Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs is an American animated comedy television series produced by Amblin Television label in collaboration with Warner Bros. Animation. It is the second animated series created by Tom Ruegger, developed during the animation renaissance of the late 1980s and early 1990s. Animaniacs first aired on Fox Kids from 1993 to 1995 and new episodes later appeared on The WB from 1995 to 1998 as part of its Kids' WB afternoon programming block. The series had a total of 99 episodes and one film, titled Wakko's Wish.
Animaniacs is a variety show, with short skits featuring a large cast of characters. While the show had no set format, the majority of episodes were composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters, and bridging segments. Hallmarks of the series included its music, character catchphrases, and humor directed at an adult audience.
The Warner siblings and the other characters lived in Burbank, California. However, characters from the series had episodes in various places and periods of time. The Animaniacs characters interacted with famous persons and creators of the past and present as well as mythological characters and characters from modern television. Andrea Romano, the casting and recording director of Animaniacs, said that the Warner siblings functioned to "tie the show together," by appearing in and introducing other characters' segments. Each Animaniacs episode usually consisted of two or three cartoon shorts. Animaniacs segments ranged in time, from bridging segments less than a minute long to episodes spanning the entire show length; writer Peter Hastings said that the varying episode lengths gave the show a "sketch comedy" atmosphere.
Animaniacs had a large cast of characters, separated into individual segments, with each pair or set of characters acting in its own plot. The Warners, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot, were three cartoon stars from the 1930s that were locked away in the Warner Bros. water tower until the 1990s, when they escaped. After their escape, they often interacted with Warner Bros. studio workers, including Ralph, the security guard; Dr. Otto Scratchansniff, the studio psychiatrist, and his assistant Hello Nurse. Pinky and the Brain are two genetically altered laboratory mice who continuously plot and attempt to take over the world. Slappy Squirrel is an octogenarian cartoon star who can easily outwit antagonists and uses her wiles to educate her nephew, Skippy Squirrel, about cartoon techniques. Additional principal characters included Rita and Runt, Buttons and Mindy, Chicken Boo, Flavio and Marita (The Hip Hippos), Katie Ka-Boom, a trio of pigeons known as The Goodfeathers, and Minerva Mink.
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 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 a mischievous little girl (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) he is sworn to protect.
- Minerva Mink - a mink, voiced by Julie Brown, who inspires lustful fits in every male creature around her.
- Katie Ka-Boom - a 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.
Creation and inspirationEdit
The Animaniacs cast of characters had a variety of inspiration, from celebrities to writers' family members to other writers. Executive Producer Steven Spielberg said that the irreverence in Looney Tunes cartoons inspired the Animaniacs cast. The general premise of Animaniacs and the Warner siblings were created by Tom Ruegger, who also came up with the concept and characters for Pinky and the Brain. Ruegger was also the senior producer and creative leader of the show. Writer Deanna Oliver contributed The Goodfeathers scripts and the character Chicken Boo. Producer and writer Sherri Stoner contributed heavily to Slappy Squirrel and Pinky and the Brain. Nicholas Hollander based Katie Kaboom on his teenage daughter.
Senior Producer Tom Ruegger modeled the Warners' personalities heavily after those of his three sons. Because the Warners were portrayed as cartoon stars from the early 1930s, Ruegger and other artists for Animaniacs made the images of the Warners similar to cartoon characters of the early 1930s. Simple black and white drawings were very common in cartoons of the 1920s and 1930s, such as Buddy, Felix the Cat, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, and the early versions of Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse.
Tom Ruegger created Pinky and the Brain after being inspired by the personalities of two of his Tiny Toon Adventures colleagues, Eddie Fitzgerald and Tom Minton. Ruegger thought of the premise of Pinky and the Brain when he wondered what would happen if Minton and Fitzgerald tried to take over the world.
Sherri Stoner created Slappy the Squirrel when another writer and friend of Stoner, John McCann, made fun of Stoner's career in TV movies playing troubled teenagers. When McCann joked that Sherri would be playing troubled teenagers when she was fifty years old, Sherri developed the idea of Slappy's characteristics as an older person acting like a teenager. Sherri Stoner liked the idea of an aged cartoon character because an aged cartoon star would know the secrets of other cartoons and "have the dirt on [them]".
