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A Guided Tour of Animaniacs: Volume 4

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Warner Bros.

This past May, Rob Lammle told you more than you ever wanted to know about Animaniacs. Now, we’re back to tell you even more about Yakko, Wakko, Dot, and the rest of the animated crew. The show's remaining episodes hit DVD tomorrow in Animaniacs: Volume 4, so we sat down with Animaniacs creator Tom Ruegger and Rob Paulsen, the voice of Yakko, Pinky and many others, to get behind-the-scenes details about the show’s final episodes. Enjoy the show!

EPISODE 77: “THIS PUN FOR HIRE” / “STAR TRUCK” / “GO FISH” / “MULTIPLICATION SONG”

“This Pun for Hire”

TOM RUEGGER: This was written and executed about the time that Steven [Spielberg] was partnering up with Jeffrey [Katzenberg] to make DreamWorks. After the first season, I’d say this was Steven’s number one favorite cartoon because it was jam-packed with jokes and puns non-stop. It never stopped with its play on words and it also ended with “the stuff that DreamWorks are made of.” A very cute ending. I think it’s one of our best.

“Star Truck”

ROB PAULSEN: That was Maurice LaMarche doing a spot-on impression of William Shatner, which he’s been known to do quite often. As a matter of fact, he created on his own something called International Talk Like William Shatner Day, which Bill Shatner has sort of embraced.

“Multiplication Song”

RP: Yet another of Randy Rogel’s amazing nuggets. Every time Randy came up with another song, the bar was raised higher and higher. It wasn’t like he was [giving us harder songs] to throw us a curve. He would just come up with something more and more and more spectacular. In fact, there may even be something in the works with me and Randy doing his music live. We did a few live shows in Los Angeles and people really loved it. We’ll see what happens.

EPISODE 78: “THE SOUND OF WARNERS” / “YABBA DABBA BOO”

“The Sound of Warners”

RB: Tress MacNeille played “Julie Andrews” and one of the songs included the lyrics “the hills are alive in the town of Burbank.” How can you not enjoy that? Tress really did a great impression of Julie Andrews with that super sweet take on how she would phrase lyrics. Everyone knows how great [Tress] is playing Dot, but it’s nice to see her do some other characters in the show as well.

EPISODE 79: “MY MOTHER THE SQUIRREL” / “THE PARTY” / “OH! SAY CAN YOU SEE” / “THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS SONG”

TR: This is the only half-hour of Animaniacs that all three of my sons perform in. “Oh! Say Can You See” is with The Flame and my middle son Luke did the voice for The Flame in all the cartoons. On “My Mother The Squirrel” my oldest son Nathan did Skippy and my youngest son Cody did the bird.

“The Party”

RP: If I’m not mistaken, that’s the one with the parody of Christopher Walken. “Why won’t anyone talk to me? I’m Christopher Walken. Why won’t anyone say hello?" It’s really funny because, since then, we’ve all had the pleasure of at least knowing someone who has worked with Christopher Walken and, as much as we love him, they do say he’s kind of an eccentric fellow. [Laughs]

“The Twelve Days of Christmas Song”

TR: This is a little obscure bit of trivia that I don’t think anyone but the people working on the show would know. This song is where the little blue bird comes out and sings “The Twelve Days of Christmas” in this very bizarre way where everything was turtle doves and the last one is a gigantic, king-sized turtle dove. So, one day, my little son Cody comes home from school and he says, “I learned a Christmas carol today.” So I say, “Oh, let’s hear it.” And he sings it exactly the way it is in this cartoon. I immediately said, “Well, I’m picking you up from school tomorrow because we have a recording session.” So the next day I picked him up and brought him into the recording booth, put him in front of the mic and said, “Sing me that song you sang.” There was no thinking or writing or any intellectual exercise. We just said, “Let’s just record this and do it.” And that’s how the episode came about.

EPISODE 80: “DOT’S ENTERTAINMENT” / “THE GIRL WITH THE GOOGILY GOOP” / “GUNGA DOT”

“Dot’s Entertainment”

RP: Just the fact that they came up with Andy Lloyd Webby is hilarious to me. This was right during the time that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s plays were all doing amazing business. I mean, every time he came out with a musical, it was a hit. Mr. Webber’s predisposition to being a bit of a diva, I think, was brought to bear in that cartoon with, arguably, pretty hysterical results.

