With the Animaniacs set to return on Hulu, let’s take a look at the original series finale Wakko’s Wish. Trading in the variety show structure to encompass all the characters in a cohesive plot, it isn’t fondly remembered by those who lookback on it. People are often confused by the dramatic direction this movie took despite its roots in comedy. But for a series finale, it wanted to be more than an extended episode, taking risks on a grander scale, which paid off for their last adventure. Here’s why Wakko’s Wish deserves to be commended for its ambitions.
The town Acme Falls is under the tyranny of King Salazar the Pushy (Paxton Whitehead), overtaxing the citizens to the point of poverty. This affects orphans Yakko, Wakko, and Dot (Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell and Tress MacNeille), who live on the streets since the orphanage shut down. Wakko vents to a wishing star one night, which falls to earth and will grant the first person who touches it one wish. It’s now a race between the citizens of Acme Falls to the wishing star, including Dr. Scrachansniff and Hello Nurse (Rob Paulsen and Tress MacNeille), Slappy and Skippy Squirrel (Sherri Stoner and Nathan Ruger), Pinky and the Brain (Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche), The Goodfeathers (John Mariano, Maurice LaMarche, and Chick Vennera), Buttons and Mindy (Frank Welker and Nancy Cartwright), Rita and Runt (Bernadette Peters and Frank Welker) and the King’s puppets, Baron Von Plotz and Constable Ralph (Frank Welker).
Around the early 2000’s, many animated shows were producing theatrical films following the success of The Rugrats Movie, as evident of YouTuber RebelTaxi’s analysis on the situation. Regardless of quality, the constant complaint everyone had was that these movies were just longer episodes with a budget. Wakko’s Wish takes all the develop from the series and adds more emotional stakes to this final outing, not just opting for the show’s traditional formula.
Despite a large cast occupying eighty minutes, there’s enough time to flesh out everyone’s desires and personalities as they race each other towards the star. The Warners have a better sense of connection as they play off one another, yet still support each other through thick and thin, especially with Dot who needs an operation. Side characters like The Goodfeathers, Pinky, Brain, Buttons, and Mindy are put to the ultimate test for their goals with hilarious results, keeping with the comedic spirit. At the same time, King Salazar makes for an intimidating obstacle as well as a worthy comic foil when the Warners eventually resort to their traditional antics to drive him crazy.
All the voice actors from Tress MacNeille to the great Frank Welker juggle multiple roles at once, and it proves their versatility, both comedic and dramatic near the end. It’s also refreshing to see a comedy with older pop culture references that encourage the audience to check out the original material, like Citizen Kane and Jerry Lewis: a much needed break from the memes and social media satire that’s now a dime a dozen. The references work even if you don’t know what’s being satirized, like the Time Warner merger. Perhaps there could’ve been more jokes in the story, but aside from that it’s the kind of ending that Game of Thrones would sell it soul for. It keeps the humor, put more focus on the characters, and adds the necessary emotional stakes in order for us to root for them one last time (at least before the reboot’s announcement).
The animation is just as fluid and perfectly timed, with each individual frame carrying a new expression for any situation. It aides the slapstick that leaves characters with migraines and sometimes shifts the angles to show off its bigger budget. Spielberg is very fond of animation and spared no expense in making sure the quality from the show was kept in tact for this movie.
Finally, the music connects all the talent in the animation, voice acting, and writing. Richard Stone is often considered the spiritual successor to Looney Tunes composer, Carl Stalling, assigning each action one musical note. However several reviews claim that Stone is mimicking the Disney musical style of Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Stephen Schwartz, rather than mocking it like the parody song Just the Same Old Heroine.
At the time, animation studios were trying to emulate the Disney formula when it proved to be a box-office hit. Films like Thumbelina, The Swan Princess, The King and I, and Warner Brothers’ own Quest For Camelot tried copying Disney’s success only to lose millions of dollars when the public realized how corporate these knock-offs were. But Wakko’s Wish along with South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut carved their own musical identity. These songs incorporate both the quick speed and pinpoint timing Warner Brothers cartoons are most famous for. Thus, they are more than just Disney copycats as the notes and lyrics waltz with one another with the occasional innuendo thrown in. The highlight is The Wishing Star. Adapting the Hungarian Rhapsody Number Two by Franz List, this starts out slow, but gradually picks up speed as the characters attempt to outrace each other. All culminating in a finale that could bring List himself back from the grave. The score also allows more pantomime moments to break up the high energy musical number and allow the comedy to tell jokes without utter a word. For his final contribution to Animaniacs before succumbing to pancreatic cancer, Richard Stone’s score and songs reach their peak in this adventure.
For all these reasons and more, Wakko’s Wish is as an ambitious finale that caps off the original series brilliantly. The story’s emotional stakes break the boundaries of the television narrative, the voice acting evolves the performances while also aiding the memorable songs, and best of all these well rounded characters get enough time to be funny and relatable before going out on a high note. It’s a shame this was released straight to video after the Christmas season given how much the film’s environment evokes a holiday vibe. Thankfully it’s available to watch on digital services, so anyone who missed out years ago is given another chance to re-discover it as well as introduce it to the current generation. And whatever quality the reboot reaches, the original run of the Warner siblings and their finale will remain an outstanding landmark in animation history.