THE ANIMATOR: …So we were thinking, why not center it on the Warner brothers and their sister, Dot?
EXEC #1: Who’s we?
EXEC #2: The Warner Brothers had a sister?
THE ANIMATOR: My fellow toonsmiths and I. And not like, the historical Warner Brothers. We’re talking about cartoon characters created by the studio in the 1930s. Sort of like mascots. Or daemon familiars.
EXEC #1: Right, sure.
THE ANIMATOR: The great part is that the Warners really own their cartoon nature. They’re not like other idiot toons you watch who don’t even get that they inhabit an imaginary picturescape and aren’t real. They’re self-aware.
EXEC #2: Ha, ha. “Breaking the fourth page,” as it were.
THE ANIMATOR: Anyway. Their names are Yakko, Wakko and of course, Dot. We like to think of them as the Shadow, Chance, and Sassy of the small screen.
EXEC #1: Ah, cute, they’re dogs? Or two dogs and a cat, rather?
THE ANIMATOR: Nope, neither dogs nor cats. They’re… I guess the most accurate way I can describe it is “sporadically malevolent agents of chaos.”
EXEC #1: What animal is that.
THE ANIMATOR: They’re locked away in the studio water tower on charges of max zaniness until they escape in the 1990s, where our show begins.
EXEC #2: Ahh, I think I understand. It’s like Roger Rabbit! Toons are a separate class, and the Warners are animated but they interact with a live-action cast. Pretty cool!
THE ANIMATOR: Pretty no. The show’s multiverse and all matter therein is animated. No tri-dimes.
THE ANIMATOR: Sorry, that’s inkslang for “three-dimensional beings.”
EXEC #2: If everything’s animated, how will the audience recognize that the Warners are toons qua toons, so to speak?
THE ANIMATOR: What better time for children to be asking these questions? They have already begun to wonder what makes them themselves, discrete and whole, and not the chair they’re sitting on, the remote they’re holding, the sister with whom they’re vying for power. In short, what animates them. And that’s the question probed by all cartoons.
THE ANIMATOR: Also they just look real cartoony.
EXEC #1: Tails?
THE ANIMATOR: Yep.
EXEC #1: Clothes?
THE ANIMATOR: About half.
EXEC #2: What happens when they escape the water tower? Are they on a quest, or is it a scrape-of-the-week type deal?
THE ANIMATOR: They’re not constrained by parents, physics, or a moral code, so a little of everything. They torment their Freudian psychoanalyst and mock Satan and undermine the authority of a Barney-esque pretender. Mayhem is their genius. They’re a lot like Amelia Bedelia in that way, if, as I do, you read Amelia Bedelia as a rebel saboteur of the patriarchy. Except the Warners don’t bury their libido in the layers of spice cakes.
EXEC #1: Oh. They have libido.
THE ANIMATOR: Mm. One of their catchphrases is “Hello, Nurse!” which is a thing they yell whenever the buxom studio nurse appears. Then they leap into her arms and slobber. Sexuality is a serious matter in the animatrix.
THE ANIMATOR: There are hot men for Dot, too.
EXEC #2: Hang on. If they’re not cats and dogs, are they mice?
THE ANIMATOR: No. We have mice, though! Brain is a megalomaniacal lab mouse who plots global domination, and his cell mate Pinky is a sweet dolt who says narf.
[lingering pause, as if to suggest that every human relationship has its Pinky and its Brain]
EXEC #1: How do these conspiratorial mice intersect with the story of the Warner siblings?
THE ANIMATOR: Did I not explain that Animaniacs is a vaudevillian pastiche? There is no fixed plot, structure, or mythos. Settings and characters leap the time-space continuum with the Warner siblings as the only line of continuity.
For example, let’s say Death comes for Wakko at a Swedish meatball-eating contest. Yakko and Dot riff on Bergman as they annoy their way out of the bureaucracy of mortality, at which point we shift to Dot’s Poetry Corner for a little rhyme time, then onward to the heart of the jungle where we visit Flavio and Marita, a pair of married Italian aristocrats. Who are hippos. Other episodes might see the Warners fighting Captain Ahab, or Chicken Boo becoming a sheriff. Anything’s possible.
EXEC #2: Yeah…I’m wondering if maybe it’s all a little too possible? Establishing limits is an important part of worldbuilding.