“The Girl with the Googily Goop”

RP: Part of the charm of the show was that, often, Tom Ruegger and Steven Spielberg and the rest of the bunch would pay homage to these wonderful old cartoons, and that gave Animaniacs the sort of vibe that the Warners had been around for a long time. They created this mythology around the Animaniacs that they were created years and years ago and were locked up in the water tower. It was fun that they did these little tips of the hat, which served two purposes. They gave the old cartoons the credit they deserved, but they brought another air of authenticity to the ethos and the mythology of the Warner brothers. It really gives the cartoons a timelessness that doesn’t go away.

TR: Desiree Goyette played Googily Goop in this, and she was, in fact, the same actress who, at that time, was playing the voice of Betty Boop in some cartoons. We didn’t have to work too strenuously to cast that one.

EPISODE 81: “SOCCER COACH SLAPPY” / “BELLY BUTTON BLUES” / “OUR FINAL SPACE CARTOON, WE PROMISE” / “VALUABLE LESSON”

“Soccer Coach Slappy”

TR: A year or two before this cartoon, we had made “Bumbi’s Mom,” where Skippy Squirrel is brought to the movie theater by Slappy to watch Bumbi and [is] traumatized by the death of Bumbi’s mom and wails and cries. So, my son Nate had been performing Skippy, and a lot of “Soccer Coach Slappy” has to do with Skippy taking a soccer ball in the face repeatedly and wailing afterward. He’s crying like a baby.

The day before my son Nate was recording, he basically said, “I refuse to play this role!” I said, “What?” He was pulling a total prima donna, Redd Foxx in a sitcom routine. “I’m not reading this crap!” [Laughs] He said, “I don’t want Skippy to cry. He’s older. He’s grown up and he shouldn’t be crying anymore.” So it was quite the negotiation to get him to do it. I think I even pulled some crying from another episode because he really, really balked at it.

EPISODE 82: “WAKKO’S 2-NOTE SONG” / “PANAMA CANAL” / “HELLO NURSE” / “THE BALLAD OF MAGELLAN” / "THE RETURN OF THE GREAT WAKKOROTTI” / “THE BIG WRAP PARTY TONIGHT”

“The Ballad of Magellan”

RP: I think this was John McCann and Paul Rugg who put the lyrics to this song. That was the genius of those two guys taking this innocuous American folk song and putting these fantastic goofball lyrics to it. It was also one of the times Jess, Tress, and myself got to do a really nice three-part harmony on a song. Really fun little piece.

Music was an integral part of the whole show, which is one of the reasons that when the show was coming along and auditioning, I was really excited. Not only were there going to be all new characters, there was going to be all brand new fresh music. You know, 35, 40 pieces for every half-hour, which is absolutely never done anymore because it’s so expensive. And it paid off.

To this day, one of the reasons people love Animaniacs, in large part, is because of the music.

“The Big Wrap Party Tonight”

TR:This is one that I wrote and it definitely is… I wouldn’t really say it’s a parody, but I would say that it’s inspired by a Cab Calloway song. I was listening to a lot of Cab Calloway at that time. There was something called “Everybody Eats When They Come to My House” that was one of his songs that I think, melodically and music-wise, this has something similar to that.

EPISODE 83: “ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO CLOCK”

“One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock”

TR: The inspiration behind “One Flew Over the Cuckoo Clock” came from when I was a little kid. My Aunt K was in a retirement home. She wasn’t addled the way that Slappy gets addled here, but we definitely pushed the envelope here. We went for some heart and some emotion, which we had never done with Slappy. Some people didn’t want us to do that, but I thought it was worth at least exploring and, ultimately, it turns into kind of fun and slapstick. There are some moments, though, where Skippy is put through the wringer emotionally.

