The comedy of Animaniacs was a broad mix of old-fashioned wit, slapstick, pop culture references, and cartoon violence and wackiness. The show featured a number of comedic educational segments that covered subjects such as history, mathematics, geography, astronomy, science, and social studies, often in musical form. Animaniacs itself was 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.
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. It later aired on Nickelodeon, Nicktoons Network, and Cartoon Network in syndication. The Hub will start airing the series regularly in reruns on January 7, 2013.
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 voice director and caster for 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 separate 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 that continuously plot and attempt to take over the world. Slappy Squirrel is an aged cartoon star that would easily outwit antagonists and 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.
- Yakko, Wakko, and Dot
- Skippy and Slappy
- Pinky and the Brain
- Rita & Runt
- Buttons and Mindy
- The Hip Hippo's
- Chicken Boo (Skit)
- The Flame (Skit)
- Minerva Mink (Skit)
- Katie Ka-Boom (Skit)
- The Mr. Skullhead Show
- Good Idea, Bad Idea
- Mime Time
- Dot's Poetry Corner
- The Great Wakkorotti
- Random Warner Song
- Slappy Advertisement
- The Randy Beeman Kid
- Useless Fact
- Scene from Shakespeare
- Newsreel of the Stars
- The Wheel of Morality
Creation and inspiration
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.
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, "Bumbi’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.
The Animaniacs voice cast came from Animaniacs predecessor, Tiny Toon Adventures, including the voices of Yakko and Dot, Rob Paulsen and Tress MacNeille, respectively. Andrea Romano, the voice director and caster for Animaniacs, 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." Paulsen also played the roles of Pinky and Dr. Otto Scratchansniff. Romano said that the casters had "no trouble" choosing the role of Dot: "Tress MacNeille was just hilarious (...) And yet [she had] that edge." The voice of Wakko, Jess Harnell, on the other hand, did not come from Tiny Toons, and said that before Animaniacs, he had little experience in voice acting other than minor roles for Disney which he "fell into". Harnell said that at the audition for the show, he did a John Lennon impression and the audition "went great". Producer and writer Sherri Stoner voiced Slappy the Squirrel. Stoner said that when she gave an impression of what the voice would be to Spielberg, he said she should fill the role. The voice actress who played the voice of Rita, Bernadette Peters, is a Tony Award-winning musical theatre actress, and Romano herself wanted her for the role. Other voice actors included Maurice LaMarche, the voice of the Brain, Squit, and the belching segments "The Great Wakkorotti" (Jess Harnell said that he himself is commonly mistaken for the role); Frank Welker, the voice of Runt; and various voices 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 was a very musical cartoon, 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 composers, led by supervising composer Richard Stone. The composing team included Steve and Julie Bernstein, Carl Johnson, 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. Assistant composers Steve and Julie Bernstein said that 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 Carl Stalling used. Senior producer Tom Ruegger said that writers Randy Rogel, Nicholas Hollander, and Deanna Oliver wrote "a lot of music" for the series.
Animaniacs had a variety of music types. Many Animaniacs songs were parodies of classical or folk music with educational lyrics, such as "Wakko's America", which listed all the states in the U.S. and their capitals to the tune of Turkey in the Straw. Another song, titled "The Presidents", named every US president (up to Bill Clinton, due to production date) to the tune of the William Tell Overture (with a very brief usage of the tune Dixie). Another song had Yakko listing the "Nations of the World" to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance. Non-educational songs included parodies, such as the segment "Slippin' on the Ice", a parody of "Singin' in the Rain". Most of the groups of characters even had their own theme songs for their segment on the show.
The Animaniacs series theme song, performed by the Warners, was a very important part of the show. In the series' first season, the theme won an Emmy Award for best song. Richard Stone composed the music for the title sequence and Tom Ruegger wrote the lyrics. Several Animaniacs albums and Sing-along VHS tapes were released, including the CDs Animaniacs, Yakko’s World, and Variety Pack, and the tape Animaniacs Sing-Along: Yakko's World.
Hallmarks and humor
The humor of Animaniacs varied in type, ranging from parody to cartoon violence. The series made parodies of television shows and films. In an interview, Spielberg defended the "irreverence" of Animaniacs, saying that the Animaniacs crew has "a point of view" and does not "sit back passively and play both sides equally". Spielberg also said that Animaniacs' humor of social commentary and irreverence were inspired by the Marx Brothers and Looney Tunes cartoons. Animaniacs, among other Spielberg-produced shows, had a large amount of cartoon violence. Spielberg defended the violence in Animaniacs by saying that the series had a balance of both violent humor and educational segments, so the series would never become either too violent or "benign". Animaniacs also made use of catchphrases, recurring jokes and segments, and "adult" humor.
