Animaniacs kicked off its New York Comic Con virtual panel Sunday with a clip from the new season that spoofs the opening titles to the 1980s Thundercats cartoon series. It’s Thundercats, Animaniacs-style.
When the beloved 90s animated series was resurrected by Hulu, it was greenlit for two seasons right away. The 10 episodes that aired received such a strong reaction that now even a third season of this new era of the show has been announced. That means we’ll be watching the hijinks of Yakko, Wakko, and Dot as well as Pinky and The Brain for some time to come.
Maurice LaMarche (The Brain) says the secret to bringing back a beloved animated series is to “honor the old designs and update them” as well as to bring back the original voice cast. When Steven Spielberg expressed interest in bringing Animaniacs back, Jess Harnell (Wakko Warner) says the original voice cast jumped on board fast.
“These are brilliantly written shows,” LaMarche adds. But the performers elevated the show as well. Tress MacNeille was nominated for a daytime Emmy for her performance as Dot Warner.
The cast were asked for years if the show would ever return, and they never expected it to happen. “It’s a relentless joy,” says Rob Paulsen (Yakko Warner, Pinky). The cast had honored fan requests to do their iconic voices for years, but it wasn’t a given that they could capture those performances again professionally for episode after episode. But Harnell says when they started recording again for the new series, “I shut my eyes, and it was like coming home.”
“They gave us a year a half lead time,” Paulsen says of when the show was originally resurrected by Hulu. “You had 18 months to screw it up, but when you have that much time…”
The performers are all veteran animated voice actors, but some roles they’ve since forgotten. It’s these characters, they say, they have a true sense of ownership over. “[the Animaniacs characters] are near and dear to our hearts,” Harnell says.
The appeal of the show was perhaps in its joyfulness and lack of mean-spiritedness in its satire. LaMarche sees the show’s enduring appeal as, “It wasn’t selling anything.”
“It’s funny for kids because it’s visually engaging, but it’s also fun for adults,” Harnell says. “It’s an adult satire disguised as a kids show.” It’s the show’s appeal with adults that the cast recalls has led to some strange encounters. “I signed a man’s leg,” LaMarche recalls. The man had a tattoo of The Brain. MacNeille says she too talked a woman out of getting a neck tattoo of Dot Warner. “On the one hand you’re flattered, Harnell says. “On the other hand, you’re mortified.”
Harnell provided some fun insight into his inspiration for Wakko’s voice. “When I was 12 years old, I was a big fan of The Beatles, the Marx brothers, and a musical we’ll be playing with this season,” he says. He played a bit with impersonations of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. While demonstrating in real time the layering of voice elements, he reached the final iconic Wakko voice, which he describes as “John Lennon with a shot of helium.” Harnell credits this outside the box “Liverpudlian thing” with winning him the part.
LaMarche borrowed heavily from Orson Welles for his take on The Brain, but he also says there’s an element of Vincent Price that he also brought to it.
As for what we can expect in Season two, Rob Paulsen teases a huge song number about William the Conqueror. “We take the piss off of a brilliant Broadway musical,” he says referring to the same musical Harnell alluded to and which Paulsen says MacNeille has performed in. Harnell promises a sketch about the Roman Emperor Nero, whom he says may involve “a lot of cross pollination between [Nero] and a certain modern politician.” There was a sketch poking fun at Donald Trump in the first season of the Hulu era, so perhaps the Warners are not quite done with him yet.
Animaniacs returns to Hulu on November 5th.
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