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Off The Air Since 1998, Acclaimed Cartoon 'Animaniacs' Returns To Hulu

NOEL KING, HOST:

Thirty years ago, if you asked any American kid, what's the best part of the week? - you would probably hear Saturday morning cartoons - the "Rugrats," the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," "Johnny Bravo." But there was also a show that grown-ups laughed at, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANIMANIACS")

JESS HARNELL, TRESS MACNEILLE AND ROB PAULSEN: (As The Warners, singing) We're Animaniacs. We have play for play contracts. We're zany to the max. There's boloney in our slacks. We're animaney (ph), totally insane-y (ph) - cockamanie - Animaniacs. Those are the facts.

KING: "Animaniacs" blended talking cartoon animals with music, with pratfalls, with cultural satire. It was a critically acclaimed cartoon. It went off the air in 1998, but now the "Animaniacs" are back on Hulu.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANIMANIACS (2020)")

HARNELL, MACNEILLE AND PAULSEN: (As The Warners, singing) What's going on? Will we be OK? Has it all gone mad since we ran away? Oh, update us, please. And put us at ease 'cause we've run out of jokes about the '90s.

KING: Rob Paulsen and Jess Harnell are the voices of two of the Animaniacs, Yakko and Wakko Warner.

I realized, watching the reboot, if you asked me, what is this show about? - I could in no way explain what this show is about (laughter).

ROB PAULSEN: Yeah, it's like a cartoon "Seinfeld."

KING: Can you - for people who haven't seen it, what are the "Animaniacs"? Like, what is the deal? (Laughter).

PAULSEN: Go ahead, Jesse.

JESS HARNELL: What I love about the show is it exists on multiple levels. It's a satire. It's a social satire and a pop culture satire masked as a variety show all put together in a package that's appealing to both adults and kids. So the bottom line - at the end of the day, "Animaniacs" is fun, and it's entertainment. And that's cool.

PAULSEN: It's also a breath mint.

KING: (Laughter).

HARNELL: Yes, it is, man. It looks like a pump. It feels like a sneaker. Right, Rob?

PAULSEN: There you go. Exactly. Right. Well, you know what? Actually, of course, Jesse is spot on. We actually did a song called "What Are We?" And the the song starts out, maybe we're dogs. If we were this, maybe this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANIMANIACS")

PAULSEN: (As Yakko Warner, singing) I've got it - of course. Maybe I'm a horse. I can live on oats and hay and laugh and run and jump and play. And you can ride on me all day.

(As Dr. Scratchansniff) No way.

At the end, it says, what we are, dear doctor - because they're talking to Dr. Scratchansniff - and they say, what we are, dear doctor, is cute.

HARNELL, MACNEILLE AND PAULSEN: (As The Warners, singing) What we are is clear and absolute. What we are, dear doctor...

TRESS MACNEILLE: (As Dot Warner) ...Is cute.

KING: It's been 22 years since y'all went off the air.

HARNELL: By God.

KING: And I had not realized you won Emmy Awards. You won a Peabody Award. I mean, kids don't realize these things. This was like a really well-respected show.

PAULSEN: Yeah.

KING: Why bring it back? Sometimes you think, like, OK, if a thing is that great, you make it off air without any trouble, why come back to it?

PAULSEN: Thank you. I - it was just the most glorious opportunity in which you will be able to watch your favorite episode of Animaniacs from the '90s and then watch a brand-new episode with a 25-year gap...

HARNELL: Yeah.

PAULSEN: (As Yakko Warner) And the same voices. (As Pinky) And of course my friend The Brain and my friend Wakko.

HARNELL: (Laughter).

PAULSEN: And all it does - Noel, I would submit that probably right now you're smiling. And...

KING: Yeah, yeah.

PAULSEN: OK. You can't help it. It transcends language. It transcends age. It transcends generations. It's just remarkable.

HARNELL: What I love about this whole thing is that "Animaniacs" is one of the few cartoons that ever, you know, addressed social issues and things that were going on in the world in a very satirical way. Well, think about it. How much more is there to satire and poke fun of in 2020 than there was in 1995. Right? And then what I love about it is that we are coming back smack dab at the end of a year when I think people really need something to have fun with, you know, and something to just escape into with their kids or as adults or as children or whatever and just have some fun for a little while.

PAULSEN: 2020 has delivered - oh, my God. Irrespective of your politics - never in my lifetime - and you know, I was the entertainment at the Last Supper. I've been around. OK?

(LAUGHTER)

PAULSEN: In those days, I was Shecky of Arimathea. But...

HARNELL: (Laughter).

PAULSEN: ...We have never been living in a time in which the phrase we're all in this together has been more spot on...

HARNELL: Yeah.

PAULSEN: ...And for good and bad reasons - COVID, racial issues, politics. It's been impossible for so many people. And the fact is that 2020 has delivered this giant ton of stinky lemons, and we have been given this glorious opportunity to make this giant vat of lemonade.

KING: So it's a show that you guys point out both kids and adults find funny. I - again, something I had not realized when I was 11 years old, that I would be in my latish 30s...

PAULSEN: (Laughter) Latish.

KING: ...And the jokes would be landing. Right? There's an episode in the reboot that's about gun violence in America.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANIMANIACS (2020)")

STEPHANIE ESCAJEDA: (As Nora Rita Norita) I'm not going to tell anyone that they can or can't have one. It's in the Constitution. Wait. Is it in the Constitution? Look. My decision is final. If you've got a problem with it, fill out a comment card on the 19th floor.

PAULSEN: (As Yakko Warner) But there is no 19th floor.

ESCAJEDA: (As Nora Rita Norita) Well, great. Now you have two things to put on your comment card.

KING: You're walking a line there, right? It's a show that's funny. It's also always had a serious side. And gun violence in America is about as serious as it gets, man. So how do you walk that line?

HARNELL: When we were doing that show - and we also did one, like, about climate change and global warming - you know, your first thought is you see the script, and you go, now, first of all, this is a pretty big issue to do on an animated show that's primarily, you know, quote, "directed at children," unquote, you know?

KING: Yeah.

HARNELL: And how are they going to do this? And by God, they did. It's like they take the issue, and they sort of explain it roughly for what it is, maybe add a musical number or two about it - God knows how. And then they make you kind of see - if there is a funny side to be found in it, they do that. I don't know how they do it. They are far more talented than I, but they find a way to do it. And God bless them, man, because, again, how many cartoons are on the air talking about gun control and climate change? It boggles my mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "ANIMANIACS (2020)")

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE ACTOR: (As character) You can't do this to me. I'm a responsible bun owner. I'm proving to the world we all have a right to bear buns.

HARNELL: (As Wakko Warner) Not here. This is a kid show.

PAULSEN: Jesse said it all. We don't draw them, and we don't write them. The fact is, people your age who grew up with all this stuff and all this technology know exactly how to lampoon this. And - well, you said it very well, too. They walk a line. And the way that you're able to make light of a deeply serious subject often enables people to look at it with a fresh set of eyes and maybe depressurize it a bit. And that certainly is the way that "Looney Tunes" has been forever.

KING: That was Rob Paulsen and Jess Harnell. They're the voices of Yakko and Wakko Warner on "Animaniacs."

(SOUNDBITE RICHARD STONE'S "ANIMANICAS THEME") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.