They’re Pinky and the Brain. One is a genius. The other’s insane.
Taken from their famed theme song, these simple words summarize the lovable relationship between the two animated laboratory mice from Hulu’s revived series, Animaniacs. Committed to taking over the world, the maniacal Pinky and the Brain have been beloved by millions since they first popped on screen almost thirty years ago.
Beginning its original run in 1993, the rebirth of Animaniacs has meant that its unique brand of humour has impacted multiple generations of kids around the world. In light of this, voice icons Maurice LaMarche (‘The Brain’) and Rob Paulsen (‘Pinky’) are often amazed that these characters continue to endure and bring families together.
“It hit me at Comic Cons. I already knew that the generation that watched our show had hit their mid-thirties,” LaMarche points out. “It was when their little kids started pointing to Pinky and the Brain and wanting an autograph from them. And I’d ask, ‘how old is he?’ And they go, ’10’. I’d ask, ‘How does he know about Pinky and the Brain’? ‘Because I show it to him on the DVDs, the box sets, all of that.’ Now, we’re noticing that the dads that sat with their kids in the 90s are now the [grandparents] of the little kids who were asking for that picture with their kids. Three generations are standing in front of our tables at Comic Cons, asking for autographs. So, that’s kind of fun.”
“That’s really unusual too,” chimes Paulsen. “I think the only other show I can think of that’s still in production is the Simpsons, where that would have happened. But we have gotten this incredibly glorious opportunity as a result of the stars aligning and Hulu. With a twenty-five year break in between, it’s so unprecedented to do it again, and then have all these world-class journalists talk to us about season two, and the show is now an unqualified hit again with an exponentially larger audience.”
In light of their lasting legacy, it begs the question of what makes Pinky and the Brain such endearing characters? While their antics to take over the world are always hilarious, Paulsen argues that he believes it stems from the adorable relationship between the two characters.
“I think that what sets it apart for me is that it’s just a love story,” Paulsen explains. “Pinky and the Brain really love each other. I think one of the reasons that, um, that it translates pretty well to the screen is that life is imitated art. I love Maurice. We are the dearest of friends… So, if you’re going to be authentic, acting is acting. The whole idea is that you embody these characters. You don’t acknowledge the fact that it’s silly or otherwise. This is the truth. You are about taking over the world and supporting your guy, supporting the man (or the mouse) whom you believe has the best interest of the world at heart. Whether it’s nefarious or not is not, Pinky’s MO is that [he] believes that the Brain has the best of intentions and [he’s] going to do everything I[he]can to help him achieve his goal. Then, he hits [him] on the head for doing something stupid. So, that’s why I think they work together.”
“It’s a show about a friendship,” LaMarche echoes. “It’s a show about what Peter Cook and Dudley Moore described as the ‘uninformed idiot and the informed idiot’. So, Brain, being the informed idiot who, though he is supposedly a genius, isn’t smart enough to know that a two-inch tall lab mouse that can’t possibly take over the world. So, he’s rendered harmless at that point. That’s another reason that people can get with him because they know he’s no danger. (Of course, setting aside the fact that he’s an animated cartoon.)”
Thinking back to the very beginning, LaMarche notes that his voice for the character stemmed from the remarkable similarities in appearance to the great Orson Welles.
“The original design of Brain was very Orson Welles-ian and to the point that I actually, in my hubris, believed they’d created the character with me in mind,” LaMarche laughs. “I was notorious for doing Orson Welles whenever there was a break in recording so, I just thought, ‘Oh, they’ve created this Orson Welles lab mouse for me. The audition is a mere formality, my friend.’ So, I just laid down my Orson Welles, and then we went. He’s more angular now. I don’t know that I might’ve seen Orson Wells in there now and ergo, may not have ended up with the job. So, I’m glad we started it when we did.”
With this in mind, Paulsen suggests that he also prefers the opportunity to bring his own unique take on the character, rather than attempt to meet the expectations of the director.
“For me, it was a six-week audition,” he continues. “I had five or six callbacks over a six-week period because it was a big deal. It was all a brand-new clean sheet of paper, lots of music. and it was a lot of ‘We’ll know it when we hear it’. To me, [that’s] a boon. I love it when a director or producer says ‘I want to hear your take on this and you give me what you got’. If somebody says ‘we’re very specific in what we want’, I can do my best but, if they’ve got it stuck in their head that no, that’s not getting close to what I want. I love it when I have a little control over what I can give them. When Moe walked into read for the Brain, once he opened his mouth and did Orson Welles, they were done… Had Mo not had the—he calls it hubris, I call it genius—but that ability to say, ‘Oh, wait a minute. I know what’s going to work here.’ He does it. Behind the glass, they just go, ‘Oh my God. All right. All the rest of you. Thank you very much.’ That’s what happens when you open it up to the actor’s interpretation.”
Known for its boundary-pushing animation and style, Animaniacs has clearly found a new audience with its revival. Asked what he believes is the most exciting aspect of the series for him, Paulsen beams and immediately points to the series’ ability to remain self-aware and current with its humour.
“I love the fact that we’re self-aware and that we lampoon everybody, including ourselves,” Paulsen exclaims. “In fact, if you guys recall, in the revival’s… theme song, the first half is the old animation and the old lyrics. Then, it switches to the new stuff where we become self-aware. In fact, they even say ‘gender-balanced, pronoun-neutral and ethnically diverse. The trolls all say we’re so passe, but we did meta first’. That is freaking genius because it’s self-aware and right out of the shoot before one word of dialogue is spoken the theme son, lets you know what you’re in for? I find that really just so bad-ass really.”
Animaniacs is now available on Hulu.