I can hear the music from Animaniacs just from memory. It’s the kind of score that gets in your brain even though you don’t know how long its been there, and it’s such a joy.
Reboots usually stink (come on, you know it’s true), but there is something mightily rewarding about this version. It’s comforting without being schmaltzy and quick enough to make you take the episode back a few seconds to make sure you got the joke. One of the best things about this new iteration is the score from Julie and Steven Bernstein. They were with the original series and they steep these episodes with the right dash of zaniness but the right amount of heart.
It wasn’t always definite when and if Yakko, Wakko, and Dot would return, and there was no guarantee that the Bernsteins would be asked back. It would’ve been stupid to exclude them because the score is so vital to this show. It’s the throbbing pulse that softens a dark joke and quickens the pace of a chase sequence. We don’t get animation like this very often and this Hulu reboot is 13 episodes of pure jubilation. You can’t go boingy, boingy without the people who know how to boingy, boingy.
Awards Daily: How did you react when you heard that Hulu was rebooting Animaniacs? It’s such a special show, I think, and there’s nothing really like it on television.
Julie Bernsten: Of course, it was like, ‘Oh my God! Oh my God! It’s finally coming back!’ It’s only been 22 years.
Steven Bernstein: As soon as we stopped, our immediate thought was when do we get to do this again?
JB: Every time we bumped into any of the musicians that we worked with they asked when it was coming back. We chalked it up to that it wasn’t coming back. When we found out that it was returning, we then had to make sure that we were a part of it.
SB: We didn’t know if we’d be working on the show.
JB: We didn’t just get a call. We had friends, for like a year, who asked if we had gotten a call.
AD: That has to be torture.
AD: It feels like the show hasn’t missed a beat.
JB: That’s exactly what they’re aiming for so that’s great.
AD: Was it easy to pick up right where you left off?
SB: Pretty much. It was like getting back on the horse or the bike–choose your metaphor.
JB: Until we saw the first footage, we could only hope that it was this good. Once we saw it, we knew it was great and we dove it.
SB: I think we were hired for that consistency in sound. Makes their jobs easier.
AD: The tone of Animaniacs is very specific. The music feels like big orchestral score but it’s given just enough zaniness that it makes you go, ‘Huh?’ Every aspect of the show does that. How do you find the right moment on the dial for that?
SB: The fine tuning dialing comes from the writing.
JB: It’s in the story and the performances. By the time it gets to us, the voices have recorded and it’s been edited for final release. We are looking at this picture with jokes with certain timing and we have to find a way to not step on the jokes.
SB: To set them up or hit the punchline. It’s kind of what we did before. There’s maybe a more different feeling to it but I can’t quantify it at all.
JB: To you it feels like the old show that’s just evolved?
AD: Yeah. I’ve always thought, at its heart, that style of 2D animation is very specific. It’s what I grew up on. But it feels like the music is nostalgic but not dated.
JB: It’s sort of classical music.
SB: It’s sort of a tradition. It was refined by Carl Stalling and the first Animaniacs by Richard Stone. We filtered that through out sensibilities.
JB: It’s a style. It’s based on classical writing with an edge. Hundreds of years from now, someone will be able to have a name for this fusion of jazz and pop and classical.
SB: We’ve gotten a little more cinematic in the approach with this iteration.
JB: The picture demanded it.
AD: I wasn’t expecting the political stuff to be so…pointed? I need to go back and watch some of the older episodes, but I love the music that comes in with those sequences.
JB: We had some of that back then, but it’s a different flavor now because of the times.
AD: You mean these terrifying times?
JB: Yes, we are in a different place and it was written now. Definitely that makes a different.
SB: To me, there is more of an emphasis on current events and the political atmosphere.
AD: In the first episode, there is cue that I love when Yakko, Wakko, and Dot step back onto the Warner Brothers lot for the first time in 22 years. How did you want to introduce these characters to a world who may not know who they are?
JB: That was Steve.
