It’s time for Aaanimaaaniacs! They were gone, but now they’re back — and this year’s all-digital New York Comic Con chat proved they’re still zany to the max. In fact, the cold open for Hulu’s upcoming revival of Animaniacs, Steven Spielberg’s zany 1990s love letter to the loony toons of the Golden Age of Animation, proves that the Warner Bros. and their sister Dot have barely missed a beat.
The clip, aired as part of an NYCC panel on the upcoming series (which premieres on Nov. 20, just six days after the 22nd anniversary of the original show’s finale) brims with everything fans of the original series came to expect from the show: sly pop culture references galore, a healthy disregard for the fourth wall, “clean, vectored outlines,” and a sense of humor about the world and the show itself — now in widescreen format! (Find the clip at the 18:40 mark.)
The panel itself found the voice talent from the original series in fine spirits, still having a ball with the characters, the show’s staff — represented here by newcomer showrunner Wellesley Wild and co-executive producer Gabe Swarr — and each other. They’re positive that the fans will too, and that isn’t just because the characters have been preserved. Jess Harnell, the voice of Wakko, said that the humor has been, too.
“What’s funny is funny,” Harnell said. “I once met Friz Freleng, who’s one of the original Warner Bros. legends, and I asked, ‘What do you think was the secret to those cartoons lasting as long as they did?’ And he said two things: ‘Number one, they were funny. And number two, we didn’t make them for kids — we made them for adults as well.’”
Rob Paulsen, who voices Yakko and Pinky, noted that Freling’s decrees were baked into the original show, and in turn, the reboot. “That’s been part of the part of the ethos from the beginning. 25 years ago, as we all know, the ethos from the top down was to not condescend,” he said. “That’s why we can watch Bugs 75 years later, and ‘Kill the wabbit!’ is not only Wagner, but it’s absolutely relevant, and Wellesley has kept up the same ethos.”
For Wild, the animating question behind how to bring a series as beloved as Animaniacs back to life was simple: “Why mess with the characters that have endured for so long?” He added: “When the show was on 20 years ago, you could walk down the street and see a Pinky and the Brain t-shirt on someone. That speaks to the simplicity and depth of the characters, and just how much fun the show is, and how silly it is. And I feel that’s what people need now, too — some nostalgia, some comfort, and some silliness.”
“Don’t forget our beautiful singing,” Tress MacNeille, the voice of Dot, pointed out.
Harnell noted that, along with the parody and satire the original series was known for, the music — and, specifically, the Broadway–style musical numbers. They’ll be written by a new generation of composers trained by the show’s original scorer, Richard Stone, and Randy Rogel, who wrote the songs for the 1990s series that continue to echo across the pop culture landscape and inspire parodies of their own.
If there was one big takeaway from the panel, it was that the show would truly be picking up right where it left off. Anthology series may not have continuity, but the hope was to build the show on the foundation of its predecessor. Steven Spielberg was the biggest defender of bringing back the core cast.
“From the beginning, Mr. Spielberg said, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no, no, this isn’t about getting, as Brain says, Peter Dinklage to be the Brain and Russell Brand to be Pinky.’ The King of Hollywood says, ‘If we do this, it’s with Tress, Jess, Maurice, and Rob’ That’s not a small thing … and by the way, Mr. Spielberg went to every pitch himself.”
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some changes. There’s a new showrunner, and the cartoons now play out in the widescreen format. And, Swarr teased, some divergence from the show’s original animation style. “We really like a lot of shows that are visually diverse, so we tried to bring that into the show,” he said. “It felt like the original show was all drawn the same way, and our show really breaks that.”
Not broken is the rapport between the actors, all of whom seemed to have a ball together, even over Zoom. After all, the cast has continued to perform together live over the years, with Rogel, in their Animaniacs In Concert series. But the joy each felt at the opportunity to work together again was palpable.
“Here’s a cool thing about our first day at work,” Maurice Lamarche, the voice of the Brain, said. “I got up [that day] and went, ‘You know what, I’m gonna wear my Pinky t-shirt today just to show Rob how much I support him and how much I love him.’ I have one Pinky t-shirt. We pull onto the lot, and when Rob steps out of his car, he’s got a Brain t-shirt on.”
For Paulsen, it was clear that this series doesn’t feel like some rote Hollywood rehash. For him, it’s the real deal. “There was so much world class talent on both sides of the glass, but we had to double up with respect to actors moving — you know, musical microphones,” he said, recalling recording sessions from the original series. “And I remember looking at Tress and grabbing her hand and saying, ‘Honey, this is as good as it gets. Take a picture of this.’ And 25 years later, you guys, I sat next to Tress at the first recording session, and I literally said, ‘I was wrong. This is better.’”