THE ANIMATOR: Tooncraft defies limits. The art of animation is the constant rearranging and reshifting of the lines between illustration and creation. Yakko, Wakko, and Dot embrace their cartoon heritage and its antic, violent traditions. Kids will dig it.
EXEC #1: Um. When you talk about the Warners knowing who they are and embracing their heritage — I just want to clarify, you mean like… The characters in the world of the show. They’re self-aware in the show, but not like…not like really.
EXEC #2: [breath-adjacent] Guess we know who the Pinky is.
EXEC #1: Really, Trevor?
THE ANIMATOR: Other characters include pigeons who are the mafia and a singing cat voiced by Bernadette Peters. We’re also working on a totally chill and unspooky skullhead, a celebrity squirrel, Randy Beaman’s friend Colin, lots of historical cameos, and the aforementioned Chicken Boo. There will be parodies of beloved classics and sly references to politics, pop culture, and sex.
EXEC #2: Let’s move on.
EXEC #1: How will kids feel when they watch this show?
THE ANIMATOR: Disconcerted. Unmoored. Hyper-stimulated. Amused to the point of terror.
EXEC #2: Oh good. Don’t want my nine-year-old daughter to feel too…moored.
THE ANIMATOR: Nine-year-old daughter? Her loyalties will lie with Dot, as they must in a tooniverse starved for female heroes, though her personality will be closest to Yakko’s and in her heart of hearts she’ll cherish Wakko. She won’t want to admit it, as everybody loves a Wakko and a Wakko she will never be.
[Trevor gets the sense that he will never be moored again]
THE ANIMATOR: Animaniacs isn’t “for” kids, you see. It is the anarchic soul of the child. Sensory overload, constant change, sibling rivalry, new adventure. Life happens in a disjointed series of images, until they’re locked away at night by an authority whose motives remain opaque.
EXEC #1: And we’re big fans of anarchy, believe me! But psychosexual satire and postmodern vaudeville don’t exactly scream “Saturday morning cartoons.”
THE ANIMATOR: Oh, it screams. It screams and screams. But for every parody of a World War II propaganda reel, there’s an elegiac picture-poem about the life of wrapping paper or the flame of a candle — and all stories of course are the same story, about the value that lies in the unnoticed, the ephemeral contribution that is a life.
EXEC #1: That’s nice.
EXEC #2: Global thoughts: Maybe more of that, less Death and entropy?
THE ANIMATOR: If you want a sanitized education, there’s PBS. Animaniacs isn’t here to teach your daughter that sharing is caring and cookies are a sometimes food. Instead she’ll learn that sharing is communism, an economic system adopted by the Soviet Union after the overthrow of Tsar Nicholas — Rasputin can explain. Runt Valrunt will teach her about French literature and that lots of things can be food, even cats.
EXEC #2: Hey, I love a clever parody as much as the next knucklehead, but will the children even understand a majority of these jokes?
THE ANIMATOR: No, they will not.
THE ANIMATOR: Animaniacs will not make sense to them now. It will make the world make sense to them later.
[Silence, but for EXEC #1’s barely-breathed ‘narf’]
THE ANIMATOR: In the past there were no divisions between children’s and adult entertainment. Everyone sat ’round the kerosene lamp reading The Leatherstocking Tales and everyone at the trading post made the same puns. But in our PG-13 age, who’s going to introduce your daughter to essential Americana, if not the Godpidgeon?
EXEC #2: I mean, maybe she doesn’t need to know about organized crime just yet?
THE ANIMATOR: Cultural literacy is an Always food, my friend.
EXEC #2: You’re saying that ten years from now, a young person will watch The Godfather or read Freud for the first time and realize that the Viennese shrink archetype in their minds was actually from Animaniacs all along? And the mumbling mafia don and the plot of Les Miserables and the fall of the Tsars? That the show will act as a sort of contextual membrane through which kids absorb quintessential images that will one day render direct source material more accessible, and that the cultural déjà vu they experience when they encounter said material will recur throughout their adult lives?
THE ANIMATOR: Quite. Research indicates that 90 percent of this generation’s cultural associations will have been shaped by Animaniacs.
EXEC #2: Wait. That’s not even — you’re just making up whatever —
THE ANIMATOR: Rearranging the lines, is all. Rearranging the lines. Now…
[rolls pencils across the table]
THE ANIMATOR: Are you ready to draw the future?