From the moment they were introduced in the Animaniacs story, “Win Big,” Pinky and the Brain became the most important laboratory mice in television history. It was the first time that the lovable, dimwitted Pinky would ask his best friend Brain, “What do you want to do tonight?” The reply, as any ‘90s junkie can still readily tell you: “The same thing we do every night, Pinky. Try to take over the world.” They’re laboratory mice, their genes have been spliced, and they would become so popular over Animaniacs’ early run that in 1995 The WB wanted Pinky and the Brain to not only be its own series, but also a cornerstone of the new network’s primetime schedule.
Unfortunately, the two cartoon mice who wanted to take over the world couldn’t even conquer their time slot. After four years, a move to the Kids WB Saturday morning lineup, and some network tinkering, the quest to take over the world fizzled out. Perhaps the adult humor was too ahead of its time and simply too smart, or maybe the WB executives should have just stuck to counting the beans. Whatever the reason, Pinky and the Brain left a void in the hearts of both fans and cast members, as the actors who provided the voices for these mice and their cohorts still hold the series in high regard today.
Meet Pinky and the Brain who want to rule the universe…
When it came to picking the right voice actor for the role of Brain, there was only one man for the job: Maurice LaMarche. In fact, as LaMarche recalls, he was the first and only man to audition for the role, because he had a lot of experience and his Orson Welles frozen peas rant impression was already a thing of legend. “I saw the model sheet for Brain, with that furrowed brow and dour expression and pudgy cheeks, I thought immediately, ‘Oh, this is Orson Welles,’” he tells us. “I did Welles with the dialogue and they went, ‘Oh my God, that’s genius. We didn’t think of that!’ They cast me on the spot. I was the first and last person to read for Brain.”
Except, as LaMarche later learned, showrunner Tom Ruegger wasn’t thinking about Welles at all. After previously creating Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs, Ruegger worked with a writer and artist named Tom Minton, whose credits also include Phineas and Ferb, Freakazoid!, and Duck Dodgers, among others. Minton’s writing partner at the time was a man named Eddie Fitzgerald, who was known to say things like “Narf” and “Egad,” and they were the actual inspirations for Pinky and Brain.
It’s pretty self-explanatory.
According to LaMarche, the exact idea for the characters came from Ruegger observing “this odd couple” that was always together, and asking, “What if Eddie and Tom tried to take over the world? What if they were lab mice?” With Brain’s voice taken care of, all they needed was Pinky and they could get to work answering Ruegger’s question.
Like LaMarche, Rob Paulsen already had a lot of experience in animation voice work, including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Disney’s afternoon cartoons DuckTales, Darkwing Duck, and Gummi Bears, among others. But his work on Tiny Toons Adventures landed him the Animaniacs gig, and the voices for Pinky and the Brain were set. While LaMarche had “the perfect fit” for Brain, though, Paulsen’s idea for Pinky came from a different place.
“I was a huge fan of the Pythons, Peter Sellers, and The Goon Show, and a huge fan of British comedy when I was growing up,” he explains. “I just had a thought that it would be fun to do a British accent for Pinky, just a goofy whack job. For some reason Steven [Spielberg] seemed to like it and they went together.”