Thursday, April 3, 2014

Animaniacs - Pinky is Going to Take Over the World!

"Animaniacs" logo.
Steven Spielberg was determined to get his production studio, Amblin Entertainment, into television animation, and he succeeded in a big way with "Animaniacs." The show, which aired on Fox Kids from 1993-1995, then on the WB from 1995-1998 as part of the network's afternoon programming, is fondly remembered by all who saw it. "Animaniacs" was a hodgepodge of eccentric characters, slapstick violence, and parodies of old films that covered pretty much every subject that a typical schoolkid saw during the day. It was almost a return to Vaudeville, with no set format but rather a collection of mini-episodes within each time block, and it worked.

The Warner siblings.
The structure was that the Warner family lives in Burbank, California, and the Warner kids (Yakko, Wakko and Dot) got themselves into various adventures. However, the series soon moved far beyond that, with the Warner siblings simply introducing segments for the real stars of the proceedings and making appearances in them. The real stars were the eccentric Pinky and the Brain, who were genetically enhanced lab mice determined to take over the world, Ralph the Warner Brothers security guard, Slappy Squirrel, Chicken Boo, Flavio and Marita, Dr. Otto Scratchansniff and assistant Hello Nurse, and many other weirdo characters with mega-exaggerated personality traits that reflect stereotypes for Hollywood characters.

The character Hello Nurse received lots of attention.
Steven Spielberg stayed on as Executive Producer for the entire series, while various minions did the day-to-day work. Spielberg, though, wasn't just a figurehead, taking an active role in the production and coming up with story ideas and reviewing storyboards. He even came to recording sessions, which is quite unusual for the true Powers That Be in Hollywood. There was a slew of writers, and the producers also did some of the writing: it was a true team project.

The Warner kids faced villains that were cartoon classics.
The voice actors were not well known at the time, but they all did a great job. Standouts were Rob Paulsen as Yakko, Pinky and Dr. Scratchansniff, Tress MacNeille as Dot, and Sherri Stoner as Slappy the Squirrel. Maurice LaMarche, though, stole every scene he appeared in as the Brain, fiendishly rubbing his hands together and vowing that now, finally, they would "take over the world." Voice Director Andrea Romana did a terrific job of keeping all of the many different characters distinctive and allowing the voice actors to ham it up as appropriate.

Hello Nurse.
Fans delight in the many catchphrases that derived from "Animaniacs," including Yakko saying "Goodnight, everybody!" after somebody said something a bit off, Wakko exclaiming "Faboo!" and "Hello-o-o, nurse!" said repeatedly by the Warners. Pinky and the Brain always seemed to get the best lines, though, with Brain often asking Pinky "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?" and Pinky replying in such a way as to reveal that, no, he absolutely was not pondering anything.

Yakko dreaming the dream of every Warner kid.
The ultimate and most memorable catchphrase came in just about every episode when Pinky would ask "Gee Brain, what do you want to do tonight?", to which Brain always answers "The same thing we do every night, Pinky... try to take over the world!" Pinky with his broad Cockney accent which always brought to mind Dick Van Dyke from "Mary Poppins," was the perfect set-up man for the five-dollar-word spouting Brain, who managed to sound like a crazed Orson Welles without even trying.

Pink and the Brain in one of the plots to take over world.
"Animaniacs" is an animated tv series that rewards watching all of the episodes and catching the running gags that sometimes broke the fourth wall and made fun of Spielberg's own past successes such as "E.T." The show also went way beyond childish humor and did send-ups of things children could have no way of knowing about, such as an extended parody of the classic Orson Welles film "The Third Man" which, once you see they actually are doing them, you rub your eyes in disbelief, wondering what got into the producers. The show was very popular among children aged 2-11, but anybody can watch at some of the episodes and get a real kick out of the adult humor that must have flown way, way over the heads of the young audience.

An autographed picture of Pinky and the Brain, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche.
A collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation, “Animaniacs” took television animation so far past its origins as to make it almost an entirely new medium. It amused adults as well as children, along with “Tiny Toon Adventures.” There was unmistakable social commentary, but it was mostly a showcase for slapstick adult humor. “Animaniacs” became the most popular animated children’s show, and it can claim to have helped kick-start the Internet, as it inspired older fans to create Internet-based fandom cultures chock-full of forums, fanfiction and fan art that since have become the norm.

Below is a song about history by Pinky and the Brain which pretty much sums up the characters.


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