EPISODE 84: “CUTIE AND THE BEAST” / “BOO HAPPENS” / “NOEL”

“Cutie and the Beast”

RP: The Tasmanian Devil is voiced by Jim Cummings. To this day I believe, whenever they use the Tasmanian Devil, they use Jim. One of the great things about Jim, that many people know, is that he’s also the voice of Tigger and Winnie the Pooh. The guy’s got incredible range.

Jim, Maurice LaMarche, and I worked together on a show called Taz-Mania, about a year before Animaniacs hit the airwaves. So, by that time, Jim was really well established at the Tasmanian Devil.

I love the fact that Warner Bros. can lampoon a Disney show with characters that they have in their catalog and it’s totally believable as a parody. I really dig that.

“Noel”

RP: Another genius Randy Rogel song. It opened on Wakko writing a letter to Santa and he misspells Santa by writing S-A-N-T-L-A. Incredible stuff.

The episode’s ending is also funny as it’s done in silhouette with Yakko, Wakko, and Dot looking at the credits. It was very Mystery Science Theater 3000 with the three of us going, “Rob Paulsen? Who’s that jerk? Tress MacNielle? Oh my God. Diva diva diva. She needs her own limo.” All that kind of stuff. We just took the piss out of everybody on the show, including ourselves.

EPISODE 86: “A VERY VERY VERY VERY SPECIAL SHOW” / “NIGHT OF THE LIVING BUTTONS” / “SODA JERK”

“A Very Very Very Very Special Show”

RP: I remember that because we had won the George Foster Peabody Award, in real life, which of course is a very prestigious award for any cartoon to win—or really anybody to win. I think, as a result of that, they tried to do something that was way over the top and very saccharin and maudlin. Funny stuff—but that was a big deal for us to win that award.

EPISODE 87: “FROM BURBANK WITH LOVE” / “ANCHORS A-WARNERS” / “WHEN YOU’RE TRAVELING FROM NANTUCKET”

“When You’re Traveling From Nantucket”

RP: Another Randy Rogel masterpiece. When Randy and I did our little show, people freaked out because it’s not only stuff that they’d already heard but then they hear it again twenty years later and they go, “Oh my God. This is brilliant!” We even do some songs that never made it to the air that are every bit as amazing, but we basically ran out of shows. Randy wrote a song about the spice trade and the history of warfare. It’s really spectacular.

Randy could do anything. The bones in the body. Countries of the world. You know, he’s actually written a new verse now that includes all of the new countries of the world and the way the world has shifted since he wrote that twenty years ago. He’s got Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and Macedonia and Ivory Coast. Absolutely incredible. We perform it together. It’s great.

EPISODE 89: “TEN SHORT FILMS ABOUT WAKKO WARNER” / “NO TIME FOR LOVE” / “THE BOO NETWORK”

“The Boo Network”

RP: I worked on Chicken Boo. That was a very odd cartoon. Really strange and fun. It was Deanna Oliver who came up with this really bizarre, probably medication-induced, idea about a giant talking chicken.

EPISODE 91: “MOOSAGE IN A BOTTLE” / “BACK IN STYLE” / “BONES IN THE BODY”

“Bones in the Body"

RP: More Randy Rogel. I run out of superlatives. The guy is not only an incredible songwriter, but he’s also won seven or eight Emmy Awards. He was originally at Warner Bros. because of his writing skills on Batman: The Animated Series. He wrote some really incredible drama and I think he won an Emmy for some of those. Then, when Animaniacs was coming along, he knew he had this musical skill, but he had to convince Warner Bros. to hire him. They thought he was just the guy that could write drama. They weren’t sure he could do musical comedy. He said, “I can do that.” So his audition piece was“Yakko’s World”—the song about all the countries of the world. Crazy. And then he won a pile of Emmys for writing all those songs. He is the consummate overachiever.

EPISODE 92: “IT” / “DOT – THE MACADAMIA NUT” / “BULLY FOR SKIPPY”

TR: I felt that we really got back in the groove and hit a home run with episode 92. This entire half-hour was completely animated in Chicago by a company called StarToons led by a fellow named John McClenahan and it’s a beautiful half-hour.

