Outside of watching a lot of old movies growing up, thanks to my dad, if I were to attribute my love of classic films and radio to anything modern, I’d have to say that the Steven Speilberg cartoons of the early-to-mid 1990s would be a strong candidate.
Steven Speilberg produced not one, but three seperate cartoon series, which stand out from most modern series in that, to one extent or another, they each payed homage to the classics that came before. The goal was to produce shows that parents could watch with their children and both have a good time.
Tiny Toons Adventures brought back some of the classic cartoon characters as professors at Acme Looniversity. One episode in particular involved one of the young cartoon characters trying to bing a long forgotten 1930s cartoon.
Animaniacs billed itself as a real throwback to the 1930s, with its premise that the three stars had starred in old style cartoons and then been locked in a water tower for over sixty years until “they escaped.” The comic stylings of Yacko Warner were very reminsicent of Groucho Marx.
But perhaps the most nostalgic of the three shows was Pinky and the Brain. The show’s plot centered around two lab mice with designs on World domination. One was a frantic manic scatterbrain, while the other was a high IQ mouse that dreamed of world domination.
The show was perhaps the most intelligent cartoon show of its time. Its plots borrowed heavily from classics of television, film, and literature, as well as its satire of modern popular culture. Pinky and the Brain offered their takes on Around the World in 80 Days, The Third Man, and one plot even involved the Brain’s plan to take over the world through the power of radio with a parody of The Shadow. The Brain also plots to take over the World using Orson Welles famous War of the Worlds broadcast as a basis for his plot.
The Brain was consciously modeled in many ways after Orson Welles, and his entire character is somewhat reminiscent of Orson Welle’s Harry Lime. His goal of world domination should make us hate the Brain, but the audience can’t help but like him, and even pity him as he goes through his many trials.
Maurice LaMarche who did the voice of the Brain is a big Orson Welles afficianado. One of the more interesting Pinky and the Brain shorts had LaMarche recreating Orson Welle’s famous pea soup commercial in a G-rated version.
While many of the episodes have become dated by references to politicians like Clinton and Gingrich, the most timeless ones were those that took a look back to some of the best of the past. For more on the links between Brain and Orson Welles, read here.