- This article is about the television series. For the Tiny Toon Adventures episode of the same name, see Animaniacs! (Tiny Toons episode).
Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs was a popular animated TV cartoon series, distributed by Warner Bros., and produced by Amblin Entertainment. The cartoon, usually referred to by the shorter title Animaniacs, first aired on FOX from 1993 until 1995; the show appeared on The WB as part of its "Kids' WB" afternoon programming block from 1995 to 1998. Like many other animated series, it has continued to appear on television through syndication long after its original airdate.
Animaniacs was the second animated series produced by the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation during the animation renaissance of the 1990s. The studio's first series, Tiny Toon Adventures, had proved to be a big hit among younger viewing audiences, and it had attracted a sizable number of adult viewers as well. Tiny Toon Adventures had drawn heavily from the classic Termite Terrace cartoons of old for inspiration, as well as plots and characterization. The modern Warner Bros. writers and animators used the experience gained from the previous series to create brand new animated characters that were cast in the mold of Tex Avery's and Bob Clampett's creations, but were not slavish imitations.
The show itself was a variety show, with many short skits featuring a large cast of unique characters. Each episode was traditionally composed of three short mini-episodes, each starring a different set of characters.
The Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister)
This show focused around the adventures, or more accurately, misadventures of the Warner Bros. (Yakko and Wakko Warner) and the Warner Sister (Dot), who claim to be the stars of some of the early Warner Bros. animated cartoons, which were so crazy that the studio execs locked them away in the water tower at Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank, California. This description of the Warners is a tongue-in-cheek homage to Bosko, Warner Bros.' first cartoon character, whose cartoons were not highly regarded by many people.
The red-nosed Warner siblings bear a striking resemblance to the portrayals of Bosko and his girlfriend Honey (who look remarkably like Dot and Yakko) in a 1990 episode of Tiny Toon Adventures entitled Fields of Honey, also created by Steven Spielberg. Afraid that the portrayals of Bosko and Honey might be deemed controversial, they were changed to anthropomorphic doglike characters, and that episode served as the "bridge" between Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs.
Originally, the Warners were intended to be ducks, but producer Tom Ruegger realized they'd been done to death by Disney (see DuckTales), so he made them indeterminate children. He also modeled their personalities a bit after his three sons (who all did voices on the series at one time or another).
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, Wakko (the middle child) has a huge appetite and a gaggy bag filled with tricks, and Dot (the youngest) is cute and sassy.
- 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 studio nurse, voiced by Tress MacNeille, over whom Yakko and Wakko continually fawn
- Ralph - a dim-witted Warners Studio security guard charged with recapturing the Warners and confining them to the water tower
- Pinky and the Brain - an imbecilic white mouse and his genius companion, voiced by Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche
- Slappy Squirrel - an aging cartoon star voiced by Sherri Stoner
- Skippy Squirrel - Slappy's 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 Pest, voiced by Maurice LaMarche, John Mariano and Chick Vennera — spoofing characters from the movie Goodfellas
- Rita and Runt - a singing cat (voiced by Bernadette Peters) and a loyal but stupid dog (voiced by Frank Welker)
- Buttons and Mindy - a heroic Lassie-like dog (voiced by Frank Welker) and the accident-prone baby (voiced by Nancy Cartwright) he is sworn to protect
- Minerva Mink - an incredibly sexy mink, voiced by Julie Brown, who inspires lustful fits in every male creature around her
- Katie Ka-Boom - a girl, voiced by Laura Mooney, who has comically violent overreactions to trivially "embarrassing" situations in a parody of stereotypical teenage behavior, obviously modelled 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 Cody 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
- 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
- Colin, aka the Randy Beaman Kid - 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 frustated teacher.
- 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.
The only famous celebrity to appear 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.
Popularity of Animaniacs
The comedy of Animaniacs was a broad mix of old-fashioned wit, slapstick, pop culture references, and cartoon wackiness. The show also featured a number of educational segments that covered subjects from history to math to geography. These educational segments, while simplistic in nature, were at a considerably more advanced level than in such children's shows as Sesame Street; in fact, most adults could probably learn something from the show's explanations of world geography, the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan, or the Panama canal.
While episodes of the show did have their share of flops (the Hip Hippos especially, followed mostly by Chicken Boo and Katie Ka-Boom), a surprisingly high number of well-written, outrageously funny cartoons were aired during the series, as the new madcap Warner Bros. animators merrily poked fun at everything and everyone, including their own fans ("The Please Please Pleese Get A Life Foundation").
