'Animaniacs' Voice Cast Promises the 2020 Reboot Is Authentic & as Zany as Ever
We last saw the Warner Siblings in 1999's direct to VHS movie, Wakko's Wish (though super fans may remember the trio during a few guest spots on The Hub network in 2012). Thankfully, long-time series producer Steven Spielberg has taken the liberty to "re-animate" the Warners with the help of new showrunner Wellesley Wild and executive producer Gabe Swarr.
Neither older nor wiser in 2020, the Animaniacs are as zany (and high definition) as ever. The stars and crew could hardly contain their excitement as they talked, and sometimes sang, through the process of reviving a series that was off air for more than two decades.
The New Animation Style
"All the main episodes with the Warner Brothers and Pinky and the Brain are pretty much dead on," Swarr told TV Insider. "We don't use cells anymore, but we are using flat colors like they did on the original. We went out of our way to find the best of the best of the original show. We really leaned into what TMS was doing, which was one of the original Japanese studios who worked on the original, and really ran with that. We did a Japanese anime segment that turned out really good. We tried to go indie comic-style with one thing and another one where's there's cross hatching."
Wild was equally excited about the flexibility that comes with digital animation, teasing, "there's one Victorian segment where the style is amazing, almost like Edward Gorey."
Sketches Between Sketches
"Gabe and I love those little pallet breakers where it's like, 'oh, I just had to watch a 13-minute Pinky and the Brain. How nice is it to have a nice little mint in between for twenty seconds,'" Wild said. "We love those sort of variety breakups, so you'll see a lot of that, especially going into the second season."
Wild and Swarr can't go completely rogue, however. They have one final hurdle when it comes to writing new material for Animaniacs. "There are new characters and the biggest challenge of the show is getting those past Steven [Spielberg] and the other great people at Amblin that we work with," said Wild. "Even if it's really funny and it works, [if] it doesn't fit the Animaniacs sensibility, then it's gone. There are a lot characters we had to toss in the incinerator that we loved, but looking back on it, [Steven] was right. He sets the tone for the show and I'm not sure he's ever been wrong about that. He always knows what works well within the show."
The Return to Recording
The more things change, the more they stay the same, at least according to the cast and crew. "We go after a lot of very similar pieces of subject matter. People ask, in the last 22 years, can we apply the same approach to new information and new political and cultural realities?" Wellesley shared. "Yes — in the songs and all aspect of the show. That's what's so fun."
Harnell and Paulsen confirm that their return came naturally. Harnell could hardly contain himself when he said, "it was like picking up our favorite toy and getting to play with it again. The new Animaniacs has everything that you love from the old Animaniacs. It's the same characters, but they're in brand new situations. Let's face it. At its heart, Animaniacs is a social commentary sort of show and there is a lot to comment on these days!
"What's really great about it is that another huge part of my childhood was a certain Broadway musical. One day, I happily showed up at a session and they said 'hey, we're going to do a Broadway thing of this one particular show,' and it was the first show that I ever performed on stage to a lot of people. It's full circle again, coming back right now and getting to do it with my buddies under this beautiful umbrella that we call Animaniacs. So, all you guys who used to love the music, you've got a lot to look forward to!"
For Paulsen, "it's about authenticity. The words that are put into our mouths by world-class writers have reflected the change in a generation. The more that people see it, the more they say, 'oh my God, they got it!' It's an embarrassment of riches to do it again, at this level with them. I'm working with people I've had in my life as my dear friends for decades. The person who plays Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol) from Downtown Abbey, she came in to do an episode of Pinky and the Brain and I lost my mind! It was the coolest thing in the world."
More Plans to Take Over the World
Speaking of Brain, Maurice LaMarche said the ingenious lab rat has a few more ideas percolating inside his oversized noggin. "Brain hasn't succeeded in taking over the world in 27 years since the original series, so he's a little edgier. The technology he's using is a little more dangerous," he shared. "Brain is much more willing to use death rays now. We have a crankier Brain than we ever had. I think, for one thing, he knows that if he takes over the world, he has some very good ideas to make the world run better. After he makes everyone pay, of course."
Harnell has a better idea: "He'll be on the ballot in 2024!"
New Year, New Impressions
"Speaking for myself, I just always loved the fact the we are kind of our own repertoire company," Harnell said. "We all feel pretty good that we get a script sometimes where there's 21 characters and I'm like 'who's coming in?' and they say 'oh, just you four.' We're playing five or six people. That's pretty badass."
LaMarche attested that the process has never been easier. "One of my favorite guest appearances got teased already in the trailer. I didn't even know I could do Jeff Goldblum. In the old days, I would have had to go to a video store, find a video cassette, bring it home, listen to it over and over again, get maybe a micro-cassette recorder," he explained. "Now, all I have to do is go on my iPhone, go on YouTube, search 'Jurassic Park,' and there it is! So, I'm listening to Goldblum and I just belch it out into the microphone."
Handling the Show's Legacy in 2020
Every actor has a familial kinship with their characters. According to LaMarche, "they've been in us and with us all this time. We've been able to let them out of the cage to play when we're doing Comic Cons or the Animaniacs live orchestral show. I'd be Brain at the drop of a hat. I love him so much, he's a child of mine."
"Every time these characters come out, you just smile, and you can't help it. If we're out at Sushi Nozawa or some other place, we ask 'you watch cartoons?' One thing leads to another and we say 'oh, we're Pinky and the Brain.' Before you know it, the cooks, the waitstaff, everybody is out there. We love it when people ask us to, 'whip it out' as they say," Paulsen added, his gratitude for Yakko undeniable.
Harnell closed out the conversation with a small story: "It's a unique and really cool position to be in. We've gotten to be part of so many people's childhoods, which A., amazes me because I'm surprised anybody's parents would ever let me in the house, but B., what's really cool with Animaniacs is that we love these characters. We've been doing them consistently because they're important to people.
"A few years back, a very cool, edgy, topical animated series wanted to do a thing about, 'what ever happened to the Animaniacs?' They were going to have Dot being a hooker and Wakko was up in the water tower with an Uzi taking people out. It was for some good change and I read the script and I said, 'no, I don't want to do it because I love Wakko and I don't want to think of Wakko like that.' Come to find out three hours later, Rob and Tress both said no too. We stood together and went, 'we love these guys, we don't want to represent them that way.' That's why it's so nice that when this thing does come back on, it's everything you loved about the old ones, just happening now."
Animaniacs, Premiere, Friday, November 20, Hulu