You would be hard pressed to find any animation project produced during the past four decades – film or TV – that didn’t include the voice work of Tress MacNeille, Jess Harnell, Rob Paulsen or Maurice LaMarche. The actors who give voices to the “Animaniacs” characters of Dot, Yakko, Wakko, Pinky and The Brain have worked on everything from Disney and Pixar projects to “The Simpsons.”
One of their biggest castings came in 1993 when they were selected to provide the voices for the Warner Bros animation project. More than two decades after the initial run of “Animaniacs” ended, the voice talents were reunited for new episodes of the series. The second season will be available on the streaming service Hulu starting Nov. 5.
The idea of bringing the characters out of animation mothballs after so many years was the idea of Steven Spielberg who is the executive producer on the show.
Co-executive producer Gabe Swarr said, “He [Spielberg] said he wanted to have more and him just saying that sentence was enough to have companies bidding to make the show.”
Swarr admits that he initially balked at the idea of being part of the creation of new episodes. He was extremely worried as to how the loyal fans of the show would react.
It’s a good thing Swarr came around to tackling the show as the reaction from the fans was so positive Hulu ordered the second season. One again, the Warner brothers – Yakko and Wakko – and the Warner sister Dot are having a great time creating havoc and mayhem in the lives of everyone they meet. At the same time Pinky and the Brain have continued their quest for world domination.
The only stipulation the voice actors had in terms of returning was that the scripts be as good as the originals. They know the show now has multiple generations watching and they didn’t want to upset them.
Jess Harnell (Wakko) says, “Honestly, I would have rather had it end as it was being remembered as a great thing than having it come back and people saying, ‘Ah, it really wasn’t as good as it used to be.’
“The idea of two generations watching it together is one of my absolute favorite things about doing the show. The fact that people who watched it when they were 8 years old can now watch it with their 8-year-old – and they will both find something to laugh at – just makes me happy.”
All of the voice actors have been serious protectors of how their characters speak. MacNeille has experienced many occasions over the years of almost slipping into the voice of Dot with other projects but always stopped short.
She stresses that all of the actors know the voices they do are for “Animaniacs” are for those characters only.
The initial casting for the voices in “Animaniacs” started with a small stable of actors who had worked on other Spielberg animation projects. The moment LaMarche saw the original drawings of The Brain, he immediately thought he should sound like director/actor Orson Welles.
LaMarche is not certain he would have been part of the show if the casting of the show had happened today instead of in the ‘90s.
“The original design of Brain was very Orson Welles-ian. He’s more angular now and I don’t know if I would have seen Orson Welles there and ergo may not have ended up with the job,” LaMarche says. “So I am glad we started it when we did.”
LaMarche was so on target with his choice, he was the only person who auditioned to voice The Brain. The casting team was right as LaMarche won an Annie Award and was nominated for an Emmy for his work.
Paulsen picked up a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performer in an Animated Program and three Annie Awards for his role as Pinky. The role brought him a lot of attention but “Animaniacs” is just a small part of a career that started in 1983 with “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.” Since then he has been the voice of more than 250 different animated characters and voiced over 1,000 commercials.
It is his work as the lovable Pinky that has earned him so much love from the fans.
“I think what sets it apart for me is that this is a love story. Pinky and The Brain really love each other. I think one of the reasons that it translates pretty well to the screen is that life has imitated art,” Paulsen says. “I love Maurice. We are the dearest of friends.
“We realize this is a silly cartoon show but so is our lives. The whole idea is you embody these characters. You don’t acknowledge that it is silly or otherwise.”