The Cast Of The Animaniacs On 30 Years Of Being Zany To The Max [Exclusive Interview]

Since the very beginning, absurdity has been the name of the game for "The Animaniacs." Following the adventures of the Warner Brothers Yakko (Rob Paulsen), Wakko (Jess Harnell), and the Warner Sister, Dot (Tress MacNeille), "The Animaniacs" is a beloved variety sketch series filled with innuendos, enough catchy songs to justify its own ranking, timely parodies, and a slew of spotlight characters like Pinky (Paulsen) and the Brain (Maurice LaMarche). Canonically speaking, the characters were first drawn in 1929, which explains their rubber-hose animated style, but were deemed too weird to release and were locked up in the Warner Bros. water tower ... until one day, they escaped.

The first series lasted for 99 episodes and the feature-length film "Wakko's Wish," but was given a revival in 2020 to bring the zany antics of "The Animaniacs" to a brand new generation. The show is one of the few in existence to find a way to capture the hearts of audiences between the ages of 8 and 80, with the classic vaudevillian comedy structure perfectly melding with the "Saturday Night Live" sense of recognizable pop culture references. Now, "The Animaniacs" looks to be returning to the water tower for good, as the third season of the Hulu revival series is anticipated to be the last.

I spoke with the main cast across multiple Zoom interviews to hear their thoughts about why "The Animaniacs" has enjoyed such longevity, and what it's like to possibly be saying goodbye to these beloved characters after all these years.

Not included in this interview: Yakko himself giving me a "Hellooooo, Nurse!" for the road and my subsequent crying with joy about it the second I closed my Zoom screen.

'The proof is in the pudding'

Of the hundreds of characters that you all have brought to life, what is it about the Animaniacs that you think makes them so special?

Harnell: Oh, that's so sweet. I think for me, I think it's a combination. I think that individually they're such strong characters, and then together, it's like an unstoppable force. You know what I mean? When you have the Yakko kind of thing with the Wakko style and the Dot style together, it's hard to beat that. And to me, I think that's one of my favorite things is the dynamic between those characters. And I think folks like you hopefully agree, because they're still loving "The Animaniacs."

MacNeille: I think they are such good-natured characters, and so they're pleasant to be around. And then the dynamic between the brothers and the sister are normal with the comedic juxtaposition and the misunderstandings. I think we can all relate to that, particularly if we have siblings. We're just kind of fun and almost familial to be around, and that's why you like to have us around for a long time, because we're family. We're all family.

LaMarche: Well, I think there's something — the chemistry, at least I can speak to the Pinky and the Brain part. I don't get to be involved as much in the Yakko Wakko Dot stories as I did in the OG series this time around. But the Pinky and the Brain chemistry, what goes on between these two characters is classic comedy. It's Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton [from "The Honeymooners"] if Ralph had three PhDs and Norton was a cockney. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore — Peter Cook put it best. He said, "It's the chemistry of the uninformed idiot and the informed idiot." And so Brain may be a genius in that he understands how to make all these devices and things like that. But he's not smart enough to figure out that a two-inch tall lab mouse really can't take over the world. Don't tell him that, though. He'll be very upset with me. But to watch that, it makes them both accessible because they can't succeed. So you're not afraid of them. It's not like a Bond villain who actually has destruction on his mind.

Paulsen: Exactly what Mo said, and we're very clear: We don't draw them, we don't write them. We have killer writers. And when you have Mr. Spielberg running the show, and he's really involved, you get the best of everything. And everybody knows how high that bar is. So they pull out all the stops. And I have to say, I think the reboot, as they say, the proof is in the pudding, it turned out great. Really proud of it.

LaMarche: I wasn't shown the pudding. I wanted some pudding. Did they put the pudding away from the snack table before I left?

Paulsen [as Pinky]: You're getting pudding, Brain. Narf!

Harnell: Plus, Wakko doesn't wear pants and everybody can relate to that.

MacNeille: He can't leave the house.

Harnell: He can't leave the house. But we have to mention that the show was made, our contribution to it aside, it was made with such care from the ground up on every stage of development and execution that it's really, really good. And if I had nothing to do with it, I would still be like, "Man, that was a great show." That's another reason I think it lasts.

'Never say never'

I agree completely. I recently moved to Los Angeles and every time I drive by the Warner lot, I have to wave "Hi" to the water tower. I feel like it's against the law if you don't. Like, someone will come from the sky and be like, "You disrespected the Animaniacs."

Harnell: Just remember while you're watching us, we're watching you, too.

MacNeille [as Dot]: That's right. I think I did see her, yeah. Down there by the gas station.

So all of the marketing for the new season says "The Animaniacs" is "going out with a bang." How does it make you feel, thinking about the possibility that this would be the end for these characters?

Paulsen: We went through it 25 years ago, and it was, as one can imagine, a little bittersweet. But the feeling of gratitude and accomplishment. Some of the really most profoundly gifted people in Hollywood [coming together] was nothing short of astonishing to me, and we got to live it over and over again by going to these conventions and meeting people and seeing how deeply Pinky and the Brain connect with folks. But we learned, never say never. Here we are talking about the three seasons we've done, and man, we're still doing it. So who knows? We could be talking about a feature. Who knows?

Harnell: I'm happy that it is going out on a high note. People are still loving it. People are still watching it. It's great stuff. But you know what? Never say never. We never thought it was going to come back the first time. And you never know what the future holds. So you want more "Animaniacs" in your life? Write your congressman, form a picket line, whatever you're going to do, but we may just see you again. You never can tell.

'I'm just happy that it made a lot of people happy'

MacNeille: It's funny to hear the term, "going out with a bang." It's just like, "Well, I'm not going anywhere." I never even really considered that it was any kind of an ending at all. Because you just never know. I don't want to give false hope or anything, but you never know what could happen. They might decide to continue it in another shape or form and we would be into that.

Harnell: Yeah, we'd be there.

MacNeille: We're ready.

Harnell: If not, then I'm just happy that it made a lot of people happy then, it made a lot of people happy now, and through streaming and reruns, it'll make people happy in the future.

MacNeille: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You're going to get tired of us.

Oh, that's impossible.

MacNeille [to Harnell]: She's good. That's the correct answer.

LaMarche: Just remember, just because they're not on screen doesn't mean the Pinky in the Brain aren't in their lab. Still formulating plans –

Paulsen: Working very hard –

LaMarche [as Brain]: ... To take over the world! They've just figured out how to get the camera off of them. So we'll still be plotting away, my dear. Yes.

Were you two responsible for when Twitter crashed about an hour ago? Was that Pinky and the Brain's doing?

Paulsen [as Pinky]: I'm not saying a word, Brain.

LaMarche [as Brain]: No. And neither will I, Pinky, but well done. You pressed the right button this time.

Paulsen: Brain's favorite cologne is some sort of a "musk" cologne, so maybe that was it.

The new season of "The Animaniacs" will be available to stream on Hulu beginning February 17, 2023.