Tagged: Rob Paulsen

Emily S. Whitten: Are You Pondering What I’m Pondering?

Whitten Art 130604I’ve been revisiting my childhood on YouTube and podcasts a lot lately; and for this I place the blame squarely on voice actor Rob Paulsen – voice of Yakko Warner, Dr. Otto Scratch’n’sniff, and Pinky, of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. Well, if I was going to be fair, the daisy chain of blame would stretch all the way back through Twitter; Billy West; the organizers of Awesome Con; Mike Gold; Deadpool; a couple of federal judges; Glenn Hauman; Glenn’s lovely wife Brandy; YA author Esther Friesner; and Terry Pratchett and the Discworld. But that’s way too convoluted, so Rob, it’s all your fault!

At some point in my childhood, I became a latchkey kid. Both of my parents worked until after school let out, and although there was a lot of “homework time” and “chore time” in my day, I fondly remember the period of time between when I arrived home from school and when my parents returned home as “snacks and TV with no parents anywhere in sight” time. Thanks in part to this, I watched a lot of cartoons growing up – Thundercats, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, DuckTales, TailSpin, Rescue Rangers, Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry, The Jetsons, The Flintstones, Scooby Doo, The Smurfs, Yogi Bear, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Gummi Bears, X-Men, Batman: The Animated Series, Doug, The Ren & Stimpy Show, Transformers, He-Man, She-Ra, Darkwing Duck, Goof Troop, Gargoyles, and Tiny Toon Adventures, to name a few. But hands down, Warner Bros.’ Animaniacs was one of my absolute favorites.

I don’t know how exactly, but I managed to be watching TV when the very first couple of episodes of Animaniacs, which included the consistently excellent shorts De-Zanitized, The Monkey Song, Nighty-Night Toon, Yakko’s World, Cookies for Einstein, and Win Big first aired – and just like that, I was hooked. The show arrived at pretty much the perfect time for me – I was twelve years old, so young enough for my TV diet to still include a regular fix of cartoons. But given that I was the sort of child whose favorite book in the fifth grade was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, I was also able to appreciate a lot of the more sophisticated humor and pop culture references going on beneath the gags. Also, let’s be frank – I love cute things, and the characters in Animaniacs (particularly little Wakko Warner, and Pinky of Pinky and the Brain) are pretty darned adorable.

I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing I watched at least 3/4 of Animaniacs when it first aired. Even after other cartoons sort of fell by the wayside, what with high school and extracurriculars and all, I still watched it; and when Pinky and the Brain spun off into its own show, I watched that too. Of course, eventually (and sadly) the shows ended. And I went to college, and then I went to law school, and you know how it is, things move along. But I never forgot about Animaniacs; and I am sure that in ways that could never be quantified, it influenced the development of my personality. Certainly, years later, I have found myself referencing the show without even realizing it until after the fact, such as when writing my hamster Izzy’s Twitter bio.

Recently, as ComicMix readers will know, I interviewed the amazing Billy West. And when I shared the interview on Twitter, the inestimable Rob Paulsen retweeted it. And so I was scrolling along his Twitterfeed, and recalled that I’d always meant to listen to his podcast, and began listening to it. And then I heard him mention that he was doing live appearances, and asked him if he’d ever done one in DC, and he said he’d like to, and a few weeks later, lo and behold, we were able to set something up, and so now Rob Paulsen will be appearing at The National Press Club in DC on August 1 (get your tickets now!). Hurrah! I am very excited.

Of course, during the course of getting that all set up, I ended up on YouTube re-watching some Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, and realized I’d forgotten just how many episodes of those shows I’d originally watched. Nearly every video I clicked was like re-visiting an old friend – one that I hadn’t seen in ages, and maybe even thought I’d forgotten about – until the moment the video started playing and I realized I still remembered all the words to the theme song, and all of the popular catch-phrases from both shows, and oh yes, this episode where the Warners meet Satan, and that episode where they meet the boring guy at the party, and the one where Death takes poor Wakko away (the whole bit with, “Are we dead?” “Or is this Ohio?” still kills me). And also the one where Buttons and Mindy are in space, and the one with Slappy and the can, and the one where Brain is a jockey and Pinky falls in love with a horse, and the one with Minerva and the werewolf, and the one where Billy West is doing Larry Fine from the Three Stooges as a mouse, and, and, and ye gods, I could go on forever. So many good episodes.

