Steven Spielberg Presents Pinky and the Brain premiered on Saturday, September 10th, 1995 on the Kids WB Saturday morning block. However, for the rest of its first season, the show aired on a Sunday night time slot, with the producers hoping to capture an adult audience. Unfortunately, up against 60 Minutes, the series never had a chance. It spent the remainder of its first-run broadcast history airing on Saturday morning (in the second season) and weekday afternoons (in the third season). Despite its failure to capture the Sunday night adult audience, Pinky and the Brain was able to run until the fall of 1998, with 65 episodes ultimately being produced. Like Animaniacs, the show won several awards, including two Best Animated Series Emmys, while Rob Paulsen and Maurice LaMarche both won Annie awards for their vocal performances as Pinky and Brain. On November 14th of 1998, the final episode aired, right smack in the middle of the 99th and final Animaniacs episode. Titled “Star Warners”, it was less of a standard Pinky and the Brain installment and more of an ensemble piece featuring the majority of the cast of Animaniacs, a fitting way to pay tribute to the show that got the mice their start.
Note: This episode does not include the opening theme song. It goes right to the beginning of the cartoon after the Warner Brothers Animation logo. Additionally, while some elements in this Star Wars parody are re-named, others (such as Stormtroopers and Jawas) aren’t named at all. In those instances where I have nothing else to go on, I’ll use the official Star Wars term.
Written by Liz Holzman, Charles M. Howell IV and Tom Ruegger. Directed by Nelson Recinos.
After an opening text scroll version of the Pinky and the Brain theme, we join a group of Rebel fighters as they battle several Imperial Stormtroopers, which include the Goodfeathers, Hello Nurse and Ralph. The evil Girth Plotz is searching for Princess Dot, who is hiding the plans for the villain’s ultimate weapon - the Mega Star - in her robot, Brain-2 Me-2. After Dot is kidnapped by the Imperials, Brain-2 joins his counterpart, C-Pinky-O, and tells him that he intends to use the plans for the Mega Star to help him take over the galaxy. Unfortunately, the two robots accidentally launch themselves into space in an escape pod, and when Plotz finds out, he sends a group of Imperial troops after them. When Princess Dot refuses to talk, Plotz and Grand Moff Scratchansniff bring in an Interrogation Droid (Pip Pumphandle) who tortures her with boring stories. Meanwhile, after crash landing on the desert planet Ratatouille, Brain-2 and Pinky-O are nabbed by little Jawa Mindy, who sells the pair to a sand farmer named Wakk Skylicker. Discovering Dot’s message in Brain-2 asking him to find someone called Slappy Wanna-Nappy, and recognizing the princess as his long-lost sister, Skylicker heads off to track down the old Has-Ben.
The trio find Slappy Wanna Nappy, who agrees to help them defeat Plotz and rescue the princess by taking them to Mos Eisner Spaceport in order to locate a pilot. At the local cantina, they meet Yak Soho and his sidekick Chewbooboo, who run a pizza delivery service out of their space ship, the Bicentennial Lemming. When the Imperials show up, the heroes gather into the ship and quickly make their escape. Meanwhile, Dot is still refusing to talk, so Plotz decides to show off the power of the Mega Star. He beams a laser down to Dot’s home world, the Comedy Planet, and screws up their TV reception, forcing everyone to watch a boring Ken Burns documentary on paddleball. When the good guys get wind of what’s going on, Wakk becomes eager to deal with Plotz himself. Slappy insists that before doing so, Skylicker must first be instructed by the wise guru of gags, Skippoda. Under the swamp hermit’s tutelage, Wakk learns how to yield a lightsaber mallet, and is instructed on the ways of the gookie, the funny face that can “defuse tense situations with comedy”. Once his instruction is complete, Wakk is more than ready to face Girth Plotz.
In a scene that a post commercial text crawl explains is simply there to pad out running time, we discover that Soho, Chewbooboo and Pinky-O have been captured by the gluttonous Flabby the Butt (Flavio) who is angry that Yak failed to deliver a pizza to him on time. After defeating the creature with pizza toppings, the heroes re-convene aboard the Bicentennial Lemming and eventually arrive at the Mega Star. Once there, everyone splits up: Brain-2 and Pinky-O head to the control room, Soho and Skylicker rescue Princess Dot and Slappy battles the humorless Plotz, who we learn had taken her cartoons off the air. Slappy is defeated (but not killed, since comedy is harder than drama) and Wakk angrily attacks Plotz. The battle takes the duo into the control room, where Brain-2 is attempting to make his broadcast declaring galactic domination. Skylicker overcomes Plotz by putting him in hysterics with a gookie, and then does the same to Brain-2, ruining his broadcast and causing the entire galaxy to discover laughter again. The cast is then rewarded with Oscar statues, while the robots make their exit. Brain-2 explains that it’s time to plan for the next millennium. “Gee Brain-2, what are we going to do in the next millennium?”, asks Pinky-O. “The same thing we do every millennium, Pinky-O”, says Brain-2, “try to take over the galaxy!”
