If the recent controversies over Johnny Depp’s legal trouble and departure from the Fantastic Beasts and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises weren’t enough, the Animaniacs reboot has also managed to upset fans with an inadvertent reference to the case through a background joke. As can perhaps be expected, Depp supporters have roundly criticized the sight gag on Twitter, and have even called for a boycott of Animaniacs‘ parent studio Warner Bros. What are the reasons, then, behind the fuss?
Well, the first episode of the new series on Hulu features the actor in a throwaway joke whereby a poster shows him promoting Johnny 2: Telling Lies. Although the animation was actually created back in 2018, it seems to be in poor taste that the producers left this in the finished product, considering the amount of tensions caused by the Depp-Heard story in recent weeks. Indeed, given WB’s apparent past caution over taking sides in the dispute, it’s a surprise that something that could easily be misinterpreted would be left in as part of a high profile show.
The particular implication that the performer is “Telling Lies” doesn’t chime very well with a libel accusation, even if the context behind it apparently appears to be riffing on the “Johny Johny Yes Papa” viral video from a few years ago, which contains these lyrics:
Open your mouth
Ha ha ha!
Indeed, to the right of the criticized poster is another promo seemingly showing the baby from the video holding a bag. The “Telling Lies” tagline is therefore most likely picking up on the lyrics above, albeit without the unintended consequence of being very topical. For online commentators, though, this isn’t enough to justify what could easily be seen as a direct dig against Depp, resulting in the calls to boycott Warner Bros. products.
With various petitions and other protests surrounding Aquaman 2 and anything Amber Heard-related also still a big topic on social media, WB have another PR headache on their hands now. As we’ve noted before, though, in looking at the legal realities around the Depp-Heard case, it’s important not to assign too much weight to one vocal group. If anything, that a mistimed meme reference in Animaniacs is generating so much heat is another sign that 2020 just keeps getting crazier.