SB: It starts with them doing their boingy, boingy bounce onto the lot. We had the woodwinds to bounce them in but it’s also going along with one of their musical themes. You might be talking when they run to the water tower?
JB: In slow motion.
SB: It’s a huge deal for them. I used the Animaniacs theme but reharmonized it in a more grandiose style. It’s very emotional and dramatic and the animation is gorgeous with the water tower shining and the doves fly out. It also had to be timed for when they shove aside all the characters on the Warner Brothers lot, those occurred on strong beats.
AD: I wasn’t expecting to have such an emotional response to that. It’s emotional for the characters and the people who are tuning in for the first time.
SB: They punch people in the face as they return, so it’s staying true to the characters.
AD: The right to bear arms episode has some great music.
SB: The bunny episode.
AD: Yes. When we get introduced to Dwayne, there are some really fun, twisted things happening there.
JB: Whenever there is a new character, one of the things that we do, we sit down and write a theme for that character.
SB: For him, we used “Animal Farm.” We tried to slip in these musical references and if nobody notices, it’s almost more fun.
JB: It goes really quickly. We have one style and one mood going and then it changes to another with another quick cut. Just when we are getting into something, we change flavors.
AD: It’s really great musical whiplash.
AD: I read somewhere that, in the original iteration, there were sometimes up to 40 musicians working on certain pieces.
JB: The main titles we have a lot of people.
SB: We retained some of the extras when we were doing live recording. We retained horns and guitar.
AD: What was the size for this time around?
JB: It is basically the same except for when we did add a few new instruments that we got for special occasions. We had them at the beginning this time for the live sessions but since the pandemic began, we were doing remote sessions. We had 35 musicians.
SB: We do have a slightly bigger string section.
JB: The big difference is that it’s being recorded remotely. That’s a huge difference.
SB: Electronically, we are providing the horns, harp, piano, percussion and guitar.
JB: The strings, woodwinds and brass are all live musicians that are playing in separate rooms and sending us their tracks.
AD: Are you used to that now? I know we all want to get back into rooms where we can be together.
JB: It took us a while to get used to this but we’re good at this. There’s a lot of preparation and there’s a lot of post. There’s nothing like a room of live musicians playing together. We will always miss that.
SB: They’re used to breathing together and bowing together. Now they are all soloists turning in their own tracks to us.
JB: It’s not as satisfying. Because the musicians are amazing and the way we are putting it together the way we are, we are getting good results. Hopefully you don’t notice the difference between the live and the not live. It’s more work intensive and not as satisfying for the musicians since we aren’t in a room together. There’s nothing like that.
AD: That feeling of feeling the music almost go through you is something that I miss. If I feel this way, I can’t imagine what you both are missing.
JB: There’s nothing like it.
SB: Nothing better.
JB: We are thankful for the technology, though.
AD: Why do you think there isn’t anything else like Animaniacs? No one has ever really tried, I don’t think.
JB: There is a tone.
SB: It’s always been about talking back or taking down unreasonable authority.
JB: Like the Marx Brothers.;
SB: That’s the universal yearning that we have when somebody is being a jerk. We want to take them down to our level or even further. We plug into that somehow. That feeling of being silly while equalizing people.
JB: There’s edgy tone and the heart.
SB: It has strong characters with complicated emotional lives. They are silly, but when they complain, I think it’s very relatable. I don’t think there are a lot of shows with this much depth of character.
JB: The old show was such a high level and this one needed to be as well.
SB: We set a bar for ourselves. Everybody that has worked on it feels that incentive to reach the bar if not surpass. To make something of quality and that comes from the very top with Steven Spielberg. We’re all trying to make this as good as we possibly can.
AD: Taking down authority is a very big theme right now. The show is hitting at the perfect time.
JB: There’s also the fact that this has been a long time coming. For the last couple years, people heard it was coming back so it built up this anticipation. A lot of excitement.
AD: It’s worthy. I can confirm that.
Animaniacs is streaming now on Hulu.