“Dot – The Macadamia Nut”

RP: It was a pretty close parody of “Macarena” and it was pretty cute. I remember when that “Macarena” song came out and I got sick of it in about 30 seconds, so it was lovely that the Warner Bros. folks were able to come up with a really cute parody.

TR: We got Warner Bros. to get us a license for the music and I rewrote all the lyrics so it would just be a nutty Animaniacs version of “Macarena.”

“Bully for Skippy”

TR: This one was, maybe, the most political thing I ever wrote. It was in reaction to the FCC mandating that there be a very specific and heavy amount of hours per day in the TV schedule that’s educational for children, which ultimately impacted the kind of cartoons that channels could put on the air. The head of the FCC at that point was a fellow named Reed Hundt so we came up with this character named Reef Blunt. We animated him and had our characters at some Washington, DC hearing and Reef Blunt basically said, “We’re going to have educational cartoons and I’m going to be watching you!” He pointed at the Animaniacs characters and says, “Especially you, Miss Squirrel!” [Laughs] It’s really one of my favorites of the whole series. It’s a really funny cartoon.

EPISODE 93: “CUTE FIRST (ASK QUESTIONS LATER)” / “ACQUAINTANCES” / “HERE COMES ATTILA” / “BOO WONDER”

“Acquaintances"

RP: I was playing hockey at that time. One of my teammates was Matthew Perry from Friends, and I remember telling him that we were lampooning his show and he said, “Oh my God, I love [Animaniacs]! I really want to do it.” Unfortunately, we never did get him on the show because we were done before he got a chance to do it. I don’t think he missed anything because he was making a million dollars a week, so I think he was okay. [Laughs]

EPISODE 94: “MAGIC TIME” / “THE BRAIN’S APPRENTICE”

“The Brain’s Apprentice”

TR: This was our Sorcerer’s Apprentice cartoon and, again, animated by StarToons in Chicago.

RP: That was the last “Pinky and The Brain” segment in the context of the show, but then we got a spinoff. From Tiny Toon Adventures in the late 1980s to Taz-Mania to Animaniacs to Pinky and The Brain to Histeria! to Freakazoid—all these things that I got to work on [at Warner Bros.]—it was like an 11-year love fest. I was there two or three days every single week. The people that I worked with are still my friends to this day. We won Emmys. We had a great time. We all found our footing on that show and the stars really aligned for us.

I remember telling Tress MacNielle, “You’re going to want to take a picture of this because, unless you’re on The Simpsons, it just doesn’t get any better than this. You’re working with the best people on both sides of the glass and Steven Spielberg and the giant orchestra, Richard Stone, Randy Rogel, and all these great people. It’s career defining.

I tell people in interviews that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles really changed my career, but Animaniacs really changed my life. I’m incredibly grateful.

EPISODE 95: “HOORAY FOR NORTH HOLLYWOOD (PART I)” and EPISODE 96: “HOORAY FOR NORTH HOLLYWOOD (PART II)”

“Hooray for North Hollywood”

RP: I remember that Mr. Plotz was let go a couple of times on the show. He was even fired by his son at one point in a segment called “A Christmas Plotz” which was our take on A Christmas Carol. Interestingly, the guys who were the heads of the studio at the time, Bob Daly and Terry Semel, really used to get a kick out of the fact that the Warner brothers would lampoon the studio heads. It’s kind of cool when you have the people that are signing the checks every week to do these very expensive cartoons, are willing to let you take the piss out of them. [Laugh] That just shows you how their egos didn’t get in the way.

EPISODE 97: “THE CARPOOL” / “THE SUNSHINE SQUIRRELS”

“The Sunshine Squirrels”

TR: Phyllis Diller was in this one. It wasn’t one of her last performances, but I’m really glad that I had a chance to work with her.

EPISODE 98: “THE CHRISTMAS TREE” / “PUNCHLINE (PART I)” / “PROM NIGHT” / “PUNCHLINE (PART II)”

“The Christmas Tree”

TR: [This is] the last Slappy cartoon. One of the things I’ve noticed in watching some of these over the past few weeks—they did this sort of Rockefeller Center Christmas tree lighting ceremony in the cartoon back in the mid 90s, which is 15 or 16 years ago now. Al Roker was doing the ceremony back then, and he’s still doing it. So you think some of these references are going to be dated really quickly and, certainly some of them are, but in that case it’s not.