Steven Spielberg was the executive producer during the entire run, Tom Ruegger was the senior producer, Jean MacCurdy was the executive in charge of production, and Rich Arons, Sherri Stoner, Peter Hastings, Rusty Mills, and Liz Holzman were producers of the show. The producers of the show usually had other jobs on the series; Tom Ruegger, Rich Arons, and Sherri Stoner all served as writers, and Spielberg was very involved in the show's writing, checking every script for the series. Voice director Andrea Romano said that Spielberg also came up with story ideas, read storyboards, and came to recording sessions.
The Animaniacs writers and animators, led by senior producer Tom Ruegger, used the experience gained from the previous series to create new animated characters that were cast in the mold of Chuck Jones and Tex Avery's creations. Writers for Animaniacs included writers Tom Ruegger, Sherri Stoner and Paul Rugg, Deanna Oliver, John McCann, Nicholas Hollander, Peter Hastings, Charlie Howell, Gordon Bressack, Jeff Kwitny, Earl Kress, Tom Minton, and Randy Rogel. Writers Hastings, Rugg, Stoner, McCann, Howell, and Bressack were involved in sketch comedy. Other writers for the series came from cartoon backgrounds, including Kress, Minton, and Randy Rogel.
Made-up stories did not exclusively comprise Animaniacs writing, as writer Peter Hastings said: "We weren't really there to tell compelling stories ... [As a writer] you could do a real story, you could recite the Star-Spangled Banner, or you could parody a commercial ... you could do all these kinds of things, and we had this tremendous freedom and a talent to back it up." Writers for the series wrote into Animaniacs stories that happened to them; the episodes "Ups and Downs," "Survey Ladies," and "I Got Yer Can" were episodes based on true stories that happened to Paul Rugg, Deanna Oliver, and Sherri Stoner respectively. Another episode, "Bumbie's Mom," both parodied the film Bambi and was a story based on Stoner's childhood reaction to the film.
In an interview, writers for the series said that Animaniacs allowed for non-restrictive and open writing. Writer Peter Hastings said that the format of the series had the atmosphere of a sketch comedy show because Animaniacs segments could widely vary in both time and subject. Writer Sherri Stoner said that the Animaniacs writing staff worked well as a team in that writers could consult other writers on how to write or finish a story, as was the case in the episode "The Three Muska-Warners". Writers Rugg, Hastings and Stoner said that the Animaniacs writing was free in that the writers were allowed to write about and parody subjects that would not be touched on other series.
Animaniacs featured Rob Paulsen as Yakko, Pinky and Dr. Otto von Scratchansniff, Tress MacNeille as Dot, Jess Harnell as Wakko, Sherri Stoner as Slappy the Squirrel, Maurice LaMarche as the Brain, Squit and the belching segments "The Great Wakkorotti" (Harnell said that he himself is commonly mistaken for the role), and veteran voice actor Frank Welker as Ralph the Security Guard, Thaddeus Plotz and Runt. Andrea Romano said that the casters wanted Paulsen to play the role of Yakko: "We had worked with Rob Paulsen before on a couple of other series and we wanted him to play Yakko." Romano said that the casters had "no trouble" choosing the role of Dot, referring to MacNeille as "just hilarious ... And yet [she had] that edge." Before Animaniacs, Harnell had little experience in voice acting other than minor roles for Disney which he "fell into". Harnell revealed that at the audition for the show, he did a John Lennon impression and the audition "went great". Stoner commented that when she gave an impression of what the voice would be to Spielberg, he said she should play Slappy. According to Romano, she personally chose Bernadette Peters to play Rita. Other voices were provided by Jim Cummings, Paul Rugg, Vernee Watson-Johnson, Jeff Bennett and Gail Matthius (from Tiny Toon Adventures). Tom Ruegger's three sons also played roles on the series. Nathan Ruegger voiced Skippy Squirrel, nephew to Slappy, throughout the duration of the series; Luke Ruegger voiced The Flame in historical segments on Animaniacs; and Cody Ruegger voiced Birdie from Wild Blue Yonder.
Animation work on Animaniacs was farmed out to several different studios, both American and international, over the course of the show's production. The animation companies included Tokyo Movie Shinsha (now known as TMS Entertainment), StarToons, Wang Film Productions, Freelance Animators New Zealand, and AKOM, and most Animaniacs episodes frequently had animation from different companies in each episode's respective segments.
