If you grew up watching television during the Clinton administration, as I did, you were almost doubtlessly watching the numerous Steven Spielberg-produced Amblin/Warner Bros. series on Fox at the time. Beginning in 1990 with Tiny Toon Adventures, the numerous series mixed kid-friendlified Looney Tunes-style slapstick comedy with an everpresent hovering eye, winking at the adults.
Animaniacs debuted a few years later. Considerably more anarchic in its approach that Tiny Toon Adventures, the eye twittered like a hummingbird's wings, with enough inside-Hollywood references to challenge, in quantity, the equally anarchic and ill-fated Arrested Development. Even the theme song, which I can still recite from memory as well as my mother can the opening verses to Eugene Onegin, had a line about pay-or-play contracts, the meaning of which was lost on me until Wikipedia came about. The years went by, more series debuted, many mercifully aborted almost on the spot (I'm looking at you Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain.)
In 1995, eleven years old and barely cognizant of pop culture, I watched the most confounding Pinky & the Brain short, in fact the most confounding piece of what I could've sworn was children's animation ever. Entitled “Yes, Always,” the episode began with the Brain, arriving at the Warner Bros. Studio to record some commercial dialogue (the series treated metacommentary as a limb, for all intents and purposes.) He proceeds to verbally abuse the crew before firing them and then spends the rest of the short fighting with his producer, Pinky, over minutiae in the script. I had no idea what was going on: there were no sight gags, it was almost entire shot-reverse-shot. The dialogue wasn't particularly funny, never really hitting the highs I was used to. It wasn't until years later that I found out the origins of those odd six minutes.
Flashback: It is somewhere between 1960 and 1980 (thanks, Wikipedia.) Orson Welles, the man who brought America to its knees over the wireless, who, at age twenty-six, directed and starred in the film the American Film Institute dubbed the Greatest American Movie of All Time, was recording a commercial for Findus frozen foods. Guess what? The dialogue in “Yes, Always” was taken, nearly verbatim, from this outtake reel.
A few choice lines were changed the fit the format: “This is a lot of shit” became “a lot of tripe” and Welles' offer to go down on the director became the Brain's offer to “make cheese for [him].” Some dialogue was added, more than likely to stretch out the episode and let Pinky use his narf catch-noise. Finally, unlike Orson's storming off, the Brain's departure ended with a realization that he is not so nearly in demand as the director of F is for Fake once was.
Some bits of trivia I couldn't find another place for:
- Maurice LaMarche, the Brain's celebrated voice actor (you might recognize him as everyone Billy West isn't in Futurama) is the man you hear in just about any animated parody of Orson Welles.
- Orson Welles' last chronologically-recorded acting role was for an animated movie. He was Unicron in Transformers: The Movie (1986).
- Animaniacs wasn't the only cartoon to use the "Frozen Peas" bit. The Critic, one of Fox's better-received attempts to follow up The Simpsons, used it for a one-off dick joke. Not only did it riff on the opening to Citizen Kane, it was also drawn in the style of Welles infamous outtakes. (The Critic took those on as well):
(Thanks to reneesilverman for the watertower photo.)