EPISODE 99: “BIRDS ON A WIRE” / “THE SCORING SESSION” / “THE ANIMANIACS SUITE”

“The Scoring Session” and “The Animaniacs Suite”

TR: These two cartoons are all about the music and Richard Stone. “The Scoring Session” was basically Richard having a much-needed rest at Camarillo, which was a mental institution out here in California at the time. [Laughs] So he’s being filled in at the scoring session by a composer named Nevel Nosenest (voiced by Michael McKean), a rhinoceros. The entire cast is in this and the Warners come and ruin the scoring session.

Here’s a very obscure tidbit: Nevel Nosenest’s name was created the night that my kids and I watched, and then were driving home from, the Spielberg cartoon An American Tail: Fievel Goes West. Nievel Nose Nest. That’s where we got the name from.

RP: I remember Richard Stone, God rest his soul, who called me and said, “Hey, we’re doing the last scoring session.” They were always held at the Clint Eastwood Scoring Stage over on the Warner Bros. lot, which is the same stage that Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn and all those guys used to do the original Warner Bros. cartoons. They even used the same piano that Carl Stalling used. The ghosts in that studio are amazing.

For some reason, though, they had to switch to the really big scoring studio at 20th Century Fox and Richard called me and said, “Hey, just so you know, we know the show is ending and I’m doing this Animaniacs Suite. Do you want to come and see it?” And I’m telling you what, man. I was in tears because Richard did this beautiful rendition of a medley of the Animaniacs theme with different styles and it was just beautiful. I was in tears watching it.

It was really interesting because, not long after that, Richard developed pancreatic cancer and passed away far too young. I remember at his memorial service, which was held on the scoring stage at Warner Bros., we were all there singing our praises of this great man. The word “genius” gets thrown around a lot, but in his case it’s not hyperbole. He really was a genius and an amazing guy. It was almost as if he knew that he had to get all this stuff done because he knew he wasn’t going to live very long. Richard’s untimely death put a really profound, sweet period at the end of this whole thing. We knew it would never happen again with this group. It was very sad, but very sweet and a very appropriate way for the whole series to end.

Animaniacs: Volume 4 arrives on DVD February 5.

All images from Animaniacs: Volume 4.

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12 Brazzle-Dazzle Facts About Pete's Dragon
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Walt Disney Productions

Forty years ago, on November 3, 1977, Pete's Dragon was released in theaters across America. Though it was a box office disappointment at the time, it has since turned into a beloved classic for the generations of audiences who grew up with Pete and Elliott. In honor of its 40th anniversary, check out these brazzle-dazzle facts about the Disney classic.

1. ELLIOTT WAS VOICED BY VETERAN ACTOR CHARLIE CALLAS.

Charlie Callas was a comedian known for his rubbery face long before Jim Carrey was around.

2. IT WAS HELEN REDDY’S FIRST LEADING ROLE IN A FILM.

You’d assume that working with an invisible dragon would be pretty challenging for anyone, let alone someone new to the film industry, but Helen Reddy enjoyed the experience. “I only had one actual scene with the dragon," she explained, "and during rehearsals I worked with a latex model of his head so that I would be familiar with the dimensions during filming.”

3. REDDY’S BALLAD IN THE MOVIE WAS NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR.

Reddy's "Candle on the Water" was nominated for Best Original Song. It lost to “You Light Up My Life.”

4. DON BLUTH SUPERVISED ELLIOTT'S ANIMATION.

The project notoriously called for a lot of overtime hours, and a couple of years after Pete's Dragon was released, animator Don Bluth left Disney. He went on to animate and direct The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), and All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), among others.

5. CALIFORNIA DOUBLED FOR MAINE.

The movie may look like it takes place in Maine, but neither the cast nor crew went anywhere near the Pine Tree State. The landscape scenes were courtesy of Disney’s Golden Oak Ranch in Canyon Country, California, while the Passamaquoddy town square and wharf area was constructed on the Disney Burbank Studio lot, partly from an old Western set. Even the harbor was constructed on-set.