Recurring jokes and catchphrases
Characters on Animaniacs had catchphrases, with some characters having more than one. Notable catchphrases include Yakko’s "Goodnight, everybody!" often said following adult humor, Wakko's "Faboo!", and Dot’s frequent assertions of her cuteness. The most prominent catchphrase that was said by all the Warners was "Hello-o-o, nurse!" Tom Ruegger said that the "Hello-o-o, Nurse!" line was intended to be a catchphrase much like Bugs Bunny's line, "What's up, doc?" Characters Pinky and the Brain had a catchphrase where Brain would ask Pinky, "Are you pondering what I’m pondering?" to which Pinky would always respond with a non-sequitur. At the start of all Pinky and the Brain episodes, Pinky asks "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?", to which Brain answers "The same thing we do every night, Pinky... try to take over the world!" in a segment that preceded the theme song. Also, Brain would shout "Yes!" in response to an idea that he liked. Writer Peter Hastings said that he unintentionally created these catchphrases when he wrote the episode "Win Big," and then Producer Sherri Stoner used them and had them put into later episodes.
Running gags and recurring segments were very common in the show. One example is the close-up of the Warner's water tower after the closing credits; right before the end of the episode, the water tower door would open, one or more of the characters would come out, say something to the audience, and the water tower door would close. Something similar happened in the last few lines of the opening theme, where after the phrase "We're Animaney, Totally Insane-y", one or more of the Warners would chime in with a rhyming phrase. Director Rusty Mills and senior producer Tom Ruegger said that recurring segments like the water tower gag, such as the segment The Wheel of Morality, eased the production of episodes because the same animated scenes could be used more than once. The Wheel of Morality was also used to take up time in an episode that was running short.
Another running gag was that characters would make a brief appearance in other characters' segments and sometimes point out that they are not in the correct episode. Animaniacs even devoted an entire episode to characters and segments being switched around. Characters from Tiny Toon Adventures also made appearances in some episodes of Animaniacs. Because of Steven Spielberg's involvement in the series, a running gag was that his films were mentioned in the series and even a caricature of Spielberg himself appeared a few times; for instance, in the episode "Hooked on a Ceiling", Spielberg was made "eminence" of the Sistine Chapel, and the Warners painted an E.T. picture on its ceiling (in the place of God) reaching out to Elliott (in place of Adam.
Humor and content intended for adults
A great deal of Animaniacs' humor and content was aimed at an adult audience. The comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore were parodied in episode 3, "HMS Yakko". Animaniacs parodied the film A Hard Day's Night and the Three Tenors, references that The New York Times wrote were "appealing to older audiences". Some content of Animaniacs was not only aimed at an adult audience but were suggestive in nature. For example, one character, Minerva Mink had episodes that network censors considered too sexually suggestive for the show's intended audience, for which she was soon de-emphasized as a featured character.
The Animaniacs characters had personalities and character traits similar to those of film stars in movies marketed to adults. The Warners personalities were made similar to those of the Marx Brothers and Jerry Lewis, in that they, according to writer Peter Hastings, "wreak havoc," in "serious situations". In addition, the show's recurring Goodfeathers segment was populated with characters based on characters from the 1990 WB film Goodfellas, an R-rated crime drama neither marketed nor intended for children.
Animaniacs parodied popular TV shows and movies and caricatured celebrities. One episode even made fun of a large Animaniacs competitor, Power Rangers, and another episode caricatured Animaniacs' own Internet fans. Animaniacs spoofs were multi-layered, with the episode parodying one specific subject and referencing other subjects along the way. For instance, the episode "Hooked on a Ceiling" did not only parody The Agony and the Ecstasy, but it also featured Quasimodo shouting "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!", a reference to The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Animaniacs made fun of celebrities, major motion pictures, television shows for adults (Seinfeld and Friends, among others), television shows for children, and trends in the US. Animaniacs also made potshots of Disney films, creating parodies of such films as The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Pocahontas, Bambi, and others. Animaniacs Director Russell Calabrese said that not only did it become a compliment to be parodied on Animaniacs but also that being parodied on the series would be taken as a "badge of honor".
Animaniacs became a very successful show, gathering both child and adult fans. The series received ratings higher than its competitors and won eight Daytime Emmy Awards and one Peabody Award.
Ratings and popularity
During its run, Animaniacs became the second-most popular children’s show in both demographics of children ages 2–11 and children ages 6–11 (behind Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers). Animaniacs, along with other animated series, helped to bring "Fox Kids" ratings much larger than those of the channel’s competitors. In November 1993, Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures almost doubled the ratings of their rival shows, Darkwing Duck and Goof Troop, in both the 2–11 and 6–11 demographics that are very important to children's networks. On "Kids' WB", Animaniacs gathered about one-million children viewers every week.
