Animaniacs (TV series)
Steven Spielberg presents Animaniacs! or simply referred to as Animaniacs! is a popular animated television series produced by Amblin Entertainment, and distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. It first aired on Fox Kids. from 1993 until 1995; the show appeared on The WB Television Network as part of its Kids' WB afternoon programming block from 1995 to 2000. Like many other animated series, it has continued to appear on television through syndication long after its original airdate. Animaniacs was the second animated series produced by the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation during the animation renaissance of the late 1980s and 1990s. The studio's first series, Tiny Toon Adventures, had proved
to be a big hit among younger viewing audiences, and it had attracted a sizable number of adult viewers as well. Tiny Toon Adventures had drawn heavily from the classic Termite Terrace cartoons of old for inspiration, as well as plots and characterization. The modern Warner Bros. writers and animators, led by senior producer and show-runner Tom Ruegger, used the experience gained from the previous series to create brand new animated characters that were cast in the mold of Tex Avery and Bob Clampett's creations, but were not slavish imitations designed to rip other creations off. The show itself was a variety show, with many short skits featuring a large cast of unique characters. Each episode was traditionally composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters.
This show focused on the adventures, or more accurately, the misadventures of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot who claim to be the stars of some of the early Warner Bros. animated cartoons, which were so insane that the studio execs locked them away in the water tower at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. This description of the Warners is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Bosko, Warner Bros.' first cartoon character, whose cartoons were not highly regarded by many people. The red-nosed Warner siblings bear a striking resemblance to the portrayals of Bosko and his girlfriend Honey (who look remarkably like Dot and Yakko) in a 1990 episode of Tiny Toon Adventures entitled Fields of Honey, also created by Steven Spielberg. Afraid that the portrayals of Bosko and Honey might be deemed controversial, they were changed to anthropomorphic dog-like characters, and that episode served as the "bridge" between Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs. Originally, the Warners were intended to be ducks, but producer Tom Ruegger realized they'd been
done enough by The Walt Disney Company (see DuckTales), so he made them indeterminate "cartoon characters" children. Although they looked somewhat like dogs, their specific "species" remained a question mark. Ruegger also modeled their personalities a bit after his three sons (who all did voices on the series at one time or another). Notably, the characters also bear a resemblance to animated characters from the 1900s and 1960s from other studios, including Felix the Cat and Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, Bimbo, and the original, early Mickey Mouse, as well as Bosko. In other words, simple black drawings with white faces were very common in cartoons of the 1930s, and it is these sorts of characters that the Warners are meant to pay homage to.
Animaniacs introduced a number of recurring characters, including:
- Yakko, Wakko, and Dot - the "Warner Brothers" (and the Warner Sister), voiced by Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille. Yakko (the oldest) is a fast-talking smart aleck reminiscent at times of Groucho Marx. Wakko (the middle child) has a huge appetite and a "gag bag" filled with tricks (and a scouse accent modeled by Harnell after a younger Ringo Starr), and Dot (the youngest) is cute, pretty and sassy, and uses her apparent innocence to manipulate and torment those who stand in her way. The Warners are some of the few characters that actually appear in all the short skits, usually being chased by Ralph. Most other characters are confined to their own segments.
- Dr. Otto Scratchansniff - the Austrian-accented studio psychiatrist, voiced by Rob Paulsen, who attempts to force the Warners to be less "zany".
- Thaddeus Plotz - the height-impaired CEO of the Warner Bros. Studios cartoon enterprise, voiced by Frank Welker.
- Hello Nurse - the beautiful and sexy buxom studio nurse, voiced by Tress MacNeille, over whom Yakko and Wakko continually fawn.
- Ralph T. Guard - a dim-witted Warners Studio security guard charged with recapturing the Warners and confining them to the water tower. His voice and vocal mannerisms are reminiscent of early Warner Brothers cartoon secondary characters intended to parody the character of Lennie from the film adaptations of Of Mice and Men.
- Pinky and the Brain - an imbecilic white mouse and his genius companion, voiced by Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche. The Brain continuously launches attempts to take over the world, accompanied by Pinky. However, something always goes wrong with their plans (usually, it is at least partially Pinky's fault.) The Brain and his environment evoke Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. The series is quite famous for the line, "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" (Despite the name of the pair placing Pinky first, the Brain is clearly the leader.)
- Slappy Squirrel - an aging cartoon star voiced by Sherri Stoner, who seems to enjoy whacking people with her purse and using high explosives, the more the better.
- Skippy Squirrel - Slappy's adorable young nephew, voiced by Nathan Ruegger, whose chipper personality is the polar opposite of his aunt's.
- Goodfeathers - a trio of cartoon pigeons— Bobby, Squit and Pesto, voiced by Maurice LaMarche, John Mariano and Chick Vennera — spoofing the characters played by Robert De Niro, Ray Liotta, and Joe Pesci in the movie Goodfellas. These pigeons can always be seen arguing with each other, which always culminates in them beating each other up (usually with Pesto beating up Squit). This gag in itself grew from Goodfellas; it was based on the film's famous exchange between Pesci and Liotta: "How am I funny? Like a clown? I amuse you?"