6. ACTOR SEAN MARSHALL HAD NO FORMAL ACTING BACKGROUND.

Despite this, he beat hundreds of kids who auditioned to play Pete. “I think Disney always went for kind of the natural,” he said.

7. MARSHALL BECAME AN ALL-AMERICAN POLE VAULTER IN COLLEGE. 


redmorgankidd via YouTube

He partially attributes his athletic success to his role in the film, saying that the training he went through for the part, especially ballet, made him more of an athlete.

8. THE LIGHTHOUSE BEACON COULD BE SEEN FOR MILES.

Nora and Lampie’s lighthouse was equipped with a real lighthouse lens and a wickstand that could create a beacon that was visible for 18 to 24 miles. Constructed on California's Morro Bay, Disney had to obtain permission from the U.S. Coast Guard to actually light the lamp. There were plans to eventually move the lighthouse to Disneyland, but it became too deteriorated.

9. MICKEY ROONEY AND RED BUTTONS DID SOME AD-LIBBING.

The scene where Mickey Rooney and Red Buttons drunkenly walk to the cave to see Elliott turned into a massive ad-lib session, with each comedian trying to outdo the other with pratfalls and slapstick. “The director said, ‘That was fantastic, but we can’t have a 20-minute scene where you two are just walking through the cave. We’ve got to re-shoot it,’” Marshall recalled.

10. IT WAS A DISAPPOINTMENT AT THE BOX OFFICE.

The film only made $18 million in the U.S., which was a real disappointment to Disney. The studio was hoping to experience the same level of success it had had with another movie that mixed live action and animation—Mary Poppins.

11. THE SODIUM VAPOR PROCESS WAS USED TO MIX ANIMATION AND LIVE ACTION SCENES.

Invented by Ub Iwerks, the co-creator of Mickey Mouse, the process involved using a camera with a prism installed that separated the sodium vapor lights from the rest of the color. This projected a yellow light onto the screen behind the actor, which could later be subtracted out, and any background could be added in its place.

12. THERE’S A GOOFY YELL TUCKED AWAY IN THE FILM.

It’s when Dr. Terminus (Jim Dale) accidentally sends himself flying via harpoon. Listen for it at 1:13 below.

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10 Far-Out Facts About Futurama
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In 1999, Matt Groening followed-up the monumental success of The Simpsons with an idea for a sci-fi comedy that he’d been tinkering around with for years. With influences ranging from groundbreaking sci-fi movies like Blade Runner to shows like The Jetsons and pulpy ‘50s comics like Weird Science, Futurama proved to be yet another winner for the cartoonist. Characters like Fry, Bender, and Leela quickly became fan favorites, rivaling Homer, Marge, and the rest of Springfield for quotability. The show was also a hit with the critics, winning plenty of Annie and Emmy Awards along the way.

Never a ratings juggernaut to a larger audience, the show only lasted four seasons on Fox before being cancelled in 2003. Neither the production staff nor the series’ loyal fan base would give up on Futurama, though, and the series was revived for an additional three seasons on Comedy Central from 2008 through 2013. Here are 10 things you might not know about Futurama

1. THE SHOW’S NAME COMES FROM AN EXHIBIT AT THE 1939 NEW YORK WORLD’S FAIR.

Though Matt Groening’s Futurama takes a comedic look at what the future might hold for us, the name is based on a very real-world version of the world of tomorrow. At the 1939 New York World’s Fair in Queens, GM built a mammoth attraction called Futurama, which was a scale-model city showing off the predicted wonders of 1960.

The model was the brainchild of industrial designer Norman Bel Geddes and his team of hundreds of artists and builders. It spanned an impressive 35,000 square feet, and gave audiences a glimpse at what a city might look like in the next 20 years, with the highlight being a monolithic utopia peppered with mountainous skyscrapers and a web of superhighways for futuristic GM cars to travel on. Visitors would sit in chairs that moved on a conveyer belt around the model, showing off all the wonders they could look forward to.