While Animaniacs was popular among younger viewers (the target demographic for Warner Bros.' TV cartoons), adults also responded positively to the show; in 1995, more than one-fifth of the weekday (4 p.m., Monday through Friday) and Saturday morning (8 a.m.) audience viewers were 25 years or older. The large adult fanbase even led 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 post reference guides, fan fiction, and fan-made artwork about Animaniacs. The online popularity of the show did not go unnoticed by the show's producers, and twenty of the most active participants on the newsgroup were invited to the Warner Bros. Animation studios for a gathering in August 1995 dubbed by those fans Animania IV.
The series gained high ratings even under disadvantageous circumstances. During November 1993, a Dallas Fox affiliate had a three-day transmitter failure, resulting in a blank screen instead of an episode of Animaniacs; during this period, about 11,000 homes were channeled to watch the Animaniacs episode, which was almost double the rating of the rival KXTX-TV children's show.
Nominations and awards
Animaniacs' first major award came in 1993, when the series won one Peabody Award in its debuting season. In 1994, Animaniacs was nominated for two Annie Awards, one for "Best Animated Television Program", and the other for "Best Achievement for Voice Acting" (Frank Welker). Animaniacs also won two Daytime Emmy Awards for "Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition" and "Outstanding Original Song" (Animaniacs Main Title Theme). In 1995, Animaniacs was nominated four times for the Annie Awards, once for "Best Animated Television Program", twice for "Voice Acting in the Field of Animation" (Tress MacNeille and Rob Paulsen), and once for "Best Individual Achievement for Music in the Field of Animation" (Richard Stone). In 1996, Animaniacs won two Daytime Emmy Awards, one for "Outstanding Animated Children's Program" and the other for "Outstanding Achievement in Animation". In 1997, Animaniacs was nominated for an Annie Award for "Best Individual Achievement: Directing in a TV Production" (Charles Visser for the episode "Noel"). Animaniacs also won two more Daytime Emmy Awards, one for "Outstanding Animated Children's Program" and the other for "Outstanding Music Direction and Composition". In 1998, the last year in which new episodes of Animaniacs were produced, Animaniacs was nominated for an Annie Award in "Outstanding Achievement in an Animated Daytime Television Program". Animaniacs also won a Daytime Emmy Award in "Outstanding Music Direction and Composition" (For the episode "The Brain’s Apprentice"). In 1999, Animaniacs won a Daytime Emmy Award for "Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition". When Animaniacs won this award, it set a record for most Daytime Emmy Awards in the field of "Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition" for any individual animation studio. In 2009, IGN named Animaniacs the 17th-best animated television series.
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 1–69
Animaniacs premiered on September 13, 1993, on "Fox Kids", and was on "Fox Kids" 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). In 1994, Yakko, Wakko and Dot also starred in the theatrical short "I'm Mad". New episodes were aired on "Fox Kids" until the 65th episode aired; Fox then ordered no more new episodes, with the exception of a short, four-episode long second season that was quickly put together from unused scripts during the Animaniacs syndication period on "Fox Kids". After "Fox Kids" put Animaniacs into syndication for a year, Animaniacs switched to the new Warner Bros. channel, "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. While on "Kids' WB", Animaniacs gathered over one million children viewers every week. However, Animaniacs was only successful in an unintended way, bringing in adult viewers and viewers outside the "Kids' WB" target demographic of very small children. This unintended result of adult viewers and not enough very 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 made it through a couple more short seasons, relying on leftover scripts and storyboards. The fourth season had eight episodes, which was reduced from 18 because of the WB's dissatisfaction with Animaniacs. Finally, in 1998, Animaniacs was cancelled by the WB, led by executive Jamie Kellner, who has also been held responsible for the cancellations of Freakazoid! and Pinky and the Brain. The 99th and final Animaniacs episode was aired on November 14, 1998. Afterwards, Animaniacs segments were being shown along with segments from other cartoons as part of The Cat&Birdy Warneroonie PinkyBrainy Big Cartoonie Show. On December 21, 1999, a direct-to-video movie starring the Warners, titled Wakko's Wish, was released.
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 three other series in the later half of the decade titled Histeria!, Toonsylvania, and Detention. 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 (decade) after production of new episodes ceased. Animaniacs aired in syndication on the WB's sister network, Cartoon Network, from January 31, 1997 until Nickelodeon bought the rights to air the series for spring 2001. Animaniacs does not currently air on Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, or its sister network, Nicktoons, nor does it (or any other 1990s Warner Bros. show) air on Boomerang. Copyright: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Animaniacs