Warner siblings cartoon) will quickly say, "Goodnight, everybody!" Like many of the bits in the series, it is right out of vaudeville, where a performer would quickly just say "Goodnight" and rush off the stage if something went wrong (like if too dirty of a joke was made).
A non-Wakko version of this occurred in the Slappy the Squirrel cartoon where a little baby bird tries to get Slappy to sit on it to keep it warm like its own mother back in the nest. Early on, it is a pain, but eventually, Slappy admits that she likes the feeling now and she makes a very suggestive face. Her nephew then says, "Goodnight, everybody!"
7 FUN AT THE DRIVE-IN
The person who is ultimately responsible for the care of the Warner siblings is the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Scratchansniff, whose own sanity has been stretched nearly to its breaking point by his annoying charges. Meanwhile, he has a life of his own, as well, and he is always trying to woo Frau Hassenfeffer (whose last name is a clever reference to the opening credits of Laverne and Shirley).
In the episode, "Drive-Insane," the good doctor takes Frau Hassenfeffer to the drive-in movies, but naturally the Warner siblings show up to cause trouble during the film. At one point, they begin to jump up and down in the doctor's car, which causes Frau Hassenfeffer to scream in terror. However, when a woman brings her child by the car, the car bouncing up and down with a woman screaming has a whole other connotation to it.
6 A DIFFERENT INTERPRETATION OF THE HAYS CODE
As noted earlier, the Warners are from the 1930s and in one episode, "The Girl with the Googily Goop," we see an untold adventure from the 1930s when the Warner siblings were loaned out to a rival studio to do a Googy Goop cartoon. Googy Goop, of course, is based on the classic cartoon character, Betty Boop, who practically invented the art of cartoons sneaking stuff by the censors.
Meanwhile, in the mid-1930s, Hollywood was rocked a bit by the institution of the Hays Code, a self-censoring service to prevent the government from getting involved and censoring films. In this cartoon, the Hays code is personified as a guy named Hays, who wants Googy Goop to stop wearing her sexy clothing, but his phrasing is poor when he tells her to take it off!
5 ANTHROPOMORPHIC FUN
A notable moment in the original Wayne's World film is when Garth asked his best bro, Wayne, "Did you ever find Bugs Bunny attractive when he put on a dress and played a girl bunny?" When he sees Wayne's horrified reaction, Garth added, "Neither did I. I was just asking." This, of course, is a reference to how often old Looney Tunes cartoons really would have Bugs Bunny dressed in sexy outfits.
The Animaniacs paid tribute, of sorts, to that idea in this one moment when Slappy Squirrel essentially lifts open her skin and reveals it to be a costume covering up very shapely legs wearing nothing but garters. It's quite a bizarre little visual (especially mixed with Slappy's traditional voice, which is not in the slightest bit seductive)! We imagine that Garth would likely approve.
4 GUEST STARS
A fun thing that Animaniacs would often do is have guest stars from other cartoons show up in episodes. A lot of times, the guest stars would be unofficial ones from other cartoons that they would make fun of (like when Beauty and the Beast would show up). Other times the cameos would be official ones, especially if they were other Warner Bros. or Fox shows.
One notable example saw Bugs and Babs Bunny from Tiny Toon Adventures guest star in a Noah's Ark sketch. When they're let on to the ark, they note their catch phrase, which is to explain that they are not related to each other, despite both ostensibly having the last name of "Bunny." When Noah hears this, he notes, "Let's hope not, this is a family show."
3 FUN WITH INITIALS
Quite often, the dirty jokes on Animaniacs were so up front that it was almost like they weren't even bothering to pretend to hide them from the censors and more just daring the censors to come at them. A particularly good example of this was in the episode, "No Pain, No Painting," when the Warner siblings end up becoming models for none other than Pablo Picasso while he is trying to come up with a new art style.
Picasso is wearing an artist's smock with the initial P.P. on them. Yakko asks Picasso if he realizes that he has "P.P." on his smock and Dot reacts with great disgust. Yes, you read that right, they just did an outright P.P. joke in the episode. Talk about scraping the barrel!
2 HERE'S TO YOU, MRS. ROBINSON
As we have shown so far on this list, Animaniacs, while technically a kids show, was made with a lot of adult-centered humor behind it. We don't even mean dirty jokes, really, but jokes that would only appeal to adults. Like the part in the opening theme where they all note that they have "Pay or play" contracts (which is an acting term for contracts that pay someone whether they are used in an episode or not).
Similarly, in the first episode of the series to air on the Kids WB!, the show did an opening gag making fun of the "Previously on..." segments that TV prime time dramas do by showing a series of events that never occurred. One of them is an homage to the famous scene in The Graduate, which is certainly not going to be a reference that any kid is going to get.
1 GONE TOO FAR: YAKKO BURIES HIMSELF IN TROUBLE
Even in a series like Animaniacs, though, where it seems like there are no limits to how physical the humor can get and how much cleavage can be used for jokes, there is a limit. Tom Ruegger discovered that limit in the aforementioned "King Yakko" episode.
There was originally a sequence where Prime Minister Hello Nurse asks Yakko about dresses and he refers her to his sister, Dot, who he says is in charge of dresses. However, in the original version of the episode, he says all of this while his head is wedged firmly in Hello Nurse's chest. The scene was considered far too racy, so it was cut from the episode. Ruegger, years later, shared the unused animation cel online. It says a lot about what they did get away with that he could think he even had a chance to get away with that scene.