You might think it odd that a guy who was diagnosed four years ago with throat cancer and had to endure a rigorous and painful treatment program would consider himself among the luckiest men on earth but Rob Paulsen genuinely feels that way, and with good reason. The voice of Yakko (Animaniacs), Pinky (Pinky and the Brain), Raphael (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) and hundreds of other animated characters is back in action and ready to entertain a whole new generation of both kids and adults as the beloved “Animaniacs” makes its return this month on Hulu following a two decade absence. As Paulsen puts it, “When you can make a living doing something that you would do for free, does that ever make a difference the older I get, especially in circumstances like this when there is so much divisiveness and anger….to be able to do something that by its very nature makes people from both sides of the political aisle laugh is such a gift.”
For those who don’t know, “Animaniacs” is an animated comedy musical TV series, created by Tom Ruegger and produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment in associated with Warner Brothers. It ran 99 episodes before the series ended in 1998. It featured a trio of siblings who lived in the Warner Brothers water tower and came out to cause mischief and mayhem. It was billed as a variety show, with short skits featuring original songs and a large cast of characters, including the enormously popular Pinky and the Brain. The show featured Paulsen as Yakko, Pinky, and Dr. Otto von Scratchansniff, Tress MacNeille as Dot and Jess Harnell as Wakko, with Maurice LaMarche as the Brain. It was irreverent without being offensive, suggestive without being crude and zany without losing its heart. And lord, it was funny. It poked fun at politics and politicians but it was very careful not to cross the line. Paulsen reflects on Spielbergs’s influence there. “Steven was very involved in script creation, script supervising, script editing, casting….and if he thought something went beyond just a good natured jab he’d put the kibosh on it. Because he knew, he had the presence to know that Animaniacs would end up doing what it has done, which is become utterly watchable and relevant irrespective of the change and the tenor of the times.”
You can tell the Animaniacs are going to pick up right where they left off by their trailers. There is a Jurassic Park version which pokes fun at Spielberg’s mega blockbuster and a second one which starts off by having Yakko stating “Reboots are symptomatic of a fundamental lack of originality in Hollywood.” This high minded idealism lasts approximately ten seconds until the check for their royalties arrives, at which point the siblings quickly do a about face and are all in. Lock, stock and barrel. Miraculously, the team of Paulsen, MacNeille, Harnell and LaMarche were all available and much to Spielberg’s credit he insisted that the original team stay together for the reboot. This is no small consideration in an age where celebrity voice overs are all the rage. John Travolta, Dustin Hoffman, Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon and many more have lent their voices to animated characters but Spielberg understood that to their legion of fans, the ones who created these zany caricatures were celebrity enough.
Loyalty is not a word you hear much about in Hollywood but in Paulsen’s case he’s rarely known anything else. Four years he was diagnosed with throat cancer and had to undergo severe treatment. It was, in fact, the same type of cancer which took Eddie Van Halen and Roger Ebert. There were a number of projects going on at the time and Paulsen felt a responsibility to the producers of those projects to be honest with them and tell them the facts. He didn’t ask for pity, he didn’t ask for charity, he just told them it was going to be tough and if they wanted to move on without him there would be no hard feelings. Paulsen recognizes that as much fun as it is, this is also a business and in some cases, a hundred million dollar business. He says that every one of them decided to wait for him. Their faith paid off, as eventually Paulsen was cured and, as is evidenced by the new reboot, back in the saddle. Paulsen is currently the celebrity spokesperson for the Head and Neck Cancer alliance and one of the greatest joys of his life has been the ability to put smiles on the faces of kids who have cancer by suddenly switching on one of his many animated voices and seeing their faces light up in recognition and laughter.
Hulu not only is presenting the reboot, it has also bought all of the old episodes of Animaniacs. The new show premieres November 20th.
Photo credit: Amblin Television/Warner Bros. Animation
For more information on the Head and Neck Cancer Alliance visit their website below: