The Silver Age

An essay about the collaborative animations of Steven Spielberg and Tom Ruegger.
December 11, 2006
(NOTE: This article will have a bit of the same information as "You think you know the Warners?". It was written originally as a research essay for college. I would like to give a huge thanks to the members of the WBC forum [Warner Brothers Club] for helping me along with sources and ideas. I would like to give an even bigger nod to Keeper/Keeper1st Ron O'Dell, and Platypus Comix Peter Paltridge. If both of your sites did not exist, it would not have been possible to write such an essay. Both of you have such great insider info, you put many other journalists to shame. There is no other source on the net to go to on this subject than the both of you. I tried so hard to make this essay not look like a re-wording of your articles, I feel I somehow failed in that area as there was not much else to be added. So to those of you reading, all the credit goes to Keeper‘s Cartoon Files and Platypus Comix. All other sources I‘ve used are sited at the end of the page.)

The Silver Age

of Animation

For eight years they’ve made us laugh, and made us think very hard about exactly why we‘re laughing. They were our modern equivalent of “Looney Tunes“, their many misadventures full of the same zany mad-cap chaos, and sight gags. They were “Tiny Toon Adventures“, “Animaniacs“, “Pinky and the Brain“, and “Freakazoid!“. Each show, though separate, brought with it the same love of parody, the same writing styles, and subsequently, the same animation crew. All of these shows were created by the collaborative minds of Tom Ruegger and the notorious Steven Spielberg, ushering in a new age of animation. Their goal was to return quality to cartoons like the “Golden Age of animation” of the 1930s to modern television. In fact, Ruegger was once asked if he was creating a second “Golden Age“, but not wanting to claim his modern works could contend with the classics, Ruegger coined the term now commonly used to describe this era of animation, “Silver Age”.

Perhaps Ruegger was recreating the “Golden Age” more than he realized. His Warner Brothers cartoons were being created in the same studios, scored in the very same, un-renovated sound stage, and in the same music style as the classics. Even his first Spielberg project was deeply involved with the classic “Looney Tunes” characters, and some new ones who were strikingly similar to their predecessors. Shortly after joining Warner Brothers, Ruegger had hired Alfred Gimeno and Ken Boyer who drew up the character designs and that following day he had his first meeting with Mr. Spielberg. They revised the characters, stories, and various concepts, the early title “Tiny Tunes” was changed to “Tiny Toons”, they came up with the settings; the home town of Acme Acres and the school Acme Loonaversity. The shows stars would be school students learning the tricks of the cartoon trade from their classic Warner Brothers predecessors. Many of the characters were yet to be named at this point, but Babs Bunny was the first, followed by Elmyra who was named after Ruegger’s next door neighbor. Her name fit quite well considering she was the female junior version of Elmer Fudd. An early name for the Bugs junior character that would become Buster Bunny, was Bitsy. Ruegger cringed at the name and immediately worked on improving it. But even with all the revision and thought put into the character names, they first had to get the “green light” from the legal department. If a character name was just too close to their copyrighted counter parts, or any one else’s name for that mater, they would have to change it. Plucky Duck went through about eleven other names before he was cleared. He and Hampton Pig still had uncleared names when the first episode scripts were written. The character Furball took so long to get a green light that Ruegger suggested they should name him Leukemeow [a combination of the words Leukemia and Meow] and kill him off in the second episode.

Buster Bunny

Babs Bunny

No relation.

“Ok guys I’m standing in for auditions today, wow me!”

“That Spielberg guy is easily impressed..”

Plucky Duck-Fasionably late.

Little Sneezer

Gogo the Dodo

Fowlmouth and Shirley the Loon

One character that never made it past the early stages was Lightning Rodriguez, a Tiny Toon version of Speedy Gonzales, he was quickly ousted as the show already had a speedy character, Little Beeper, the equivalent of Road Runner.

Arnald Dog was intended to play opposite Furball

Furball - The unlucky one

There were a few characters, like Calamity Coyote, Little Beeper, and Barky Marky, were so close to their Looney Tunes complement in appearance and personality, that they were left as supporting or even background characters, as not to upset Chuck Jones who felt he initially created them.

Ruegger felt confidant that Fifi LeFume was unique enough from Pepe LePew, that she could stay on the forefront.

Montana Max, a modernized and not so southern version of Yosemite Sam, was probably the most difficult character to complete. Spielberg invited Ruegger and his crew to come to Amblin to screen the film, “Tobacco Road“, in which there was a very hick-like son whose teeth became part of the final design for Max.

Characters aside, Spielberg and Ruegger conversed about what it was that made “Looney Tunes” so wonderful to them. They agreed Carl Stalling’s music was one of the great elements of the old Warner Brothers animations, and to Ruegger’s surprise Spielberg casually stated that they would have a full orchestra score each episode of “Tiny Toons“. This was probably something Warner Brothers was concerned with, most animations at that time were using libraried music, and an orchestra was a costly thing. Jean MacCurdy and Doug Frank from the TV music department worked out the finances of the scores. The cost came to sixty grand per half hour in most cases, but even at such steep prices the quality of the sound was just as amazing. After his first meeting with Spielberg, Ruegger had a clearer vision of where the show was headed, he hired writers Wayne Kaatz, Tom Minton, and Eddie Fitzgerald among others to realize the characters and story concepts. Sherri Stoner was brought on board later, just after the series development was completed, and wrote the show’s first scripts.

In keeping with the visual quality of the classic toons, “Tiny Toons” would have twice as many individual frame drawings as any other standard animation in the early 90s, this was a trend they would continue in their future cartoon projects. In order not to limit the actors and to give the artists some solid frame to work around, the voices were recorded first and then animated to match the dialogue. The art style often looked radically different from episode to episode, this is because much of the animation was done by different companies over seas Warner Brothers would hire. Tokyo Movie Shinsha is considered to be the very best of them, their quality is up to par with that of a feature film and they kept the characters on-model. Other companies included Wang Film Productions, Freelance Animation New Zealand, Startoons, Kennedy Cartoons, Akom Productions, and Koko Film productions who, strangely enough, only worked on a single episode and never worked on another show afterward. The worst of which was Kennedy Cartoons, in fact they were fired after the first season and their last episode was sent back to them to be completely reanimated.

Shortly after Fox bought the rights to broadcast WB cartoons and ordered a second season of Tiny Toons. The WB even wanted a Tiny Toons movie but they changed their minds and the film "Tiny Toon Adventures: How I Spent My Summer Vacation" was released direct to video.

Tom Ruegger and voice director Andrea Romano sent out audition lines called ‘sides’ to various talent agencies who then gave them to key voice actors to audition. Once again Babs came just as naturally as her name and character design, Tress MacNielle was a versatile actor and really brought out her persona. Frank Welker was another easy hire, he was perfect for any animal sounds such as Furball and Barky Marky. Andrea and Ruegger would send their top five choices for each roll to Mr. Spielberg who would personally chose the final cast. Veteran voice actor Don Messick was chosen as Hampton, Joe Alaskey as Plucky, Cree Summer as Elmyra, Maurice LeMarce as Dizzy Devil [a Taz-like character], and Rob Paulsen was chosen to play Arnold Dog, a large, intimidating pit bull character, who sounded much like Arnold Swartzanegger. Rob became a utility infielder on “Tiny Toons“, meaning he voiced various extras on the show. Buster was the most difficult to cast, and also the last. Eventually the part was given to Charlie Adler, but after five recorded episodes, Spielberg wanted the part recast. Ruegger and Andrea fought for Charlie and kept him in the role, it might have been better to replace him but in the interest of time and money they were not prepared to re-record five episodes while they were still working to get the series ready in time to air. Charlie loved his starring role and was very energetic at recording sessions, but his voice would often become too screechy and he was subject to daily redirection from Andrea to keep him consistent.

Charlie Adler

Tress MacNielle

Frank Welker

Don Messick

Cree Summer

Joe Alaskey

Rob Paulsen

Ruegger began working on his next project with Spielberg entitled “Animaniacs” just about the time that Fox was interested in running a “Tiny Toons” spin-off series. When it was time for “Animaniacs” auditions, Andrea just knew she wanted Rob Paulsen to play the voice of Yakko, a character in the vein of Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx, who was the oldest of the lead characters. Instead of sending the top five voice actor’s auditions for Yakko to Mr. Spielberg, she sent three different Rob Paulsen voice auditions and two other actor‘s auditions, to ensure he would get the part. Charlie Adler was extremely upset over this, as he was the star actor of “Tiny Toons” and wasn’t given a single role in “Animaniacs“, whereas Rob Paulsen was just the utility actor on “Tiny Toons“, and took all the background roles. He and his agent sent out letters of resignation to Spielberg and others, claiming that Ruegger and Ms. Romano had treated him badly on “Tiny Toons” and he would no longer play the role of Buster. Ruegger and Andrea felt betrayed by Charlie after they had fought to keep him in the staring role against Mr. Spielberg’s wishes. There were only a handful of “Tiny Toons” episodes left to be recorded when he quit, and so Buster’s voice was replaced by John Kassir for the remainder of the series. The network had ordered no new episodes of “Tiny Toons” to be made, yet they had been looking for a spin-off, what they would get instead was something more unique, but still aimed at the “Tiny Toons” audience.

