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The Cast Of Animaniacs Talks The Animated Series, Star Wars, And More - Exclusive Interview

In the mid-1990s, Animaniacs made a splash on the animated scene, charming kids and adults alike with its wacky and self-referential humor. Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, the variety-style show originally aired for five seasons and 99 episodes, ending in 1998. But its legacy endured.

Now, more than 20 years later, Animaniacs siblings Yakko, Wakko, and Dot — along with conniving lab mice Pinky and the Brain — are back with all-new episodes via Hulu. And not only is Spielberg leading the charge again, but the original voice actors have returned too — with Jess Harnell voicing Wakko, Maurice LaMarche portraying the Brain, and Rob Paulsen lending his talents to Yakko and Pinky. It's enough to make old fans feel a twinge of nostalgia, while giving them the opportunity to share the series with their children.

In an exclusive interview with Looper, Harnell, LaMarche, and Paulsen talked about why 2020 was the perfect year to resurrect Animaniacs and shared some of their favorite characters that they've voiced over their decades-long careers.

Animaniacs strives to deliver laughter during a rough patch in history

Why was it the right time to resurrect Animaniacs?

Maurice LaMarche: We need to laugh. We need to laugh just so badly in this world right now.

Rob Paulsen: That's exactly right. We find ourselves in a singular privileged position. The timing is impeccable — 2020 has delivered a really stinky pile of nasty lemons to us, but we are able to make a huge vat of lemonade to unleash on a humor-starved world. Boy, are we lucky.

Jess Harnell: Yeah, I mean, if we could have thrown a dart and chosen a year to put this thing back out, it would have been at this time. It couldn't be more fortuitous. The planets and stars are aligned and, in our own small way, we're not going to change the world, but hopefully we'll make it smile a little.

Rob Paulsen: Oh, man. Amen.

Maurice LaMarche: "The planets and stars are aligned" is something that was predicted in the book of Revelations, I think. No, I'm kidding. [Voices the Brain] We're going to be fine. We're all going to be fine. Don't worry. The Brain will take over eventually... he's still working on it!

Why do you think Animaniacs has such an enduring appeal?

Rob Paulsen: Honestly it's because Mr. Spielberg, Jean MacCurdy, at the time the head of Warner Bros. Animation, and Tom Ruegger knew precisely what they were doing. The edict from the top was, "Do not condescend to the audience." Because they knew if they did it right, the show would be relevant 25 years later like Looney Tunes, Bugs Bunny, The Flintstones, Rocky & Bullwinkle ... and they got it right.

Jess Harnell: Because it worked on both levels. It was funny for the little kids because there were a lot of colorful things and people jumping around with no pants, which kids love, but it also had humor that adults could soak up, so it aged well. What we're really looking forward to with the reboot is parents who loved it back then watching it now with their kids who've never seen it.

Rob Paulsen: Frankly, you could watch the old ones with your kid and enjoy it, but now there are new ones and, I'm telling you, it's such a unique circumstance.

Maurice LaMarche: [Voices the Brain] If I may interject. It may also have something to do with the subliminal messages that I implanted in each episode 25 years ago. You were watching 2020... you were watching 2020... you follow the Brain.

Beyond Animaniacs, the cast has voiced characters in the Star Wars, Marvel, and DC Comics universes

You all have hundreds and hundreds of credits on your resumes — including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and LEGO Batman for Paul; animated Star Wars series and Doc McStuffins for Jess; and Frozen and Batman: The Animated Series for Maurice. What are some of the funnest voices you've ever done?

Rob Paulsen: Wow. It's pretty tough to get past Yakko because I get to work with these knuckleheads and the beautiful Tress MacNeille [who voices Dot]. And also, we got to sing. I'm a singer first, and so is Jess, so to be able to sing...

Jess Harnell: Rob has an answer that he often gives that I just love, which is: Whichever one makes people happiest. We've all been so fortunate and blessed to continue working at a really high level ever since Animaniacs [originally ended in 1998]. And we've been able to be part of a lot of different people's childhoods with a lot of different shows. So we just love making people happy. But I've got to tell you, I do have a soft spot for Wakko because I'm a Beatles fan and he doesn't wear pants!

Maurice LaMarche: The Brain is literally... I feel like he's my kid. I've done a lot of characters. I've got a soft spot for a lot of my characters on Futurama, but Brain is at the top of the heap and I couldn't be more thrilled to get to bring him out to play again.

You've also each voiced characters in Star Wars, Marvel and DC Comics films, TV, and video games. What's it like to be part of that larger pop culture universe?

Jess Harnell: Well, like I said, it's been so varied in so many different ways. What I really love is that we have such weird fanbases — if you go to Comic-Con and you see our tables, you'll have a guy at my table dressed as Wakko and behind him a guy dressed as Darth Maul [who Harnell voiced in several Star Wars video games] and behind him, a guy dressed as Chilly the lovable snowman from Doc McStuffins. So it's all one great big universe where we get to play and put on all kinds of different costumes, but we don't even have to go to wardrobe!

Rob Paulsen: If you can be part of the DC universe, if you're in the same club with Batman, it's just crazy. I mean, to be part of that whole vibe was a big deal years ago, but now that Animaniacs has become what it is and Pinky and the Brain have become arguably iconic, people throw us into that mix. They say, "Oh yeah, Pinky and the Brain! Batman! Superman! Animaniacs!" I mean, that's a big deal. That's just something that doesn't happen to very many actors.

Jess Harnell: It's just nice to matter to people.

Maurice LaMarche: For me, each time I got to enter one of those universes was a thrill because I'm a grown-up geek kid with a comic book collection up the wazoo. My childhood was comic books. So when I knew that I was going to be General Var Suthra in Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic , that was a big bing! Ring the bell! And then I got to be Murphy [one of the Joker's henchmen] in two episodes of Batman: The Animated Series; entering the DC universe, working with Batman, working with Mark Hamill [who voices the Joker] — he even killed me!

Jess Harnell: I keep hoping for Mark Hamill to kill me, but he hasn't shown up yet!