Animaniacs began airing on The Hub in early January, and fans of the beloved series — which originally ran on Fox Kids from 1993-98 — rejoiced. Finally, Wakko, Yakko and Dot would have a regular home back on television, their hyperactive, and often hyper-literate, antics on display for a whole new generation to discover and appreciate.
This Monday, The Hub is offering Animaniacs fans an embarrassment of riches with a Presidents’ Day marathon, running from noon-8pm ET. Being Presidents’ Day and all, they’ll about have to include this song, right?
Tress MacNeille — a superstar in the voiceover world whose work is seen regularly on The Simpsons, Futurama and countless Disney productions — was the voice of Dot, and she took time to share with me some reflections about working on Animaniacs and why it has endured.
Channel Guide Magazine: It’s been about 15 years since Animaniacs has been on the air, but in some ways its popularity never seems to have waned. What is it about the show that’s made it so durable?
Tress MacNeille: Well, it’s a beautifully produced cartoon. They’re individually orchestrated, and beautiful to look at with fun, non-snarky messages and so who’s against that? Who wouldn’t love that? Not super political, not too sexy, so they really are a classic cartoon.
CGM: You’ve been involved in so many successful cartoons. Do you have a sense when something is going to be a hit, and did you with Animaniacs?
TM: We had come off Tiny Toon Adventures, or I had. I was the only member of that cast to go on to Animaniacs, which was Steven Spielberg’s second animated project, Tiny Toons being the first. Tiny Toons was very, very successful, and so we knew that we had a great production team, and I new that I would only working with the best people because that’s how we do. I mean, the voiceover community is really quite small, or it used to be. We were going to have the same director, Andrea Romano, so that we knew we would be in good hands. And, you know, it had Steven Spielberg’s blessing, so what could possibly go wrong? We knew that it would be good. Back in those days, when a cartoon got picked up you would usually do 65 episodes. Of course it’s not like that anymore. And we knew that we would be doing 125 episodes, at least. I forget where we ended, we might have stopped after 125, because that was considered tons for your syndicated packages and things like that. We knew that we were going to be long-lived, and that gives you a great feeling of comfort. You can really grow into your characters, and explore many, many different stories and all the different characters without jumping too many sharks.
CGM: Now, I noticed there was a custom Hub version of the intro song to promote it coming there. Did you guys — meaning you, Jess Parnell and Rob Paulsen — record that?
TM: Oh yes, Jess, Rob and I went into the studio and we recorded a little of the main title with some custom words for The Hub. It was a blast doing that, and we did it very easily. It was just like we had never been apart. Of course, Rob, Jess and I see each other out in the [voiceover] world, and we are also great, personal friends. They’re like brothers to me, so we work very easily together and always have fun. We went and had lunch afterward and caught up a little bit more. We just can’t get enough of each other, and that’s the beautiful part of being a voice actor, we work with pretty much the same group of people all the time, and we’re like families. We laugh all day long.
CGM: This was definitely not your typical voice-over gig. As Dot, you had to do impressions and lots and lots of musical numbers. How was that as a performer?
TM: They always took very good care of us. Rob and Jess are full-on professional singers. That’s how Jess actually got into the business, and Rob is a highly skilled professional singer. In fact, we used to kid him about it, because his band, when he was a yoot [sic], they opened for Bob Seger. So we kind of like to raz him about that. But, you know, it’s a great coup, to open up for Bob Seger back in the day. So these guys know what they’re doing. On Animaniacs, we were so well-cared for — and it’s never been like this on any other show that I’ve worked for — with the Warner Bros. cartoons we always did our music very, very carefully. Our composers would come to the recording sessions, and we would do them right there. We had scratch tracks ahead of time, we had sheet music, lead sheets printed out for ourselves so we could read the music and do it professionally. They did not let us skate on that. I mean, we wouldn’t, but … we were directed very well. We were well prepared, and it was done in the very, very best way. That is really kind of unusual. And then going to the scoring sessions, oh my God, that was the most thrilling part for me. To go to those scoring sessions there on the Warner Bros. lot, these big scoring stages, and to hear the music being done, it was such a thrill. It was at the same studios where Carl Stalling had done all the original Warner Bros. cartoons, the same microphones. It was just awesome!
CGM: Did you feel you were making a show for kids, for adults, or for both?
TM: For everybody, really, because I do a great many cartoons for Disney. I’m the voice of Daisy Duck and Chip from Chip ‘n’ Dale, and fairy godmothers and things like that. It’s the classic stuff made for younger children, so you really recognize when you’re doing a show that skews very young as opposed to something like Animaniacs, and then above that you would have The Simpsons and Futurama, which are more adult in my opinion. But Animaniacs always had a little something for everyone, just like the classic Warner Bros. cartoons of old when they would show movie stars mixed in with Bugs Bunny. I always thought it made the cartoons so important when I was a kid. I would ask my parents, “Who’s that?” And they would say, “Well that’s such and such a star. Do you recognize the impression?” And of course those are the impressions you go on to copy in your own life. (MacNeille then launches into a spot-on riff of Katherine Hepburn). Dot helps that along, because she’s there for the girls, and she always makes sure she’s a participant in all the high jinks, so the girls in the audience can always have something they find interesting.
CGM: Being that you’re involved with The Simpsons, Futurama, and have done several other animated shows that have devoted fan bases, what stands out about Animaniacs fans?
TM: The thing I’ve noticed about Animaniacs fans, because they’ve been with me for so long, and maybe the new fans will be similar, but the original Animaniacs fans were very knowledgeable about animation. Even as young kids, they would know about the process and be interested in the steps that were taken, because they thought they would become animators when they grew up. Of course, we did meet a lot of people along the way who thought maybe they would like to get into animation. I never would’ve dreamed of that when I was a kid, though I did want to do cartoon voices. But I wasn’t sophisticated enough to think I could actually make a cartoon. But Animaniacs fans, they really know their stuff. If you’re a fan, you more than likely have studied up on it and really know your stuff, but the Animaniacs fans tend to know a lot of the technical stuff.
CGM: How did you feel when you heard Animaniacs was coming back to TV on The Hub?
TM: I was thrilled to hear that Animaniacs was coming back on, because to have another group of kids discover them and see how great they are and to appreciate them, it’s so great. We’re all very proud of Animaniacs, and there was just nothing wrong with that. To have it disappear forever and ever would have been sad, and a huge waste. Why not let the world see them again?
CGM: Has there been any talk of producing new episodes?
TM: No. I mean, they do probably think of it, but it’s Steven Spielberg’s property, so I don’t know. It probably would be up to him. So if you’re going to talk with him, put in a good word.