If it wasn’t incredibly obvious, this episode is simply a retelling of the original Star Wars (with elements of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi thrown in) with the Animaniacs cast replacing the characters from the movie. The storyline is basically the same, with only the specifics changed to suit the parody. Thanks to this being produced before the Star Wars explosion that followed the first prequel in 1999, the end result is something that’s very entertaining, and doesn’t feel lame or lazy. These days it seems like everyone from Family Guy to Robot Chicken to Angry Birds are doing Star Wars parodies in one form or another, but “Star Warners” had the luxury of tackling the subject matter before everyone else started doing it. While this is certainly funny if you’re familiar with Star Wars, it’s not a slave to the material to the point that you need to be a fan in order to enjoy it. As long as you love Animaniacs, you’ll get a kick out of this.
Luckily, all the characters fit their roles very well. No one else but Dot could have possibly played Princess Leia, and Wakko is a natural in the Skywalker role. Yakko is of course perfect as Han Solo, since I can’t think of anyone else on the show who could have played the cocky pilot. Meanwhile Chicken Boo as Chewbacca is the sort of thing that makes you say, “I should have seen that one coming” the second he walks on screen. While Animaniacs wasn’t a show that was heavy on re-occurring villains (Walter Wolf excepted), Thaddeus Plotz works as a diminutive version of Darth Vader, and the casting choice allows him to have a connection with Slappy (as Ben Kenobi) by making him the guy who once took the old squirrel’s cartoons off the air. Mindy’s appearance as a Jawa is all kinds of great, and her “Why” conversation with Brain is even better than the one in “The Garden of Mindy”, mainly thanks to Pinky’s involvement. But two characters definitely deserve special mention. Doctor Scratchansniff as Grand Moff Tarkin is a very inspired choice, especially considering how infrequently the Imperial governor appears in parodies like these, despite his importance to the original film. Scratchy isn’t intimidating in the slightest, which makes this even funnier. Seriously, how can you possibly take someone seriously when he has silly lines like, “Okay, have ze funzies now!” But the performance that really stays with you after the episode is over is Skippy as Yoda, since Nathan Ruegger absolutely nails the impression and backwards speak that makes the Jedi master so endearing. Next to the cameo packed Cantina sequence, the training scene with Skippoda and Skylicker is probably the strongest part of the episode. Other characters such as the Goodfeathers, Minerva Mink and Flavio come and go pretty quickly, but it’s nice that an attempt was made to get as many characters into this as possible, even though a few of them (namely Buttons, Rita and Runt) slip through the cracks.
This may be a Pinky and the Brain episode (or is it? Keep reading…) but the mice don’t really get special treatment, with the Warners, Slappy and Plotz having just as big a role to play, if not bigger. Still, the pair get some good material, even if Brain is straight jacketed by the fact that the basic R2-D2 design he’s stuck with limits his expressions and physical acting. The cartoon’s main running gag involves Brain-2 being mistaken for various appliances, includes a mini-fridge, a vacuum, a mini-bar and a floor polisher. It’s another one of those jokes that works because of who it’s directed at, and it’s always funny when Brain is robbed of his dignity. Perhaps Brain’s best moment comes as he tries to continue his galactic domination broadcast while Wakko flails around him making gookies. Try as he might to keep a straight face and continue talking, Brain finally gives up, tosses his speech to the ground, says “Oh, never mind” and makes a gookie himself. As always, it’s LaMarche’s vocal performance that truly sells all of Brain’s dialogue, no matter how simple. As for Pinky, it’s been a while since he’s gotten a substantial amount of dialogue on a cartoon reviewed on this blog, so it’s a shock to see just how high his voice has gotten, especially the screeching cackle that’s replaced the goofy cockney laugh from the first Animaniacs production season. Still, it’s really entertaining to see them pretty much act as themselves, regardless of being in robot form, while everyone else is sticking a little closer to their Star Wars personas. And whether or not this is a true Pinky and the Brain episode…? Well, apparently it wasn’t since, according to Tom Ruegger, it was actually intended to be episode 100 of Animaniacs, but ended up being made under a Pinky and the Brain budget and schedule.
