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How Steven Spielberg Helped Make Animaniacs A Classic

Animaniacs Steven Spielberg
Image curtesy of Rob Bulmahn under CC BY 2.0
I was introduced to Steven Spielberg when I was very young through the animated comedy TV show Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs. My dad loves cartoons, so as soon as my mom left for work each morning, my dad and I would hop on the couch and watch cartoons. I was often late for school, but it was definitely worth it! Animaniacs was one of our favourites. Sometimes we’d laugh so hard that we’d cry! As I got older, I watched many of Spielberg’s movies, both the new ones and those that were made before I was born. I loved every one of them, especially Jaws and Poltergeist! Yet Animaniacs will always be my first Steven Spielberg love.

Animaniacs was created by Tom Ruegger and produced by Amblin Television in association with Warner Bros. Animation. Spielberg was the show’s executive producer under his Amblin Television division. While Tom Ruegger ran the overall production and writer’s room, Spielberg was very involved in the series. He even had a bit part in one episode! Personally, I think his extensive involvement is one of the reasons that Animaniacs was (and still is) such an excellent show. He was involved in almost every major aspect of the series, including the creation, production, casting and writing.

Before Animaniacs was created, Spielberg was the executive producer of the extremely successful Tiny Toon Adventures. He asked Tom Ruegger, who was the producer of the show, if they could create a follow-up cartoon. Initially, Spielberg suggested they make the popular Tiny Toons character Plucky Duck the star of the new series. Yet they soon realized that the cartoon industry was saturated with ducks! So they went with characters that Ruegger had been developing instead. Spielberg ultimately had to decide which characters would feature in the show, but it was his daughter who chose Buttons and Mindy!

An executive producer of a TV show often focuses on coming up with new shows and pitching them to television networks. As soon as the series is accepted, many executive producers focus on business issues such as contracts and budgets. Spielberg was the executive producer of Animaniacs and not the showrunner (Ruegger was the showrunner) who is usually responsible for the day-to-day operations. Despite this, Spielberg didn’t simply focus on the business side of the series. As I mentioned before, he was very involved in the daily running of Animaniacs. He went as far as going to recording sessions to see that they were done properly.

As the head writer, Spielberg oversaw the entire team of writers for Animaniacs. He ewas understandably heavily involved in the whole writing process. He came up with many plot outlines, read the storyboards and even personally inspected the script for each episode to check its quality.

There was a variety of humour in Animaniacs. The series often made parodies of other TV shows and movies. Spielberg commented on the “irreverence” of Animaniacs, saying that the crew had a point of view and didn’t “sit back passively and play both sides equally.” According to Spielberg, the social commentary in the show was inspired by Looney Tunes cartoons and the Marx Brothers. Like many of the shows Spielberg produced, Animaniacs relied heavily on cartoon violence for humour. Spielberg pointed out that the series had both cartoon violence and educational segments to balance each other out.

Other Involvement
Being the executive producer of Animaniacs, Spielberg was involved in many aspects of the creation of the show. Andrea Romano, the casting and voice director for the series, said that Spielberg had a major role in selecting the voice actors. He was particularly involved in choosing Rob Paulsen to voice Yakko and Sherri Stoner as Slappy the Squirrel. Animaniacs was hugely popular world-wide and was ultimately dubbed in at least 32 languages. Spielberg insisted that Romano control the overseas casting to ensure that the tone of the show wasn’t lost.

One of the things that children seemed to love about Animaniacs was the music. How can we ever forget classics such as Yakko’s Universe, The Presidents or Wakko’s America? Music was featured heavily in the show and each episode had at least one original score. And it was Spielberg who came up with this brilliant idea. He also insisted they use a 35-piece orchestra. This was expensive, but it resulted in a fantastic sound for the series.

Animaniacs is still one of my favourite cartoon shows and I personally think I have Steven Spielberg to thank for its overall genius. American Netflix has recently made the show available, but it isn’t available in the rest of the world yet. Thankfully, those of us who don’t live in America can access American Netflix if we use a Virtual Private Network, (Secure Thoughts has a useful guide on that matter). When I watched it as a child, I definitely didn’t understand all the adult humour. Watching the series again as an adult is like watching a whole new show!

Do you agree that Steven Spielberg had a lot to do with the brilliance of Animaniacs? Please let us know what you think in the comments section below.

About the author: Cassie Phillips is an entertainment and tech blogger with an avid interest in movies and TV, especially cartoons. She spends most of her spare time watching her favourite cartoons over and over.

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