History of the Animaniacs

Mental Floss's Rob Lammle has researched an admirably thorough history of The Animaniacs, one of my all-time favorite cartoons.

Of the Warners, the voice of Wakko was the most difficult to cast. During auditions, the producers said they were looking for “wacky,” so all the actors delivered a voice that was over-the-top crazy, but none were the right fit. On the last day of auditions, Ruegger brought his 1990 Almanac to the office, hoping to find some inspiration that might shake things up. Many wacky Wakko’s later, they still didn’t have the right voice. So during their last appointment of the morning, with voice actor Jess Harnell, Ruegger opened the almanac to a list of celebrities and asked Harnell to do his best impression of Elvis, Rodney Dangerfield, Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra, and other notable names. When the Beatles came up, Harnell proceeded to do every one of the Fab Four so well you could actually tell which individual band member he was mimicking at the moment. However, it was Harnell’s Ringo that struck a chord with the producers, so after a few tweaks, that became the voice of Wakko.

To promote Animaniacs before the show’s premiere, a giant balloon in the shape of Yakko was placed on top of the water tower on the Warner Bros. lot. Unfortunately, no one told Bob Daley, who ran the studio. When he pulled into work that morning, he thought someone had put a bad Mickey Mouse balloon on the tower and ordered it removed. The inflatable Yakko was in place for less than 12 hours, and then popped shortly after he came down. Writer Paul Rugg was able to snap a photo to prove it happened.

After the balloon incident, Daley worked to ensure no one else would mistake the Warners for Mickey. Daley decided that Yakko and Wakko were too smooth and rounded. So while he watched, he had Ruegger add side whiskers to the drawings, which he felt would prevent confusion – and potential legal action. Ruegger and Warner Bros. Animation president Jean MacCurdy had to rush back to the animation studio with the changes, because the cartoon was already being drawn, with some segments in the can. You can see the Before Whiskers and After Whiskers comparison below:

Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Animaniacs


  1. One thing that the article neglected to mention was that Animaniacs was one of the first television shows to directly address its small yet notoriously nit-picky Internet-based fan community with the short “The Please Please Please Get A Life Foundation”:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNJ6dFwh8a4&t=0m28s

    1.  There’s a certain irony to posting that link in an internet discussion about Animaniacs trivia.

  2. I could have sworn there was a line or two from P&tB (I think) that went:

    the Brain: Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

    Pinky: I think so. But where are we going to find gerbils and a cardboard tube at this time of night?

    But mayhap that’s just me . . .

  3. I LOVE the Animaniacs. One of the bets cartoons ever. WHY isn’t it on boomerang or something?

    One time my mom found a photo signed by all 3 voice actors at a garage sale. Go mom!

  4. I was a little kid in the 60s, and a tween and teen in the 70s.

    These times produced a lot of Fondly Remembered Favorites of animation, like The Flintstones and The Jetsons, and iconoclastic witty classics like Rocky & Bullwinkle. These things loom large in the history of TV toons. And while they may deserve their props . . .

    . . . ya know, the best TV animated shows of the 90s — Batman, Animaniacs, Tiny Toons and to a lesser extent oddballs like Earthworm Jim and Freakazoid — were frigging amazing.  Even stodgy old Hanna-Barbara started to go artsy and sometimes a little bit raunchy.

    The actual animation may not have been great. But the characters and music and stories and dialog were just wonderful. I think we owe this to a generational shift.

  5. I am a child of the 60’s and still believe that cartoons had a resurgence of quality in the late 80’s & 90’s.  Shows like this are the reason why.

    “I think so Brain, but if Jimmy cracks corn and no one cares, why does he keep doing it?”


  6. I have 2 Animaniacs albums on my iPod, and randomly one of those fantastic songs will pop up. Last summer I pulled up at a stoplight with my windows down, probably playing the stereo a little loud. ‘Yakko’s World’ came on, and I heard singing that wasn’t coming from my car – the car next to me was all singing along. Loved that moment…

Comments are closed.