Animaniacs: The Rise, Demise, and Revival

Animaniacs
Animaniacs
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Steven Spielberg’s Animaniacs was an early 90s cartoon that was made for children but, like a lot of 90s cartoons, had quite a few adult jokes and innuendos intertwined. As we enter the 20s Animaniacs is set to return as a streaming show on Hulu. Let’s revisit some of the fun facts that led to this show’s success and ultimate demise.

Tiny Toons Paved the Way for the Animaniacs

Tiny Toons premiered on September 14th, 1990 and would have a successful 3 season run. The success of Tiny Toons led Spielberg to believe that a new series based on a similar format needed to be created and Animaniacs was born.

The Warner Brothers and Sister Dot Were Almost Fowl.

The 3 main characters we’ve come to know and love were almost ducks. Thankfully the duck market was pretty played out by Disney with Donald Duck, DuckTales, Darkwing Duck and even Warner’s own Daffy Duck and Plucky Duck. So the characters were modeled after old 1920s cartoons where Walt Disney’s Oswald the Rabbit (predecessor of Mickey Mouse) became an influence.

Disney Loomed Large Over the Warner’s

As a display of what was to come, a large blow up of Yakko was added to the Warner Brothers’ Water Tower and Bob Daly, head of Warner Brothers, saw the giant balloon and ordered it taken down thinking it was a malformed Mickey Mouse. Daly also necessitated the physical change to the characters drawing in the side whiskers they are known for.

Oh Brother Where Art Thou?

The Warner Brothers, and sister Dot began life as a slightly different threesome, at least before changes were made in the design process. The original crew was named Yakky, Smakky, and Wakky. Yakky, the chatty one, pretty much remained the same except given pants and renamed to Yakko. Smakky and Wakky were merged into one most notably keeping the red hat from Smakky and the hanging tongue from Wakky. Dot was added in the mix to round out the threesome.

The Warner’s are Tom Ruegger’s Kids.

Animaniacs Creator Tom Ruegger didn’t have far to find inspiration for the basis of the Warner’s. The original trio Yakky, Smakky and Wakky’s personalities were based off of his three sons, Nate, Luke and Cody. What did Cody think of his character’s change to Dot? According to Ruegger in 1995, he wasn’t happy about it at first, but now he loves Dot.

The Studio’s Interference Backfired

The studio never quite understood the concept and wanted the team to turn it into more of a sitcom. So the writers, mostly, acquesced by making fun of every sitcom trope turning the studios mandate into a joke.

Several Characters Didn’t Make the Cut

According to the Animaniacs Bible, there were several characters that were created for the show’s supp0orting cast but never made it past Spielberg who had the ultimate say in which characters moved forward and which were left for the cutting room floor. Characters like Bossy Beaver and Doyle were too much like Pinky and the Brain. Others were Clyde and Egghead Jr, The Fleas and more were left off for reasons unknown.

The Spawn of Spielberg Were Saviors to One Duo

Mindy and Buttons were one duo that was left out of the mix, until Spielberg’s kids saved them from the great unknown. They apparently liked the drawings of Mindy and Buttons so much that Spielberg reversed course and had them included in the cast.

Sex Sells, Unless it’s a Kid Friendly Show

Unfortunately one Character who made it through the character development process Minerva Mink would only show up in a few episodes due to her developments being a bit too hot for cartoon TV. Despite being redrawn with less cleavage it was eventually determined that Minerva’s character was just too suggestive and ultimately she was forgotten for the rest of the Animaniacs run.

Hellooooo Nurse

Despite Minerva’s character being too racy for the show, Hello Nurse, the only name she’s known by, was never far away as she is in several of the episodes sketches throughout it’s run. Often an aid to Dr. Scratchinsniff, she’s also used as an actor is several other sketches when the need arises. In Wakko’s Wish we find out that not only is she pleasant on the eyes, she has a high IQ topping 192.

