It’s been more than 20 years since Animaniacs disappeared from our TV screens, taking the antics of animated siblings Yakko, Wakko and Dot off the airwaves, along with fan favourites Pinky and the Brain. Now, most of the gang has returned — on Teletoon in Canada and Hulu in the U.S. — and the original voice actors have returned to the mic.
One of them is Toronto-born Maurice LaMarche, who previously voiced super-genius mouse Brain in the original series. Two decades later, he’s back as the world-domination-obsessed rodent, along with former Pinky voicer Rob Paulsen.
Guaranteed you’ve heard LaMarche’s voice before — you just don’t know it. Aside from his work as Brain, he’s voiced umpteen other popular characters, including Egon Spangler from the ’80s The Real Ghostbusters animated series, several voices on The Simpsons and now-defunct Futurama and even the Alec Baldwin puppet in the movie Team America: World Police. There are far too many other characters to list here.
Global News caught up with LaMarche over the phone from Los Angeles, where he now resides. (“Home,” he assures me, will always be Canada.)
Global News: You have a remarkable career. My finger hurts from scrolling through your acting credits.
Maurice LaMarche: (Laughs) When we recorded the series, thank God it was pre-pandemic, because we could all record in the studio together, work off of each other and play off of each other. That’s really what it is. It’s a wonderful sense of play, and somehow… they send us a cheque for that. (Laughs) I look at myself as if I won the lottery, but chose the annual payments instead of the lump sum. I don’t make the movie star money, but it’s a really nice living.
Were you thrilled to come back?
Yes! It’s almost like a muscle that never went slack. We always do the characters for each other when we bump into one another at other jobs over the last 22 years. Sometimes Rob and I will talk as Pinky and the Brain, especially if others are listening. Engineers now and writers now… they grew up with the show, so we’re like the funny uncles to them. We’ll try to crack people up whenever we can. We’ve never stopped Pinky and the Brain-ing it up.
You’ve played a ton of characters. Does the Brain hold any special significance for you?
Absolutely. I’ve been on a lot of shows, I’ve got a top five and they’re almost all with (Simpsons creator) Matt Groening. But there’s something about Brain that… he’s my kid. He’s just… the closest to me. I don’t want to say “closest,” though, since I don’t have a megalomaniacal bent. (Laughs) If you lived in the same house with me, you’d see that I do, but he’s my child.
I love my Futurama characters, my Disenchantment character, I do. I always wondered if I had a chance to do any of them again, it would be Brain. This is really a dream come true.
The world is a much darker place in 2020. Would you say the Brain is any different this time around?
I’m not saying it to be cute or anything, but I think because of the world we’re in… it’s been 22 years, and Brain still hasn’t taken over the world. There’s a bit more of an edge to him. I think he’s more cheesed off that none of his plans have come to fruition. You might notice that Brain is a little more willing to use laser beams. (Laughs) The Brain of the ’90s would be content with the odd hypnosis or mind control plan. Brain of 2020 isn’t above considering weaponry, let’s just put it that way. (Laughs)
How about the show itself?
These new writers are Harvard Lampoon-type people, highly intelligent people, smart and funny. The dialogue is just as snappy and intelligent as it was in the past.
While watching, you have to really catch the joke in that split-second. As a child, I would giggle along, but as an adult, I’m realizing that there are many more layers to the humour.
In Episode 2, we have a gigantic Donald Trump cyclops. That’s something the kids may think is funny-looking, he’s got a weird tan, all of that. But the adults get the verbal humour and the misfires, the self-centredness. Writing the show in 2018, we didn’t know any of the things that would go on at the end of the Trump term, so we’re really making fun of his ego. It doesn’t allow us to be as timely as South Park, for example, but still.
In the same second where Pinky gets bopped on the head with a pencil and says something silly, Brain will then make a $17-word insult to him that the adults can crack up about. The goal of our team is to make a show where kids can laugh at it, and adults can laugh at it. We have three generations of people now watching this show. We are just so thrilled to have the opportunity to have it operate on all those levels.
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