How ‘Animaniacs’ Kept ’90s Kids Learning And Laughing After School

A ringing bell on a weekday afternoon meant the same thing for all school-aged children in the ’90s — closing time. Some of us went home, while others endured the after-school programs and daycare centers their parents enrolled them in. No matter where we went, if any of these places had a television set, then it was a sure bet that every single one of us kids was watching it when Animaniacs came on.

The syndicated cartoon show was quite popular on Fox and, later, the now-defunct WB network, where it moved in 1995. Along with Tiny Toon Adventures and Taz-Mania, it attracted 10 million viewers every weekday. At least a quarter of these were over the age of 18 since, as creator Tom Ruegger once put it, “We wanted to make ourselves laugh more than we had.” It was also successful because, despite the innuendos, it was heavy on education. Besides, where else were ’90s kids going to learn the names of every country in the world? School?

After five seasons and 99 episodes, the Steven Spielberg-produced animated series came to an end 17 years ago on Saturday, Nov. 14, 1998. To celebrate its many contributions to schooling kids after school, let’s review the eight best Animaniacs lessons in geography, history, anatomy, morality and current events. We even made sure to satisfy Miss Flamiel’s requirement that all responses be put in the form of question.

What is “Wakko’s America?”

While nowhere near as long as “Yakko’s World,” covered below, “Wakko’s America” pulled double-duty by introducing the show’s target American audience to two very important curricular subjects: U.S. geography, and advanced subjects reserved for the then-mysterious realm of college. The latter came in the form of Jeopardy-like subjects Miss Flamiel offered to unknowing pupils Yakko, Wakko and Dot. “Astrophysics,” “Chaucer,” “Latin” and “Nuclear Fission?” Nope.

Even “TV Movies” was a bit of a stretch (no middle schoolers know who Lindsay Wagner and Valerie Bertinelli are), but the “United States?” Every kid in the country knew at least a few of the states and their capitals. Some had even learned them all by rote. Hence younger Warner brother Wakko’s performance, violin and all, which used the tune of “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” to teach Animaniacs‘ viewers all 100 city and state names.

What is “Brainstem?”

Even for a bunch of kids reading RedwallThe Cat Who… and Nancy Drew books, the irony of Brain singing “The Parts of the Brain” wasn’t lost on Animaniacs‘ target demographic. Even Pinky — whose sole responsibility in the sketch was to repeat the word “brainstem” eight times — got the joke. Hence the short “Pinky and the Brain” segment in which the titular characters sang about the brain’s many parts via “Camptown Races.”