To pay homage to its namesake, the first thing Fry hears when he’s defrosted in the future during the pilot episode is the bellowing sound of a lab worker proclaiming “Welcome to the World of Tomorrow,” which was one of the heavily advertised themes of the fair.

2. THE THEME SONG WAS INSPIRED BY A TUNE CALLED “PSYCHE ROCK.”

Futurama’s main theme, composed by Christopher Tyng, bears a striking resemblance to the song “Psyché Rock" by French electronic artist Pierre Henry. The songs are so similar that the Futurama theme basically acts as a remix to Henry’s work. The song has also been remixed by Fatboy Slim, which is even closer to the Futurama version. 

3. GETTING THE SHOW ON THE AIR WAS A DIFFICULT PROCESS FOR MATT GROENING.

Though Matt Groening and the team over on The Simpsons have the freedom to mostly govern themselves, getting Futurama off the ground was a different story. When asked by Mother Jones in 1999 about getting the show on the air, Groening said, “It has been by far the worst experience of my grown-up life.”

He further explained that, “The second they ordered it, they completely freaked out and were afraid the show was too dark and mean-spirited, and thought they had made a huge mistake and that the only way they could address their anxieties was to try to make me as crazy as possible with their frustrations.”

Despite the battles with the network, Groening and his team didn’t cave, saying, “I resisted every step of the way. In one respect, I will take full blame for the show if it tanks, because I resisted every single bit of interference."

4. CO-CREATOR DAVID X. COHEN IS A MATH WHIZ.

When Groening was developing Futurama into a pitch, he had one key Simpsons writer in mind to collaborate with: David S. Cohen. Cohen (who is credited as David X. Cohen for Futurama) was known for some of the most popular Simpsons episodes of the mid-‘90s, including "Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie," "Lisa The Vegetarian," and "Much Apu About Nothing."

“After I assembled a few hundred pages of ideas, I got together with David Cohen, one of the writers and executive producers on The Simpsons, who is also a lover of science fiction and has a great knowledge of science and mathematics,” Groening told Mother Jones.

The emphasis on mathematics may sound odd, but it became a hallmark of the series. Dealing with sci-fi plots allowed Cohen to bring a certain authenticity to some of the more complex episodes; he was also able to sneak in all sorts of esoteric mathematical jokes for the like-minded viewers. This is similar to how math played a role on The Simpsons for years without ever becoming distracting to casual viewers. 

Cohen’s mathematical background goes far beyond the norm. He graduated from Harvard with a degree in physics, and from the University of California, Berkeley, with an M.S. in computer science. This knowledge gave way to plenty of in-jokes, including the creation of a numerical-based alien language and countless background gags that only the brainiest viewers would have a shot at deciphering.

5. ZAPP BRANNIGAN WAS GOING TO BE VOICED BY PHIL HARTMAN.

The character of Zapp Brannigan was originally written with actor Phil Hartman in mind for the voice, but he was tragically killed before he would have begun recording. The role then went to Billy West, who also voices Fry and Professor Farnsworth. In an interview with The New York Times, West says he based his Brannigan on disc jockeys from the ‘50s and ‘60s. There's also a bit of Hartman's signature, Troy McClure-esque sound in there. 

6. JOHN DIMAGGIO ORIGINALLY AUDITIONED FOR PROFESSOR FARNSWORTH USING BENDER’S VOICE.

Figuring out what Bender would sound like wasn’t an easy task for the folks in charge of Futurama. Would it be a human voice, or something more synthesized like Robby the Robot from Forbidden Planet? The crew auditioned dozens and dozens of voice actors in an attempt to find the perfect Bender, with no luck.

At the same time, voice actor John DiMaggio was auditioning for a role on the show against his agent’s wishes, who worried about both the money and contract being offered. At first he auditioned for the role of Professor Farnsworth, using a boorish, drunken voice he partially based on Slim Pickens. The voice didn’t work for the professor, but according to the DVD commentary for the show’s pilot, the producers asked him to try it out for Bender. The voice instantly clicked, leading to the creation of the show’s breakout character.