If that’s true, it definitely explains Wang’s animation, which is more in line with how it looked on Animaniacs by this point. Most of the characters come off okay, but once again, it’s the Warners who continue to look off. It doesn’t even seem like that long ago when Wang’s versions of Yakko, Wakko and Dot were incredibly distinctive, enough to make one almost forget about TMS and Startoons (at least during season three). But here, it seems like whatever team it is that’s animating this episode doesn’t even know how to keep the Warners on model. They’re all over the place in this episode, sometimes looking fine but most times looking like they just walked out of a bad Akom or Koko cartoon. It’s a bit of a shame, because there used to be a time when Wang’s animation had so much confidence and attitude, where in this cartoon a lot of it looks like they’re not really trying that hard. It’s rather fascinating to chart the rise and fall of this studio when it comes to WBTA. We go from their choppier, thick outlined days on the first season of Tiny Toon Adventures, to their more solid, expressive work through the early ’90s and into the beginning of the Kids WB era, to what we have now, which really lacks personality. Although they were never as good as the best TMS units or Startoons’ strongest animators, Wang was still a highly reliable studio for a very long time, and their work on the Warners and Pinky and the Brain in the first production season was always a lot of fun. They were skilled enough to even make Mindy and Buttons and Goodfeather shorts enjoyable, when those characters would have otherwise languished in the hands of Freelance or Akom. Their strongest Animaniacs cartoons, such as “Win Big”, “Bubba Bo Bob Brain”, “King Yakko”, “Yes Aways”, “O Silly Mio”, “Hercule Yakko”, “Hiccup”, “Super Strong Warner Siblings”, “Night of the Living Buttons” and “A Quake, A Quake” are easily among the show’s all-time best.
Finally, while Animaniacs was allowed to end with dignity, Pinky and the Brain wasn’t nearly as lucky. By 1997, a regime change at the WB had the show’s producers put under constant pressure to retool the show, downplay the world domination angle and add new characters. It was something the writers fought for a long time, with the season three cartoon “Pinky and the Brain…and Larry” pointing out just how unnecessary new characters were when it came to the premise of the show. It got so bad that Peter Hastings eventually left, with his final cartoon (“You’ll Never Eat Food Pellets in This Town Again”) directly mocking what was happening behind the scenes. When the series finally ended, the network got it’s way, and Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain premiered in the fall of 1998. While the basic formula was still there - world domination continued to be Brain’s goal - most of the new show was centered on the mice having to deal with being pets to Elmyra, who would brutalize them in various humiliating ways. Acme Labs was gone, as was the “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?” shtick, and most fans were understandably outraged. The theme song even acknowledged how stupid the whole situation was, with lyrics like, “It’s what the network wants, why bother to complain?” Less than half of the thirteen-episode run aired in full before the series was cancelled, with the remaining episodes being chopped up and broadcast randomly in early 1999 on the compilation show The Cat & Birdy, Warneroonie, Pinky, Brainy Big Cartoonie Show. The series sat in well-deserved obscurity until January of 2014, when it was finally released on DVD. It was a pretty depressing end for a pair of characters that are considered by many people to be the very best thing to come out of Animaniacs. Thankfully, between starring in many terrific cartoons in the series’ first season, and then headlining 65 episodes of their own spin-off, Pinky and the Brain are very well remembered and loved today. They were characters who truly deserved their own show, with the producers and writers (not to mention the irreplaceable Paulsen and LaMarche) doing everything they could to make an enjoyable series out of a premise that you’d think would have gotten stale pretty quickly. Pinky and the Brain never did take over the world, but damn if they didn’t try!
The Goodfeathers are the first recognizable characters to appear. Squit gets a little cocky when Bobby agrees with him that they shot first (could this be referencing that whole “Han Shot First” nonsense?), so Pesto beats the living daylight out of him. It’s pretty late for something like this, but Bobby gets a new catchphrase of sorts: “A little bit. Yeah, maybe just a little bit.” He says the exact same thing in Wakko’s Wish.
Brain-2 and Pinky-O pass a few characters who are clearly not supposed to be part of a Star Wars parody, including a guy in 20th century commando gear, and a pair of barbarians duking it out. It’s silly for the sake of being silly, but it’s still funny.
Dot rarely uses the “Princess Angelina…” intro, but they bring it back here, and change it up a bit. In this cartoon, Princess Dot’s full name is “Princess Angelina Contessa Louisa Francesca Banana-Fana Leiana Pile-of-Origami the Third”. I guess that’s a play on “Leia Organa”, but she says it so fast the reference slips by. This sequence also includes some of the better Wang animation on one of the Warners.
First of all, I love this wacky drawing of Pinky-O. Secondly, this shot comes from a moment in the episode where the differences between the Pinky of the early Animaniacs episodes as the Pinky from later in the spin-off are obvious. There’s that high pitched cackle that grates on me the more I hear it (why Rob, why?) as well as an utterance of “Troz!” a new vocal tic that Pinky began saying in the episode “Snowball” when he realized the word was just “Zort” spelled backwards.
Brain’s back and forth with Mindy is similar to the one from “In the Garden of Mindy”, but this episode takes it to the next level by having Brain ask Pinky to make her stop. “Why?”, asks Pinky, laughing at his own cleverness. The spaced-out look on Mindy in this shot is priceless.