- Rita and Runt - a lovely singing cat (voiced by Bernadette Peters) and a loyal but stupid dog (voiced by Frank Welker), who travel together looking for a place to call home.
- Buttons and Mindy - a heroic Lassie-like dog (voiced by Frank Welker) and an adorable and beautiful little girl (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) he is sworn to protect.
- Minerva Mink - a very beautiful and incredibly sexy mink, voiced by Julie Brown, who inspires lustful fits in every male creature around her.
- Katie Ka-Boom - a beautiful teenage girl, voiced by Mary Kay Bergman, who has comically violent overreactions to trivially "embarrassing" situations in a parody of stereotypical teenage behavior, obviously modeled on the Incredible Hulk.
- Flavio and Marita - also known as "the Hip Hippos", a wealthy hippo couple (voiced by Frank Welker and Tress MacNeille) obsessed with being trendy.
- Chicken Boo - a six-foot-tall chicken who is curiously successful at imitating humans despite minimal efforts at disguise.
- Mr. Director - a caricature of Jerry Lewis (voiced by Paul Rugg) who first appears in Hello Nice Warners; in later episodes he parodies Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now and appears as a clown who scares Mr. Plotz and Wakko.
- The Flame - a childlike candle flame (voiced by Luke Ruegger) who is present at important historical events such as Jefferson's authoring of The Declaration of Independence and Longfellow's writing of The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere.
- Charlton Chipmunk - an aspiring actor/director and generally neurotic chipmunk; when people annoy him, he asks them to write their names down in a book and promises that when he becomes famous, he will remember to not like them.
- Mr. Skullhead - a mute skeleton seen in short Good Idea/Bad Idea clips and a parody of Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands. These clips were narrated by humorist and Motel 6 spokesman, Tom Bodett.
- The Mime - a nameless mime who mainly appeared in brief clips; the mime would usually begin a demonstration of some miming technique (e.g. "walking against the wind" or "trapped in a box") only to be inexplicably maimed. His exploits are also narrated by Tom Bodett.
- Colin, also known as Randy Beaman's Pal - a wide-eyed boy who relates improbable stories that allegedly happened to his (never-seen) friend Randy Beaman.
- Ms. Flamiel- the Warners' prim and easily frustrated teacher.
- Francis Pumphandle (also known as "Pip.") - generally a foil and annoyance to the Warners, endlessly shaking hands and rambling nonsensically with an iron grip. The Warners could never seem to get their hand detached from the grip of Pip, despite the great length of sight gags they employed to remove themselves. Voiced by Ben Stein.
Celebrity appearances and celebrity parodies in "Animaniacs":
- Steven Spielberg - Spielberg plays as himself - always referred to in hushed tones as simply "Steven" - making short cameo appearances in very few episodes with one (or two) lines.
- Kirk Douglas - Not mentioned by name - Caricatured in the role of Michaelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling, reminiscent of Charlton Heston in The Agony and the Ecstasy. Meets Steven Spielberg who is referred to as "His Eminence".
- Howard Stern - a radio "Shock Jock" Howie Tern and his sidekick Robin engage in a batte of wits against the Warners in one episode. He loses.
- Richard Harris is parodied, specifically his portrayal of King Arthur in Camelot. He is voiced by SCTV alumnus Dave Thomas, who used his Harris voice on many episodes of that series.
- Jerry Lewis - Mr. Director, mentioned above.
- Runt's voice is a parody of Dustin Hoffman's character Raymond from Rain Man.
- Al Gore - Is seen as pessimistic and mumbling Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh.
- Jimi Hendrix - White Fender Stratocaster is taken by Slappy and smashed into the big amps.
- The Who - Slappy asks Skippy who's on stage, Skippy says "Who" but Slappy doesn't know that "The Who" is the name of the band, resulting in a "Who's On First" style of argument.
- Joe Cocker - Sings "With a Little Help from My Friends" in the original line before being changed, "What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you throw a tomato at me?", which happened to be the original lyric by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.
List of Voice Actors in Animaniacs
Animaniacs premiered on September 11, 1993. New episodes of the show were aired during the 1993 through 1999 seasons, and episodes were rerun in syndication for several years after production of new episodes ceased. One feature-length direct-to-video Animaniacs movie, Wakko's Wish, was released on VHS only (there was no DVD release) in 1999. The series was popular enough for Warner Bros. Animation to invest in additional episodes of the show past the traditional 65-episode marker for syndication; a total of 99 episodes were finally produced. One theatrical cartoon short film starring the Warner siblings, "I'm Mad," was produced and released to theaters in 1994 with the feature Thumbelina. The show introduced the popular cartoon characters Pinky and the Brain, who were subsequently spun-off into their own TV series in 1995.