7. THE NIXON LIBRARY EVENTUALLY CAME AROUND TO HIS HEAD BEING IN A JAR.

Richard Nixon famously proclaimed that the media wouldn’t have him to “kick around anymore” back in 1962; little did he know the jabs would keep coming for decades in the real world, and centuries into the fictional future as a nightmarish version of the former president with his head preserved in a jar was proclaimed President of Earth in Futurama.

With Billy West providing the jowly voice of the former Commander-in-Chief, Nixon became a villain for a whole new generation. And the Richard Nixon Library wasn’t very happy about it at first.

“[E]arly on in the show the network got a letter from the Richard Nixon Library saying they weren’t pleased with his portrayal and would we consider not doing it,” Cohen told WIRED.

But a few years later, things changed.

“We didn’t really stop, however, because we liked it, but the strange thing is that … a few years later we got another letter from the Nixon Library saying can we provide some materials because they’re going to do an exhibit about Nixon in popular culture and they’d like to include Futurama, so they came around.”

8. WRITER KEN KEELER INVENTED A NEW THEOREM JUST FOR THE SHOW.

In addition to Cohen, Futurama is staffed by a roster of Ivy League graduates with backgrounds in science and math. But while writing one episode, the staff had created a plot so complex that the crew soon found itself stumped.

The episode was “The Prisoner of Brenda” from the sixth season, and it involved a brain-switching machine that could swap the minds of any two people that stepped into it. There was only one problem: once used, the machine couldn’t be used twice to swap the same two minds back to normal. This means numerous pairs of other characters would have to use the machine in a roundabout plan to restore everyone’s mind to their proper body.

Though the idea sounded like a winner to the writers, Cohen recalled that they soon realized they had to create a mathematical explanation that could get everyone’s mind back. It was like a nightmarish SAT problem for the staff. That is until writer Ken Keeler, who has a PhD in mathematics, created a completely unique theorem that proved this plot was possible.

“Ken comes in the next morning with a stack of paper and he said, ‘I’ve got the proof,’ and he had proven that no matter how mixed up people’s brains are, if you bring in two new people who have not had their brains switched, then everybody can always get their original brain back, including those two new people,” Cohen told WIRED. “So I was very excited about this, because you rarely get to see science, let alone math, be the hero of a comedy episode of TV.”

In the episode, the mathematical heroes that solve the problem are none other than the Harlem Globetrotters, who are among Earth’s elite intellectuals in the 31st century.

9. THE SHOW’S USE OF FORESHADOWING IS INTENSE.

Futurama touts more than just science and math cred; the show is also one of the more intricately plotted animated series of the past 20 years. The show is notorious for leaving morsels of foreshadowing in episodes that pay off weeks, months, or even years down the road.

Plot points like Fry being his own grandfather and Leela’s mutant heritage were all hinted at before they became reality, but the most obscure piece of foreshadowing came right in the pilot episode. It happens right as Fry is leaning back in the chair that would “accidentally” topple over and send him into the cryogenic chamber, leaving him thawed out in the 31st century. For a brief moment, a shadow flashed across the screen with no explanation—at the time, it likely went unnoticed by many viewers.

Fast forward to the season 4 episode “The Why of Fry,” and we learn that the shadow belonged to Nibbler, who had traveled back in time to 1999 to push Fry into the chamber because he was the key to stopping an alien invasion in the 31st century. It's just one example of the type of intricate world-building that the writers of the show poured into every episode.

10. EACH EPISODE TOOK ABOUT A YEAR TO COMPLETE.

Every episode of Futurama is a labor of love, with each joke and frame of animation put under intense scrutiny. Because of this, there is a lot of work involved in the show—about a year’s worth for each episode.

“It's usually somewhere in the vicinity of a year from the beginning of a Futurama episode to the day when you can see it on TV,” David Cohen told The Atlantic.

This starts with a story idea, which is then assigned to a writer for an outline and first draft. From there, the first draft is dissected in the writers’ room on a “word-by-word, scene-by-scene basis.”

Then it’s recorded by the actors—like an old-timey radio show, according to Cohen—and then it’s given to the animators. That process involves animatics and final animation, which can take around six months to finalize. 

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