In the initial development of “Animaniacs“, the three stars were little blue duck cousins. Ruegger realized there were already many cartoon ducks all over television, and so the trio evolved into an unidentifiable species, sometimes referred to as ink-blot characters. Their design was a take off of the old style Warner Brothers characters, more specifically Bosko and Honey, Warner Brother’s first cartoon characters. Once again Ruegger and Spielberg would be paying homage to the classics. One day during pre-production Ruegger looked out his window and saw the Warner Brothers water tower in the distance when he thought to call them the Warner Brothers and have them live in the tower. The three siblings were originally named Yakky Smakky and Wakky, and were given the personalities of Ruegger’s own three children. Yakky was inspired by his oldest son Nate, and was the most talkative. Smakky was rather violent and would slap people in the face, this was inspired by Ruegger’s son Luke who was going through a phase of slapping people. Realizing this would not be accepted by the network Censors he was given a comedy mallet instead. Ruegger’s youngest son Cody was probably too young to really have any personality traits given to the young Wakky character. Somewhere along the way, Smakky and Wakky were fused into one character named Wakko. He had Smakky’s red cap and shirt, and Wakky’s ever present tongue. Yakky became Yakko, and the third character void was filled by a new sister named Dot. These were the stars of a variety show, involving many other skits with different characters. The Warners would have their own skits, and have run through cameos of other skits, tying the show together. In their own skits, the Warners were stars of the 20s and 30s who were so zany and pointless that the network locked them away in a water tower, but they managed to escape in the 90s and wreak havoc all over the Warner Brothers studio. They often visit the studio psychiatrist, Dr. Otto Scratchansniff, who is often driven mad by their antics instead of controlling their behavior. They also had parody episodes aside from their usual setting at the Studio. Andrea Romano had film actress Bernadette Peters at the top of her list for Rita the cat, as she always admired her singing voice. To her delight, Bernadette agreed to do the part. Writer Sherri Stoner created and pitched the idea of Slappy Squirrel, an old cartoon star who knew all the dirt on the other stars, as well as all the tricks of her trade. During her pitch she did the voice of Slappy to better emphasize the character. Spielberg liked it, and he decided she should play the voice of her character as well. Skippy was Slappy’s nephew who, at first, would occasionally visit, but later on became a regular on her show, and lived with her. Skippy was played by Ruegger’s oldest son Nate at the request of his father. Ruegger’s other sons would come to have rolls in their father’s cartoons as well.

The Warners.

CEO Plotz and Dr. Scratchansniff - can’t catch those pesky Warners

Chicken Boo - wears a disguise to look like human guys

Katie KaBoom - Teenage temper tantram meets the Hulk

Mindy and Buttons - accident prone?

Flavio and Marita, probably the least popular characters on the show.

Rita and Runt - a couple of strays looking for a good home

Actress, singer, and voice actress for Rita, Bernadette Peters

Slappy and Skippy - She may be retired, but she’s not washed up!

Writer and voice actor for Slappy, Sherri Stoner.

Squit, Pesto and Bobby, the ‘Goodfeathers‘ - a take off of ‘Good Fellas‘

Mr. Skull head - Good Idea Bad Idea

Colin aka: The Randy Beaman Kid

The Mime - the only character more accident prone than Buttons and Mindy, and more unlucky and unappreciated than than Furball

Unlike “Tiny Toons” which had a cast of “Looney Tunes”-like characters and the “Looney Tunes” themselves, “Animanaics” had all original characters which made it something of a risk for the Network, but Spielberg’s name being synonymous with success, the Network accepted it. Spielberg knew what he wanted in a cartoon. He wanted movie parodies, intelligent jokes and asides as well as slapstick humor. He expressed that if a child was sitting in a room watching one of these cartoons, and his parent walks through the room, it should catch the parent’s attention, that they might sit down and watch the show and be entertained. These concepts are prevalent in all of their cartoons in the Silver Age, but “Animaniacs” was the better example compared to “Tiny Toons“. Ruegger and his crew had gotten their feet wet with Mr. Spielberg on their first show, and were ready to let loose. The characters were zanier, the dialogue contained more adult humor and reached for more laughs. And if the show’s popularity would become any indication, it got those laughs.

“Tiny Toons“, though a kid’s show, had many adult viewers, the adult following continued to grow with the introduction of “Animaniacs“. Young children and their parents, teenagers, college students, were all watching and loving “Animaniacs“. Many cartoons of that time were aimed at a specific age demographic in the interest of selling toys, but Spielberg’s works were never intended as marketing vehicles. Like his movie projects, he genuinely cared about quality entertainment, more so than how much money he could make from it. In fact he made plenty of money as a film director, he had no need to make cartoons financially. At the height of “Animaniacs”’ popularity, the voice actors of Yakko Wakko and Dot went on tour to various Warner Brothers Studio Stores across the country. Rob Paulsen, along with the voice of Dot, Tress MacNielle, and Wakko, Jess Harnell, were greeted with long lines of fans in search of an autograph, most of which were not children. The three actors have often said in interviews that “Animaniacs” was the highlight of their careers. They loved their characters, they had fun at recording sessions, and everyone seemed to genuinely get along with everyone else, which can be a rare thing on any collaborative project in show business.

Me at the age of 9 with Rob, Tress, and Jess at a signing in 1995

It wasn’t long until the network was asking for an “Animaniacs” Spin-off. With all the separate character skits and segments, it would be easy for most of them to branch off. The spin-off was announced on the air, leaving the fans go guess which characters would have their own show. As it turned out, “Pinky and the Brain“, the two lab mice in search of global domination, would not only make the diverge, they would thrive.

I think we all know how they got their spinoff

Pinky and the Brain were created by Tom Ruegger and Peter Hastings, a fellow producer and writer of Animaniacs. They were based off of two of the show’s writers, Tom Minton and his partner Eddie Fitzgerald. Eddie was known by the rest of the writing crew for being something of an obnoxious nerd. He had a very strange demeanor and would often throw the word, “Narf” at the end of his sentences, [though it sounded more like, “Nerf”] which was something Pinky would become notorious for. This show was arguably more adult in tone than all of the others. It still had slap stick and stupid humor where Pinky was concerned, but the Brain was so well spoken he could even leave adults puzzled with some of his quips and allusions. Though Pinky and Brain might seem to fit the archetype of the standard comedy double, “the jerk and the dummy”, there was always something more to them that put them above the label. As Peter Hastings once explicated, the Brain always cared about Pinky, they were mutual friends, though the Brain would never admit it. And despite what you might expect, the Brain often messed up his own plans for conquering the earth, he was rarely thwarted by Pinky’s stupidity. Pinky was easy to love, he was kind hearted and laughed easily at almost anything. And despite his underlying villain-like archetype, the Brain was also lovable for his sarcastic wit, comedic conquest, and downplayed emotions. Perhaps the lovability of the characters is what made these shows so successful. The writing was always a major factor in each of Spielberg and Ruegger’s projects. The story writers were given a sense of freedom from censorship, and from Spielberg, almost to a self indulgent degree. Spielberg allowed them to do what they did best. “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain” had well defined characters who played off of each other successfully, but this could also be attributed to the professional abilities of the voice actors. Andrea Romano made certain that all of the guest voices would be able to play off of the style and tone set by “Pinky and the Brain”’s voice actors, Rob Paulsen and Maurice LeMarche.

Maurice LeMarche, Rob Paulsen and Aundrea Romano

Writer Eddie Fitzgerald.
I'm sorry I had to censor it, it was just that bad

Writer Tom Minton

The same year “Pinky and the Brain” would air, Spielberg’s newest cartoon would make its debut. “Freakazoid!” started out as a genuine superhero cartoon, but the entire concept quickly changed into a super hero parody. Freakazoid was a blue skinned, inane, and insane hero, who usually was distracted from his bad guy thwarting by the simplest things. Like the cartoons before it, “Freakazoid!” had a large cast, and side sketches that often didn’t include the title character. There was a small controversy that Freakazoid’s concept which was brought about by Bruce Timm, was a direct lift from comic book hero Mike Allred’s “Madman”. The characters have opposite colors, and both have an exclamation point on their chests. Timm even admitted “Madman” was the inspiration for the design. Allred never made waves over it, but he did express that it bothered him to have never been credited.When auditions were held to find the voice of “Freakazoid“, Spielberg realized none of the voices he heard were as good as his staff writer Paul Rugg. Rugg had written for “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain“, and lended his voice to characters on both shows, such as Mr. Director, and Saltana Saltana. Mr. Director, though lacking Freakazoid’s lovable zaniness, spoke very much in the same style and was also prone to various outbreaks of Jerry Lewis impressions. Despite “Freakazoid”’s powerful humor and credible cast of writers and actors, the show only lasted two seasons. It was gone in 1997.

Don’t say his name!!


Guitierrez was played by Ricardo Montalban, the actor who played Khan in Star Trek. This was of course, parodied in the show.

