Yakko, Wakko and Dot, aka the ‘Animaniacs,’ are back after 22 years
11th November 2020

Yakko, Wakko and Dot are back in cartoon land after a 22-year vacation.

The “Animaniacs” trio, which delighted a generation of kids (and their parents), returns to television Nov. 20 on Hulu with all-new episodes — and with original voices Rob Paulsen (Yakko), Jess Harnell (Wakko) and Tress MacNeille (Dot).

“What’s so glorious about this experience is that we get the chance to do it again,” says Paulsen, 64. “The breadth of the fan base is so enormous, and thanks to [executive producer] Steven Spielberg, we’re in a privileged position of bringing a little joy to the world.”

Paulsen is also reprising his role as Pinky in “Pinky and the Brain” (alongside Maurice LaMarche); those characters are integrated into the new “Animaniacs” series, which received a two-season pickup on Hulu.

“Animaniacs,” which revolves around the three Warner siblings, premiered on Fox Kids in 1993 before moving to Kids WB in 1995, where it ran until 1998. The revival was announced in 2018; it took two years to premiere because of the long lead time needed for this type of animation — which includes backing from a 40-piece orchestra.

“Yakko was banging around in my head … those characters never leave an actor who’s lucky enough to do them,” says Paulsen, whose voiceover resume includes “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (Raphael in the original, Donatello in the 2012 revival) and a long laundry list of other series. “Since the [original ‘Animaniacs’] ended the ComicCon scene exploded … and once people find out who I am and what I do, they just flip out. It doesn’t matter if they’re young or parents or grandparents, they go, ‘Pinky and Brain?’ ‘The Animaniacs?’ Are you kidding me?’

“The reboot of the series was a long time coming,” he says. “Maurice [LaMarche] and I were traveling around the country before COVID doing the ‘Animaniacs’ in concert, and it didn’t take long for that to filter down to Warner Bros. and [Spielberg’s production company] Amblin. Steven Spielberg was all-about being authentic and said, ‘We’ve got a window of time to do this.’ He went to every pitch — Hulu, Netflix, Amazon and Apple TV+ — bought 2X3 headshots of me, Jess and Tress and said, ‘I’m not  doing it without them.’

“That was a huge vote of confidence.”

The series, known for its catchy, rapid-fire, educational singalongs ( “The Nations of the World,” sung by Yakko and “Wakko’s America,” a breathless recitation of state capitals), will contain similar elements in its new version, Paulsen says.

“Fans who remember the old show can click a button and watch brand-new episodes with the same actors,” he says. “If anyone saw the trailer for the new series, which got around 7 million hits in a couple of weeks … we acknowledge that it’s a new generation of viewers. Even the opening song is tweaked a bit, and if you listen you’ll be able to hear that we’re self-aware and we get that it’s been a long time.

“[New showrunner] Wellesley Wild was Seth MacFarlane’s right-hand guy and he gets the subversive humor with a wink and a nod,” he says. “When you see how we address how things have changed … Yakko swallows an iPad and spews out cultural references we hadn’t even thought of in 1998.

“It’s so hip it blows my mind.”

Best of all, Paulsen says, was the chance to reunite with Harnell, MacNeille and LaMarche for the “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain” characters. They recorded all 26 episodes of Season 1 (pre-pandemic) together in the same studio.

“It was effortless,” he says. “We’ve worked together on other projects since ‘Animaniacs’ and have been to many live events with each other. I’ve known them longer than anybody but my siblings, now that my parents are gone.

“Tress still has my son’s birth picture on her refrigerator — and he’s 36!”

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