Animation fans consider Animaniacs the high point of the Warner Bros. revival of the 1990s that was inspired by the original Termite Terrace. After Animaniacs, Spielberg collaborated with Warner Bros. Animation for a third time to produce the short-lived series Freakazoid, along with the Animaniacs spin-off series Pinky and the Brain. Warner Bros. also produced two additional "zany" and "madcap" series in the later half of the decade entitled Histeria! (much like Animaniacs, but focusing on American history) and Detention (an animated sitcom of several quirky junior high kids trying to get out of after-school holding), but neither of these series found a sizable audience, and they were both swiftly cancelled. At that time, Animaniacs shorts were being shown as part of The Cat & Birdy Warneroonie Pinky Brainy Big Cartoonie Show.
Warner Bros. cut back the size of its animation studio (the high cost and relatively low profit of its animated feature films of the period also had an effect on the studio), and production on further Warner Bros. animated comedy series ceased. Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures continued to rerun in syndication through the 1990s into the early 2000s. In 2005, it was removed from the NickToons network, and is not currently airing on TV in the U.S. – In the United Kingdom, however, it currently airs on Boomerang.
An Animaniacs comic book, published by DC Comics, ran from 1993 to 1999 (59 regular monthly issues, plus two specials). Animaniacs, the video game based on the series was also made for the Super NES and Sega Genesis. There are two new Animaniacs video games recently released for the Nintendo GameCube and (Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt) and Nintendo DS (Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action).
Popularity of Animaniacs
The comedy of Animaniacs was a broad mix of old-fashioned wit, slapstick, pop culture references, and cartoon wackiness. The show also featured a number of educational segments that covered subjects from history to math to geography to science to social studies. These educational segments, while simplistic in nature, were at a considerably more advanced level than in such children's shows as The Muppet Show; in fact, most adults could probably learn something from the show's explanations of world geography, the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, or the Panama Canal.
While episodes of the show did have their share of unpopular segments (such as the Hip Hippos and Katie Ka-Boom), a number of popular cartoons were aired during the series, as the new Warner Bros. animators poked fun at everything and everyone, including their own fans ("The Please Please Please Get A Life Foundation", which directly took from the alt.tv.animaniacs FAQ for its material).
While the show was popular among younger viewers (the target demographic for Warner Bros.' TV cartoons), a great deal of the show's subversive humor was aimed at an adult audience. In fact, one character, Minerva Mink, was soon deemphasized as a feature character on account that her featured episodes were considered too sexually suggestive for the show's intended timeslot. Adults responded in droves, giving the show cult-hit status and leading to one of the first Internet-based fandom cultures. During the show's prime, the Internet newsgroup alt.tv.animaniacs was an active gathering place for fans of the show (most of whom were adults) to discuss the latest antics of the Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister. The online popularity of the show did not go unnoticed by the show's producers, and several of the most active participants on the newsgroup were invited to the Warner Bros. Animation studios for a gathering in August 1995 called Animania IV (gatherings of Animaniacs fans from the net were dubbed Animanias; most of them were simply groups of friends getting together to talk and watch videotaped episodes).
Animaniacs was a very musical cartoon, with every episode featuring an original score (and in many cases, several original songs). Each group of characters had its own sub-theme in the score, and the Hip Hippos, Pinky and the Brain, Chicken Boo, and Katie Ka-Boom even had their own full theme songs. The Slappy Squirrel and Rita & Runt themes were sung by the Warners. The Animaniacs series theme song (music composed by Richard Stone, lyrics by Tom Ruegger), which has a variety of alternate endings, won an Emmy Award for best song in the series' first season.
The three Warner siblings often performed songs, including parodies of classical and folk music, often with an educational twist, listing, for example, U.S. states or American presidents. Pinky and the Brain occasionally got songs to sing as well, and the most complicated songs in the series usually went to Rita, voiced by singer Bernadette Peters (poking fun at Broadway shows in general, and Stephen Sondheim's works in particular). Rita and Runt even took on Broadway directly with a parody of Les Misérables called Les Miseranimals, which aired early in the first season.
Three albums of music from the series were released: Animaniacs, Yakko’s World, and Variety Pack, and the sing-along videos, especially "Yakko's World", remained some of the best selling skit compilation VHS tapes.
- Animaniacs for Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Game Boy
- Animaniacs Game Pack for PC.
- Animaniacs: A Gigantic Adventure for PC.
- Animaniacs: Splat Ball! for PC.
- Animaniacs: The Great Edgar Hunt for GameCube, PS2, and Xbox
- Pinky and the Brain: The Master Plan for GBA (Europe only.)
- Animaniacs: Lights, Camera, Action! for Nintendo DS and GBA.
- Pinky and the Brain: World Conquest for PC
Returing to the Air
Animaniacs has returned and is regularly airing reruns on The HUB! as of January 7, 2013.