Paul Rugg, voice of Freakazoid, can currently be seen on Jim Henson’s new show, “Puppet Up” on TBS.

As “Pinky and the Brain” grew in ratings, the network generously ordered new episodes each season, while “Animaniacs” episodes were requested less and less. The advertising companies were not interested in paying for airtime on a show with a primarily adult audience in a kid’s time slot. As a result “Animaniacs” died off slowly. In homage to its roots, “Pinky and the Brain”’s finale episode, “Star Warners” brought the entire “Animanaics” cast back for a final send off “Star Wars” style in 1998.

After “Pinky and the Brain” had stopped airing new episodes, the WB’s new executives asked Ruegger to re-tool the storyline so that world domination was no longer the primary goal. Not only that, but executive Christopher Keenan wanted to bring back Elmyra from “Tiny Toons” to own and abuse them, and broaden the cast. In disbelief, and without much choice, Ruegger, Hastings, and their staff did their best at writing for “Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain”, a show they knew could never work. If the bitter attitude of the cast didn’t show in the opening song lyrics, “Now Pinky and the Brain Share a new domain, it’s what the network wants, why bother to complain? The Earth remains their goal, some things they can't control!”, Hastings wrote an episode titled, “You’ll never eat food pellets in this town again” in which network executives ruin the popularity of the two lab mice. That would be his final script before leaving Warner Brothers to create “One Saturday Morning” with Disney and ultimately defeat the WB in ratings that year. Out of the show’s initial 13 episodes, only 5 aired on TV before it was pulled. Ruegger went on to create “Histeria” with the same writing crew, but Spielberg’s last collaboration with him was “Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain”.

Together Ruegger and Spielberg’s animations had collected thirteen daytime Emmy awards, not including the individual Emmy’s won by the show’s actors. And perhaps an even greater sign of success, is the still lingering fans over a decade later. If you quote a trademark catchphrase from any of these shows to a twenty something today, such as “Narf!”, “Helloo Nurse!”, or, “Don’t say CandleJack!”, they’re instantly reminded of a show they once loved. When “Animaniacs” and “Pinky and the Brain” were released to DVD in the summer of 2006, they made the top 50 on the best seller list for weeks. Though the characters are not plastered on T-shirts and mugs, and children’s bed sheets today, the “Silver Age” cartoons were every bit as memorable as the classics of the “Golden Age“. The passion of the cast and crew stood out in the quality of their work. The quality was up to par, but perhaps the timing was off. Being created in the 90’s, an era known as the “Cartoon Renaissance”, perhaps the shows were destined not to match up to the trail blazing classics. But these shows blazed trails of their own, unfortunately there was no one following in their footsteps.

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Ron O’Dell. (September 8, 2003). Animaniacs: In The Beginning.
Keeper’s Cartoon Files.
Retrieved November 2006, from

Larissa Norman. (January 29, 2002). page 5.
The Animaniacs Bible.
Retrieved November 2006, from

Peter Paltridge. (June 27, 2006). Platypus Comix interviews Tom Ruegger: Who is Tom Ruegger?
Platypus Comix.
Retrieved November, 2006, from

Peter Paltridge. (July 16, 2006). Platypus Comix Interviews Tom Ruegger.
Platypus Comix.
Retrieved November 2006, from

Peter Paltridge. (2006, Spring). Pinky, Elmyra, and the Brain, and Larry, and Larry….
Platypus Comix.
Retrieved November 2006, from

Peter Paltridge. (date unknown). The Huge Page of Facts Revamped and Revised!
Platypus Comix.
Retrieved November 2006, from

(November 24, 2006). Freakazoid!
Wikipedia the free Encyclopedia.
Retrieved November 2006, from!

(2006). Biography: Tom Ruegger
Retrieved November 2006, from

Stephen Spielberg (Executive Producer). (2006). Stephen Spielberg Presents: Pinky and the Brain [DVD Videorecording]. (Available from Warner Home Video Inc., 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91522)

Stephen Spielberg (Executive Producer). (2006). Stephen Spielberg Presents: Animaniacs [DVD Videorecording]. (Available from Warner Home Video Inc., 4000 Warner Blvd., Burbank, CA 91522)

(concept images of Tiny Toons and image of Eddie Fitzgerald, were taken from “Tiny Toon Directing Adventures” by Bob Miller.)

You can currently purchase Animaniacs season 2, and Pinky and the Brain vol. 2 in stores now. Special features include interviews with writers, and a silly sketch put on by the voice actors of Pinky and the Brain with Mark Hamil and Wayne Knight.

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