While the show was very popular among younger viewers (the target demographic for Warner Bros.' TV cartoons), a great deal of the show's sly, subversive humor was definitely aimed at an adult audience. In fact, one character, Minerva Mink, was soon deemphasized as a feature character on account that her featured episodes were considered too sexually suggestive for the show's intended timeslot. Adults responded in droves, giving the show cult-hit status and leading to one of the first Internet-based fandom cultures. During the show's prime, the Internet newsgroup alt.tv.animaniacs was an active, popular gathering place for fans of the show (most of whom were definitely adults) to discuss the latest antics of the Warner Brothers and the Warner Sister. The online popularity of the show did not go unnoticed by the show's producers, and several of the most active participants on the newsgroup were invited to the Warner Bros. Animation studios for informal get-togethers.
Animaniacs premiered on September 13, 1993. New episodes of the show were aired during the 1993 through 1998 seasons, and episodes of the show were rerun in syndication for several years after production of new episodes ceased. One feature-length direct-to-video Animaniacs movie, Wakko's Wish, was released on VHS only (there was no DVD release) in 1999. The series was popular enough for Warner Bros. Animation to invest in additional episodes of the show past the traditional 65-episode marker for syndication; a total of 99 episodes were finally produced. One theatrical cartoon short film starring the Animaniacs characters, "I'm Mad," was produced and released to theaters in 1995.
Animation fans consider Animaniacs the high point of the Warner Bros. revival of the 1990s that was inspired by the original Termite Terrace. After Animaniacs, Spielberg collaborated with Warner Bros. Animation for a third time to produce the short-lived series Freakazoid, along with the Animaniacs spin-off series Pinky and the Brain. Warner Bros. also produced two additional "zany" and "madcap" series in the later half of the decade entitled Histeria! (much like Animaniacs, but focusing on American history) and Detention (an animated sitcom of several quirky junior high kids trying to get out of after-school holding), but neither of these series found a sizable audience, and they were both swiftly cancelled. Warner Bros. cut back the size of its animation studio (the high cost and relatively low profit of its animated feature films of the period also had an effect on the studio), and production on further Warner Bros. animated comedy series ceased. Animaniacs and Tiny Toon Adventures continued to rerun in syndication through the 1990s into the early 2000s. In 2005, it was removed from the NickToons network, it has since been moved to boomerang and airs daily at 4:00 pm
An Animaniacs comic book, published by DC Comics, ran from 1995 to 2000 (59 regular monthly issues, plus two specials). Animaniacs, the video game based on the series was also made for the Super NES and Sega Genesis. There are new Animaniacs video games planned for release in the future on the Nintendo Gamecube (The Great Edgar Hunt) and Nintendo DS (Lights, Camera, Action).
Animaniacs was a very musical cartoon, with every episode featuring an original score (and in many cases, several original songs). Each group of characters had its own subtheme in the score, and the Hip Hippos and Pinky and the Brain even had their own full theme songs.
The three Warner siblings often performed songs, including parodies of classical and folk music, often with an educational twist, listing, for example, U.S. states or American presidents. Pinky and the Brain occasionally got songs to sing as well, and the most complicated songs in the series usually went to Rita, voiced by singer Bernadette Peters (poking fun at Broadway shows in general, and Stephen Sondheim's works in particular). Rita and Runt even took on Broadway directly with a parody of Les Misérables called Les Miseranimals, which aired early in the first season.
Three albums of music from the series were released: Animaniacs, Yakko's World, and Variety Pack, and the sing-along videos, especially "Yakko's World", remained some of the best selling skit compilation VHS tapes.
Animaniacs often parodied popular TV shows and movies. Some of the most frequent "targets" were children's television shows and action-adventure series. For example, Super Strong Warner Siblings lampooned the 90's TV series Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, featuring replicas of the "real" show's costumes and "megazord". A reoccuring parody was that of the Imature Radioactive Samuri Slugs which poked fun at the popular cartoon Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Another parody, albeit a cold opening rather than a full "segment", depicted the Animaniacs characters as babies in a parody of the title sequence to Rugrats. Popular kids' character Barney was also represented as "Baloney", a goofy character whose upbeat personality remained unaffected by the massive amounts of abuse to which the Warners subjected him.
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- Animaniacs Mega Lyrics File
- NARF - the Nifty Animaniacs Reference File
- Animaniacs Handy Episode Manual
- Animaniacs Scripts by Michael Dare