Animaniacs was made with a higher production value than standard television animation; the show had a higher cel count than most TV cartoons. The Animaniacs characters often move fluidly, and do not regularly stand still and speak, as in other television cartoons.
Animaniacs utilized a heavy musical score for an animated program, with every episode featuring at least one original score. The idea for an original musical score in every episode came from Steven Spielberg. Animaniacs used a 35-piece orchestra,[a] and was scored by a team of six composers, led by supervising composer Richard Stone. The composing team included Steve and Julie Bernstein, Carl Johnson, J. Eric Schmidt, Gordon Goodwin and Tim Kelly. The use of the large orchestra in modern Warner Bros. animation began with Animaniacs predecessor, Tiny Toon Adventures, but Spielberg pushed for its use even more in Animaniacs. Although the outcome was a very expensive show to produce, "the sound sets us apart from everyone else in animation," said Jean MacCurdy, the executive in charge of production for the series. According to Steve and Julie Bernstein, not only was the Animaniacs music written in the same style as that of Looney Tunes composer Carl Stalling, but that the music used the same studio and piano that Stalling used. Senior producer Tom Ruegger said that writers Randy Rogel, Nicholas Hollander, and Deanna Oliver wrote "a lot of music" for the series.
Hallmarks and humorEdit
Recurring jokes and catchphrasesEdit
Humor and content intended for adultsEdit
Ratings and popularityEdit
Nominations and awardsEdit
Before Animaniacs was put into production, various collaboration and brainstorming efforts were thought up to create both the characters and premise of the series. For instance, ideas that were thrown out were Rita and Runt being the hosts of the show and the Warners being duck characters that senior producer Tom Ruegger drew in his college years. After the characters from the series were created, they were all shown to executive producer Steven Spielberg, who would decide which characters would make it into Animaniacs (the characters Buttons and Mindy were chosen by Spielberg's daughter). The characters' designs came from various sources, including caricatures of other writers, designs based on early cartoon characters, and characters that simply had a more modern design.
Fox Kids era: Episodes 1–69Edit
Animaniacs premiered on September 13, 1993, on the Fox Kids programming block of the Fox network, and ran there until September 8, 1995; new episodes aired from the 1993 through 1994 seasons. Animaniacs aired with a 65-episode first season because these episodes were ordered by Fox all at once. While on Fox Kids, Animaniacs gained fame for its name and became the second-most popular show among children ages 2–11 and children ages 6–11, second to Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (which began that same year). On March 30, 1994, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot first theatrically appeared in the animated short, "I'm Mad", which opened nationwide alongside the full-length animated feature, Thumbelina. The musical short featured Yakko, Wakko, and Dot bickering during a car trip. Producers Steven Spielberg, Tom Ruegger, and Jean MacCurdy wanted "I'm Mad" to be the first of a series of shorts to bring Animaniacs to a wider audience. However, "I'm Mad" was the only Animaniacs theatrical short produced. The short was later incorporated into Animaniacs episode 69. Following the 65th episode of the series, Animaniacs continued to air in reruns on Fox Kids. The only new episodes during this time included a short, four-episode long second season that was quickly put together from unused scripts. After Fox Kids aired Animaniacs reruns for a year, the series switched to the new Warner Bros. children's programming block, Kids' WB.
Kids' WB era: Episodes 70–99Edit
The series was popular enough for Warner Bros. Animation to invest in additional episodes of Animaniacs past the traditional 65-episode marker for syndication. Animaniacs premiered on the new Kids' WB line-up on September 9, 1995, with a new season of 13 episodes. At this time, the show's popular cartoon characters, Pinky and the Brain, were spun off from Animaniacs into their own TV series. Warner Bros. stated in a press release that Animaniacs gathered over one million children viewers every week.
Despite the series' success on Fox Kids, Animaniacs on Kids' WB was only successful in an unintended way, bringing in adult viewers and viewers outside the Kids' WB target demographic of young children. This unintended result of adult viewers and not enough young viewers put pressure on the WB network from advertisers and caused dissatisfaction from the WB network towards Animaniacs. Slowly, orders from the WB for more Animaniacs episodes dwindled and Animaniacs had a couple more short seasons, relying on leftover scripts and storyboards. The fourth season had eight episodes, which was reduced from 18 because of Warner Bros.' dissatisfaction with Animaniacs. The 99th and final Animaniacs episode was aired on November 14, 1998.