We’re almost at the end of this blog, but we still continue to get pairings that we’ve never seen before. Wakko explains that he’s got a nice big sand crop this year and later pays for his new droids with a handful of sand. Mindy may be a toddler, but even she doesn’t know how to react to this weirdness. I think her confused “uhhhh”, as she looks behind Wakko at his “crops” is the funnier reaction.
While I guess the idea that the interrogation droid is being played by Pip Pumphandle is funny enough, this scene does absolutely nothing for me. It’s impossible to come even close to replicating what made “Chairman of the Bored” so great, so I’m not sure why they even tried. But I guess they felt that just bringing him back once wasn’t enough, because he gets an even bigger role in Wakko’s Wish.
"You’ll never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. So be careful, we’re going in without an agent." I find myself adding that last bit to the "wretched hive…" line whenever I hear it in the movie. It’s a sickness.
The cantina scene is a treasure trove of character cameos, starting with a Martian bird from the Chuck Jones Marvin the Martian cartoons. Then we get an alien from “Space Probed”, Gossamer and Egghead Junior. The cantina band is played by Fanboy, Freakazoid and Mo-Ron, a nice shout out to the show, which by now had been gone from Kids WB for a while, and had been airing on Cartoon Network.
This pan is cameo central. Among the characters who appear are Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard (not shown), Zalgar (from the Pinky and the Brain episode “Plan Brain From Outer Space”), Duck Dodgers, Chuck Jones’ Abominable Snowman, Baloney, CLYDE (from the Tiny Toons short “CLYDE and Prejudice”), some Mon-Stars from Space Jam, a Street Shark (?!?), Toe from “Space Probed”, Marvin the Martian and K-9 (see below), William Shatner as Captain Kirk and Leonard Nemoy as Doctor Spock. Who exactly is the red, blue and yellow superhero in the second screen shot?
Marvin the Martian shows off his explosive modulator and announces his intent to blow up the earth. Minerva, however, just thinks it’s a pick-up line. She shows up a little later, playing slave to Flabby the Butt. Minerva really should fire her agent.
He doesn’t appear in the long shot, but that’s Mr. Skullhead right behind Brain-2. The dog over there on the left looks a little bit like an alien version of Sam Sheepdog, doesn’t it?
This is pretty self explanatory, but the family being tortured by the paddleball documentary is obviously supposed to be a weird alien version of the Jetsons.
The training sequence is really well done, right down to the beautiful background paintings and the music. It really evokes the feeling of the Dagobah scenes from Empire Strikes Back. and again, Nathan Ruegger’s performance here is stellar.
Wang is really phoning it in with the Warners in this episode, but I really love this silly face Wakko makes after he gets squirted by the little training droid. It’s the mouth. I love it.
The idea of using gookies in place of the force is incredibly inspired, and leads to a lot of silly dialogue. “The face is strong in this one” is just perfect. I really like this drawing of Skippoda too.
Most of the characters in this episode show up in Wakko’s Wish, but here’s the last appearance of Sid the Squid and Beanie the Bison, playing Flabby’s palace guards. And instead of the Rancor being the monster kept in the pit, it’s Baloney the Dinosaur. Only his voice is heard, but that’s enough to scare anyone.
You’d think that a disgusting, drooling, slug creature would be beneath Flavio, but it’s still a natural casting choice. Although he talks in plain English, they give the voice an appropriate “Jabba” sound. Good thing The Phantom Menace wasn’t out yet, or they might have shoved poor Marita in here as his wife.
When Brain-2 asks, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering?”, Pinky-O responds, “Uh, I think so Brain-2, but a show about two talking lab mice? Hoo! It’ll never get on the air!” A perfect response for the final Pinky and the Brain episode. Fantastic.
This hurts to look at. Remember when Wang at least tried to make Slappy look halfway decent? What’s with the hair?
A variety of screenshots showing off a bunch of great gookies. The best might be Wakko tapping Plotz on the shoulder to get him to turn around and then jumping up and down like a monkey. The longer Wakko sustains this gookie, the funnier it is.
How often do you get to see Pinky and Yakko share a scene together? It’s something that almost never happens, so it’s nice to see my two favorite Rob Paulsen characters laughing and having a good time like this. Yakko looks incredibly off in this shot but honestly…this is pretty much how he looks through most of the episode. And to think that Yakko was the character that Wang really had the most fun with in the first and third seasons.
One last gookie, this time from the Mega Star. Gotta love it.
Even til the bitter end, one thing that was ALWAYS amazing in the Wang-animated Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain cartoons were those beautiful backgrounds. Pinky and the Brain may be in for a lot of pain in their next series, but at least they were treated pretty well in Wakko’s Wish.
And speaking of which, there’s only one more thing to talk about, and that’s Wakko’s Wish itself! Because of it’s length, discussion of the movie will take place in three parts. Check back soon!