L-r: Wakko, Dot, Yakko.

THE WARNER BROTHERS (AND SISTER)

Medium: TV animation
Produced by: Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros.
First Appeared: 1993
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After the success of Roger Rabbit (a new character set in the milieu in which those of classic-era animation "lived") and Tiny Toon Adventures (new …

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… characters extrapolated from the classic Looney Tunes guys), the next step for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment was to create new characters that actually were from animation's old days, but set in the present day.

And according to the story, they weren't just any old-time characters, but the characters that served as the very namesakes of the studio — The Warner Brothers themselves, Yakko and Wakko, along with the forgotten Warner Sister, Dot.

But if these guys were contemporaries of Bosko, Buddy, Goopy Geer and the other pre-Porky Warner Bros. stars, one would think at least a few viewers would remember them. This obvious problem was solved by claiming their films had never been released because they made no sense. And the characters themselves made no bones about this forced obscurity because their personal qualities, which were such that nobody could stand being around them, had led to their being incarcerated in the Warner Bros. water tower that has served as a Hollywood landmark all these years. The series began when they broke out.

This happened in the first episode of Animaniacs, a series they usually shared with Pinky & the Brain, Slappy Squirrel and others. But in that one, which first aired September 13, 1993 on Fox TV, they and their background information were the whole show. Naturally, the Warner management, through their agent, Ralph the Guard, tried to put them back in, and succeeded by the end of the show. So each half-hour episode began with their escape and ended with their return to the tower that had become home.

Besides Ralph, the most prominent supporting character was Dr. Otto Scratchensniff, a psychiatrist (the first letter of which was not only not silent, it constituted an entire additional syllable) whose efforts were futilely devoted to "de-zanitizing" them, i.e., making them less zany so others could bear their company. His assistant, who functioned mainly as a lust object, was known only as "Hello Nurse", the phrase Yakko and Wakko generally used when stopping dead in their tracks to greet her, tongues hanging out in desire. (Dot would often roll her eyes when this happened.)

Yakko's voice was provided by Rob Paulsen, whose many other roles include Rude Dog, Mighty Max and the most recent animated incarnations of José Carioca and Casper's fellow ghost, Spooky. Wakko, the zaniest of the bunch, was Jess Harnell, who also did various voices in The Tick, Biker Mice from Mars and several Disney productions over the past couple of decades. Dot was Tress MacNeille, also the voice of Mrs. Pedigree in The Wuzzles, Chip in Chip ’n Dale Rescue Rangers, and Babs Bunny. Frank Welker (Marvin in Super Friends, H.E.R.B.I.E. the Robot in the Fantastic Four cartoons) played Ralph; and Scratchensniff and Nurse were Paulsen and MacNeille, respectively.

The Warners continued the cycle of escape and return for 99 episodes of Animaniacs, which aired over a five-year period and are frequently seen in reruns. They also did it in 59 issues of the Animaniacs comic book, which DC published between 1995 and 2000. Also in a theatrically-released short cartoon, I'm Mad, which came out on March 30, 1994, a couple of video games in 1998 and '99, and a feature-length movie, Wakko's Wish, released to video on December 21, 1999. To say nothing of scads of merchandise of every kind.

The Warner Brothers (and Sister) may not actually have been classic animated characters in 1993. But they certainly are now.

— DDM

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Text ©2003-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Warner Bros. and Amblin