The Chicago Tribune reported in 1999 that the production of new Animaniacs episodes ceased and the direct-to-video film Wakko's Wish was a closer to the series. Animation World Network Reported that Warner Bros. laid off over 100 artists, contributing to the reduced production of original series. Producer Tom Ruegger explained that rather produce new episodes, Warner Bros. instead decided to use the back-catalog of Animaniacs episodes until "someone clamors for more". Animaniacs segments were shown along with segments from other cartoons as part of The Cat&Birdy Warneroonie PinkyBrainy Big Cartoonie Show. Ruegger said at the time the hiatus was "temporary". Following the end of the series, the Animaniacs team developed Wakko's Wish. On December 21, 1999, Warner Bros. released Wakko's Wish. In 2016, Ruegger said on his Reddit AMA that the decline of Animaniacs and other series was the result of Warner Bros.' investment in the much cheaper anime series Pokémon. Following Warner Bros. right to distribute the cheaper and successful anime, the network chose to invest less in original programming like Animaniacs.
After Animaniacs, Spielberg collaborated with Warner Bros. Animation again to produce the short-lived series Steven Spielberg Presents Freakazoid, along with the Animaniacs spin-off series Pinky and the Brain, from which Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain was later spun off. Warner Bros. also produced two other comedy animated series in the later half of the decade titled Histeria! and Detention, which were short-lived and unsuccessful compared to the earlier series. Later, Warner Bros. cut back the size of its animation studio because the show Histeria! went over its budget, and most production on further Warner Bros. animated comedy series ceased.
Animaniacs, along with Tiny Toon Adventures, continued to rerun in syndication through the 1990s into the early 2000s after production of new episodes ceased. In the US, Animaniacs aired on Cartoon Network, originally as a one-off airing on January 31, 1997, and then on the regular schedule from August 31, 1998 until the spring of 2001, when Nickelodeon bought the rights to air the series beginning on September 1, 2001. Nickelodeon transferred the series to its newly launched sister channel Nicktoons on May 1, 2002, and aired there until July 7, 2005. Animaniacs started airing on Hub Network with a 4-hour marathon on December 24, 2012 and aired regularly from January 7, 2013 until October 10, 2014 before it was rebranded Discovery Family. On April 1, 2016, all 99 episodes of Animaniacs were added to Netflix.
Paulsen, Harnell, and MacNeille have announced plans to tour in 2016 to perform songs from Animaniacs! along with a full orchestra. Among the songs will be an updated version of "Yakko's World" by Randy Rogel that includes a new verse to include nations that have been formed since the song's original airing, such as those from the break-up of the Soviet Union.
- Main article: Wakko's Wish
The Warners starred in the feature-length, direct-to-video movie Wakko's Wish. The movie takes place in the fictional town of Acme Falls, in which the Warners and the rest of the Animaniacs cast are under the rule of a greedy king who counquered their home country from a neighboring country. When the Warners find out about a star that will grant a wish to the first person that touches it, the Warners, the villagers (the Animaniacs cast), and the king race to get to it first. Although children and adults rated Wakko's Wish highly in test-screenings, Warner Bros. decided to release it direct-to-video, rather than spend money on advertising. Warner Bros. released the movie on VHS on December 21, 1999; the film was then released on DVD on October 7, 2014.
- Main article: Animaniacs videography
Episodes of the show have been released on DVD and VHS during and after the series run.
VHS tapes of Animaniacs were released in the United States and in the United Kingdom. All of these tapes are out of production, but are still available at online sellers. The episodes featured are jumbled at random and are in no particular order with the series. Each video featured four to five episodes each and accompanied by a handful of shorter skits, with a running time of about 45 minutes.
Beginning on July 25, 2006, Warner Home Video began releasing DVD volume sets of Animaniacs episodes in order of the episodes' original airdates. Volume one of Animaniacs sold very well; over half of the product being sold in the first week made it one of the fastest selling animation DVD sets that Warner Home Video ever put out.
- List of Animaniacs episodes
- List of Animaniacs characters
- Tiny Toon Adventures
- The Plucky Duck Show
- Pinky and the Brain
- Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain