The 2021 New York Comic Con hosted the “Hellloooo, season two! Animaniacs Voice Cast Panel” to dig into the Hulu revival of the beloved 1993 Animaniacs cartoon produced by Steven Spielberg. The new season, due out later this fall, also got a new teaser: a Thundercat riff “’80s Cats” where the Warner siblings are transformed into jacked-up muscular warriors and square off with a giant robot as the theme song chants “’80s ’80s ’80s ’80s cats...”.
Voice cast members Rob Paulsen (Yakko, Pinky), Tress MacNeille (Dot), Jess Harnell (Wacko) and Maurice LaMarche (Brain) participated in the virtual panel moderated by David Holbrook of TV Guide. Reviving a 1993 beloved franchise after years of development hell with the original voice cast, the 2020 Animaniacs had loads to live up to after 22 years in static.
Harnell shared, “At other personal appearances for other projects, we’re often asked, are they gonna bring back Animaniacs? We said that would be great. We always felt like it was a possibility. But then when it happened, hallelujah, we went on the time machine and went back to 1993.”
“Thank Steven Spielberg for that,” LaMarche said. “He keyed into the idea that if you’re going to give somebody their childhood. Honor the old designs and update them.” A lack of toyetic motivation was evidently part of the show’s appeal compared to other cartoons. “We weren’t selling anything [like other cartoons]. A lot of stuff on Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons were commercials for toys. And Steven just wanted to honor the Warner Brothers tradition of making it the funniest place on Earth.”
Paulsen expanded, noting how rare it was to make something for TV for art’s sake. “Not only to get another crack, but it has an exponentially larger audience and the King of Hollywood to say, ‘If we do this trust [the original voice actors]. Don’t ever talk to me about stunt casting.’”
Harnell called Animaniacs a “Trojan Horse of cartoons.” He said, “Any great cartoon is great because it works on two levels. It’s funny for kids because it’s visually engaging and it’s also intelligent on an adult level so the parents who are in the kitchen making the cereal will say, ‘I can’t believe they said that.’ It’s an adult musical satire disguised as a kid’s cartoon show.”
Unabashedly referential with mallet-mashing cartoon violence, Animaniacs resumes its spiel for slapstick and satire of current events — at least as much as animation production can catch up to the times as lampshaded in the first revival “Catch-Up Song” number. The first season was recorded with the upcoming second season. Paulsen said, “We started recording the first 28 [episodes] in 2018 and it dropped in 2020. They gave us a year and a half of lead time, which is sorta unusual to get something fully funded and the orchestra [set up]. You got 18 months to screw it up.”
Although they were not at NYCC in the flesh, the voice cast recollected attending conventions and seeing fans with tattoos of their characters. LaMarche said, “Oh yeah, I signed a man’s leg, a doctor’s leg. In Toronto, I got down on the floor... and he had the Brain on his calf. He shows up the next day with my signature tattooed on his calf. And I’m like, ‘do not cash in your calf with my signature.’”
Some memories are more uncomfortable. MacNeille said, “I did talk a fan out of getting a neck tattoo. I said. Do. Not. Do. It.” Harnell also shared, “I’ve seen a lot of these tattoos of characters that people have me sign on very inappropriate places. On one hand, you’re flattered. But you mortified me.”
Animaniacs season 1 is currently streaming on Hulu. Season 2 premieres on Hulu on Nov. 5.