And that’s not even counting all of the amazing songs sung by the Warner Brothers and their sister Dot, and other characters, throughout the series. Like the clever and cute I’m Mad, and the excellently harmonized The Ballad of Magellan, and the catchy Senses Song, and Wakko’s 50 States Song, and the Gilbert and Sullivan parody Cartoon Individual. Plus Pinky’s song from the Cats parody “Broadway Malady” (for which Rob Paulsen won an Emmy Award, mind you), and the very impressive Les Miserables parody and West Side Story parody. Here’s a whole playlist of them, if, like me, you can’t get enough.

This year, in case you don’t know, marks the 20th anniversary of Animaniacs, which first aired in 1993 – and here’s a pretty cool brief history of the show, with first-hand information courtesy of creator Tom Ruegger. One amazing thing about Animaniacs is that it still holds up, twenty years later. Through a combination of humor that appeals to both children and adults, stellar and clever musical compositions and lyrics, unique characters, and, of course, the award-winning voices behind those characters, the show is just as enjoyable to me today, as an adult, as it was when I started watching it at twelve years old. In fact, it’s even more enjoyable because I can appreciate some of the cleverness and references more as an adult; and because I am now also interested in the voices and creators behind the show, something I never really stopped to think about when I was a child. This is another area in which much of the blame lies squarely on Rob Paulsen, whose wonderful, amusing, amazing, fascinating Talkin’ Toons podcast – seriously, it’s awesome – includes not only discussions of his work, but interviews with a myriad of other amazing talents behind Animaniacs and pretty much every other animated show out there. (FYI, you can listen to the podcast via his website, iTunes, or even a super-handy and easy to use smartphone app. Check it out – because if you are not listening to it, you are missing out.)

From the frequency of Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain questions on Rob’s podcast, to the reception the voice actors involved receive at fan conventions, it seems to me that I am far from the only one out there who watched the shows as a child and has rediscovered my love for them as an adult. Animaniacs was and still is a gem in the realm of animated shows. And given that many of the folks who watched it when it first aired now have children who watch the DVDs with them and also love the show, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to wonder if the time might be ripe for a new season of Animaniacs. After all, one great thing about animated shows is that the characters don’t have to age unless the creators want them to – so twenty years later, they could easily make new episodes that picked up wherever they wanted them to. I, for one, would really love to see that happen; and from what I’ve heard via the podcasts, so would at least some of the creators. So hey – you never know!

If you’ve never seen Animaniacs before, YouTube is your friend and I highly recommend you give it a try; and if you love Animaniacs as much as I do, maybe you’ll join me in raising a glass to its 20th Anniversary, and wishing upon a star that Yakko, Wakko, and Dot might escape the water tower again someday soon.

And until next time, Servo Lectio!




Emily S. Whitten: The Dragon*Con Experience Part II, or I Know What I Did This Summer!

Last week, I wrote about the awesome folks of Warehouse 13, whom I was lucky enough to meet after attending their panel at Dragon*Con. But they weren’t the only fantastic people at the con, oh no. In fact, Dragon*Con is always so packed with amazing guests that I never get to see or meet all of them, and am left lamenting the fact that I missed Dean Cain’s panel or never got to say hi to Jewel Staite or Sean Maher in the Walk of Fame, despite running around from hotel to hotel like a hyperactive kid in a candy store. But I did get to see and meet a lot of cool folks, and that’s what I’m here to share, so here we go!

The first event I got to was a fantastic Lord of the Rings panel, featuring Billy Boyd (Pippin), Craig Parker (Haldir), and John Rhys-Davies (Gimli). It was a blast. The first thing I have to say about it is very shallow but true: these guys have the most delightful accents! I think I could listen to Scottish, Kiwi, and Welsh actors answer questions all day. And oh, yeah, the questions themselves were pretty good too. I think my favorite bit was when Craig invited a fairly young boy named Orion who was slightly hyperventilating up onto the stage to ask his question (it’s cute when a kid’s that nervous. Adults…well, not so much). I heard through the grapevine later that this happenstance made the kid a minor celebrity at other panels, where people started looking for Orion. To which I say – only at Dragon*Con. I love that about Dragon*Con. My second favorite bit was hearing about how Billy used to read books while working at a bookbinder’s – by tearing out the pages he was finished with and tossing them away. Being an extreme book lover, I’d call that sacrilege, but…well, it does sound kind of fun. And then of course, John predicted that The Hobbit will be a game-changer and that we’re all in for a treat, so: yay!

Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of asking Craig and John a couple of quick questions (missed Billy, sadly. Maybe next year?). Craig is delightfully easygoing, and John is effortlessly charming and has that amazing presence that I associate with really good stage actors. And even though he had a plane to catch, he still took the time to sit down for a few and give me his full attention, which speaks to the sort of person he is. Here’s what they had to say:

Craig Parker:

What would you like to say about current or future projects?

“Actually, I’m a total bum at the moment, because I’m in the process of moving to the States, so everything’s just… everywhere, and I’m not working on anything at the moment.” (Hopefully it won’t be that way for long. I’m sure we’d all love to see him in something again soon).

What’s your favorite part of Dragon*Con?

“I don’t know whether it’s the visuals…the overstimulation of seeing something incredible everywhere you look; or talking with all of the passionate people. It’s an incredibly engaging weekend.”

John Rhys-Davies:

What would you like to say about current or future projects?

“Projects are falling by the wayside all the time – you know, there were two pictures I really wanted to do recently, but they didn’t work out. But now I’m doing Golden Boots, which is a movie about a little boy who wants to play soccer, and that takes place in Detroit, Michigan. I’m also working on Behind the Mask, which takes place in the pre-continental U.S.; and I’ll be the villain. It has a bit of swash; a bit of buckle; a bit of murder…and unfortunately the bad guys don’t win. I’m going to be in the new Pinocchio, which is a mixture of animation and drama – and I’ll be playing the bad guy. And I’m hoping that Flying Tigers will be shot in China early next year.”

What’s your favorite part of Dragon*Con?

”Obviously the people – it’s the chance an actor gets to meet the people who’ve been keeping him employed for the past forty years. You get to talk to them, and know who they are. I cannot tell you how valuable that is. When you work in theater the audience is right there, telling you “You’re good; you’re bad; you stink.” In film, you can lose sight of your audience; and then you can lose sight of yourself and your own true proportion.”

Words of wisdom indeed. Next up we attended the Buffy & Angel Q&A, featuring J. August Richards (Gunn), Juliet Landau (Drusilla), and James Marsters (Spike). James Marsters challenged everyone to embarrass him (they tried but failed); J. August Richards shared his opinion of Gunn’s story arc from street-savvy vampire hunter to lawyer and back (he was happy with the lawyer arc, and with Gunn going back to his roots when the story needed it); and Juliet Landau spoke about her voice work as the Little Sisters in Bioshock (and how she landed the role thanks to her acting as Drusilla).

The panel was a ton of fun, and I got to check in with J. August Richards afterwards. When asked what he’d like to say about current or future projects, Jay told me that he has something he’s really excited about, but he can’t talk about it just yet. Therefore – check back here on ComicMix in a week or two, when I’ll be interviewing J. August Richards about his newest, as-yet-unannounced project! Yay!

When asked his favorite part of Dragon*Con, Jay replied:

“The people! What I love about Dragon*Con is that it’s one of the rare instances where you get to be around fifty thousand people who are completely non-judgmental.”

Word. At the Buffy panel, Juliet Landau mentioned a documentary she’d made that was airing Saturday, Take Flight: Gary Oldman Directs Chutzpah, and my friend and I love Gary Oldman, so we checked that out as well. I hadn’t heard of it before, but it turned out to be one of the surprise best parts of the weekend. The film is a behind-the-scenes documentary of Gary Oldman’s artistic process as he creates a music video for a Jewish rap group (yes, that really is a thing!), and it is fantastic. I was either smiling or laughing for pretty much the whole thing, because the rappers are funny, and Gary Oldman in creative mode is a thing of joy and awesomeness, and Juliet & co. did an amazing job showing all of that. Juliet also did an excellent job in selecting the classical music that accompanies some parts of the film and really highlights the beauty of the more peaceful scenes.

When asked about what she’d learned in making the film, she replied, “Every set you’re on, you learn. One of the things about Gary on set – and all the best directors I’ve worked with, like Tim Burton and Joss Whedon, are like this – is that he is very focused on the work, but also on having fun. Everybody’s focused, but there really is a joy to be making stuff – that’s really palpable with Gary.” And it really is.

I got to chat with the extremely nice Juliet after the film, and she shared that the documentary is available for purchase on her website. I definitely recommend it, but fair warning: the song being filmed is pretty catchy, so if you watch it, I guarantee you’ll be singing, “Red Rover, Red Rover, send your best guy right over,” for at least half a day afterwards! Juliet also mentioned that her upcoming projects include The Bronx Bull (Raging Bull II), and Where the Road Runs Out. And her favorite part of Dragon*Con? “Meeting all the people!”