Borrowed Catchphrase

One cartoon’s trash might just become another’s treasure. Helloooooo Nurse might have become synonymous with the Warner Brothers (and sister Dot), it was originally meant for Tiny Toons Adventures as Buster Bunny’s “Hello, Doc-esque catchphrase”. According to Ruegger it never quite worked coming out of Buster’s mouth so it was dropped and later used in Animaniacs anytime a nice looking lady, or guy, would come into the picture.

Pushing the Boundaries a Little Too Far

As mentioned previously with Minerva and Hello, Nurse, the writers room would work in subtle and sometimes not so subtle adult jokes and innuendos that helped make it stand out from it’s cartoon rivals. Although not as out there as Ren and Stimpy, the Animaniacs certainly helped pave the way towards this type of comedy for future cartoons. The 90s cartoons certainly knew how to draw in the older crowd while still being as kid friendly as possible.

Animation That Still Holds Up

The boundaries of adult comedy and innuendo weren’t the only things pushing the boundaries, the animation team produced the episodes with a higher cel count than what was normal for the time. More remeniscent of the Golden Age of animation it made the movement more fluid and still holds up today better than most animated pieces from the 90s.

Music to the Ears but not the Budget

Spielberg insisted that every episode have an original score which led to a high quality of sound for each show, but also allowed for the ballooning of the budget with both higher quality animation and a 35 piece orchestra. The Writers and Musicians worked in total harmony. The musicians couldn’t wait to laugh at the jokes in each episode, the writers couldn’t wait to hear the new score.

The World Nearly Missed Out

Yakko’s World, Wakko’s America and most of the iconic songs from the Animaniacs almost never happened, at least in the way we know them. Randy Rogel, the genius behind many of the catchiest songs on the show was working on Batman: The Animated Series and was passed over originally. It was his son’s geography lessons that led him to creating the World song, which he promptly sent to the Animaniacs team which got him noticed and thanks to that moment we all passed our States and Capitals tests in school.

One Take

That’s all it took for Rob Paulsen, voice of Yakko, to nail the Yakko’s World Song.

Rock Sugar Because Pop Rocks

If you thought Jess Harnell did a great job singing as Wakko in the voice of Ringo, he continued on creating the band Rock Sugar, a band that mashes up several rock and pop songs from the 80s as Jess fronts the band bringing a unique set of vocals to the mashups often mimicking the lead singers of the band. Nothing more apparent than his stint singing “Don’t Stop the Sandman” that mashes Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and Metallica’s Enter Sandman.

Filling the Time Void

When a show has a strict 22 minutes length, what happens when you realize all the sketches are a minute or so short? You can pad the sketches which can make for awkward moments or you create a new quick sketch called “The Wheel of Morality”. This is one of the more memorable pieces of the show generally happening towards the end of some episodes and was only added to pad the run time so they could hit their 22 minute length.

FOX vs WB

When Animaniacs originally aired, it was on FOX Kids but the WB had other plans for the show as it tried to push their new WB Kids channel. Thanks to the move, Rob Paulsen, voice of Yakko, has often been quoted using the show’s own “Good Idea Bad Idea” segment as part of the downfall of the show.

The Demise

Ultimately the higher cost of animation, the 35 piece orchestra causing the budget to be higher than your typical animated show as well as the move from FOX Kids to WB Kids helped kill the show after 5 seasons. Another piece was the shows humor itself. It pulled in so many older kids that the demo’s didn’t match up well for the studio. Ultimately Animaniacs would leave the airwaves on November 14, 1998 with 99 episodes and eventually one straight to video movie in Wakko’s Wish.

Although the show stopped producing new episodes, the show lived on in syndication through re-runs over the years. Winning a Peabody Award, 2 Annie Awards, two Daytime Emmy Awards and more it is considered a successful run that has lasted over 20 years and will be pulled out of mothballs for the upcoming run of 2 new seasons on Hulu set to debut sometime in 2020.