Also included in our mad convention dash was the Big Damn Heroes panel, with Adam Baldwin (Jayne), Jewel Staite (Kaylee), and Sean Maher (Simon) of Firefly and Serenity. Those three are like a comedy show once they get going. Highlights of the panel included Nathan Fillion making cameos on all of their cell phones (taking over the panel even when he’s not on the panel, as Adam said!) to check in repeatedly on, basically, how pretty Jewel was looking that day (it really was a hilarious gag, and she really is very pretty); an audience member contributing Firefly bourbon for them to drink; and Adam Baldwin being temporarily embarrassed to share with the crowd (he got over it).

Speaking of Adam, I also went to a Chuck panel where he talked about his role as John Casey; and even when he’s the only one on stage, he’s a riot. Adam answered questions such as whether Casey was really in the Navy or the Marines, and then ribbed fans for being that into the details of the show, noting that “It’s not real!” However, he clearly appreciates the fans who care enough about his characters (notably Jayne) to dress the part, and was particularly kind to a thirteen-year-old fan who was a bit nervous in asking her question. As I said, I sadly missed chatting with Sean and Jewel, but I did get to talk with the quick-witted Adam after the panels.

Adam reports that his newest project is the opening episode of Law & Order: SVU. “I’m joining the cast as a ‘replacement’ for the captain, Cragen, who…got himself in a little bit of hot water last season. So that has kept me a little busy.” As for his favorite part of Dragon*Con? “The people – lovely people who are very kind, and good old Southern hospitality. And the food’s great…you know, wine, women, good food! And the panels …and the utilikilts (pointing). There’s one right behind you.”

And so there was.

Meeting Adam was a lovely experience; and another highlight of the weekend was Jane Espenson’s panel. Jane is like the writer equivalent of actor Mark Sheppard, in that she has written for basically every awesome genre show I’ve ever seen. She’s also delightful to listen to. Her panel focused in a large part on her newest project, Husbands, a web series which can be seen online at lovehusbands.com. We watched an episode, and it’s very funny; and certainly a spin on the newlywed premise that we haven’t quite seen before, being about two gay men who have gotten married in haste and are now dealing with the consequences. She also encouraged people to check out Once Upon A Time over on ABC if they haven’t yet, and answered questions about the writing process, mentioning that she’d like to turn her blog musings into a book someday (yes please, Jane!). Writing tips she shared included her own approach to beginning to write for an established character by asking “what one incident is going to most poke at the character’s emotional core? Getting inside that is one of the best ways to train yourself to be a good writer.” As for her favorite part of Dragon*Con: “Meeting beautiful amazing people in costumes!”

Speaking of people who’ve worked on everything cool ever, I also got to talk with Rob Paulsen, voice actor for a million billion zillion of the toon characters we all know and love, including Yakko Warner, Pinky, and more from Animaniacs. He couldn’t possibly have known that’s one of my favorite cartoon shows ever, but that didn’t stop him from saying, “Hellooooooo, nurses!” as I and my two gal pals walked up to say hi, and, “You all make me want to say, ‘Narf!’” which got the conversation off to a fun start. Rob shared that since he was Raphael on the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, he’s pretty excited to be Donatello now on the new one. “And Sean Astin is Raphael, Jason Biggs is Leonardo, and Greg Cipes is Michelangelo, so that’s great.” He also suggested we check out his podcast, Talking Toons, which can be found on iTunes or RobPaulsenLive.com; and now that I know about it, I certainly will! As for his favorite part of Dragon*Con:

Rob: “The pretty chicks!”

Me: “He says, looking at us…”Rob: “Absolutely! I’m not the blind Turtle!”


Walking around the Walk of Fame, I got to chat with several other actors and actresses, including Lee Arenberg, of Pirates of the Caribbean fame (“’Ello, poppet!”) who was enjoying meeting all the fans, and can currently be seen as Grumpy in Once Upon a Time. He also mentioned that he’ll be in the new season of Californication. Last of all I sawMira Furlan, who told me that she’s going to be in a new film starring Penelope Cruz that’s called Twice Born. She then opined that DragonCon was “fantastic – mad and fantastic,” and I couldn’t agree more.

Well! That’s the news for this week, but there’s even more to come, as I also got to attend the Battlestar Galactica panel and chat with those actors while at Dragon*Con and have more to say about that; we’ve got an exclusive chat with J. August Richards in the offing; and I’ve just gotten back from the fantastic Baltimore Comic Con.

So check back for more excitement next week, and until then, Servo Lectio!