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Pinky & The Brain

Entry updated 23 August 2021. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (1995-1998). Warner Bros. Animation. Executive producer: Steven Spielberg. Writers include Charles M Howell IV, Tom Sheppard, Wendell Morris, Earl Kress and Jed Spingarn. Directors include Kirk Tingblad, Charles Visser, Nelson Recinos and Russell Calabrese. Voice cast includes Maurice LaMarche and Rob Paulsen. 65 22-minute episodes plus 18 Animaniacs segments and 13 Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain episodes. Colour.

Originally a regular segment in Animaniacs (1993-1995) – Steven Spielberg's reasonably successful attempt to recapture the spirit of the Warner Brothers' cartoons – these two lab mice were given their own series in 1995. The plot is straightforward: The Brain (LaMarche) wishes to take over the world, while Pinky (Paulsen) hinders. The Brain will be inspired and enquire, "Are you pondering what I'm pondering?", Pinky responding "I think so, Brain ..." followed by a non-sequitur such as "... but what if the chicken won't wear the nylons?", "... but if you replace the P with an O, my name would be Oinky, wouldn't it?" or "... but burlap chafes me so." The Brain would then outline his plan: for example to create a life-sized papier-mâché model of the Earth and lure everyone on to it; purchase all properties above the 39th floor, then use the Hubble Telescope to melt the polar ice caps (see Climate Change); or become beloved children's television stars and then freeze themselves (see Cryonics) for forty years until their fans have become world leaders. Further sf tropes abound: Aliens, Clones, Robots and Rays stimulating growth (see Great and Small) or Intelligence all appear. But The Brain's success rate is lamentable, episodes generally ending with the restoration of the status quo. The above formula is occasionally varied or sent up.

Though Paulsen does a fine job as Pinky, it is LaMarche's performance as The Brain that stands out, voicing the character with a spot-on Orson Welles impression. As children are the target audience, there is plenty of slapstick, but for adults the pleasure is in The Brain's dialogue, including as it does such remarks as "Pinky, once I take over the world, remind me to publicly snub you.", "Promise me something, Pinky. Never breed." and (to Dolly Parton) "I'd say puberty was inordinately kind to you"; though perhaps there is occasional self-indulgence: "The game does not conclude until the woman with the eating disorder ululates." There is also Satire – inevitably much of this has dated – and Parody, whose targets include A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Prisoner (1967-1968) and Star Wars.

After four seasons the network decided to change the format, creating Steven Spielberg Presents Pinky, Elmyra & The Brain (1999) – Elmyra being a child from another franchise, with the setting moved to her parents' house. The view of the producers may be deduced from a couplet in the new theme song: "Now Pinky and The Brain share a new domain; it's what the network wants, why bother to complain?", with The Brain commenting: "I deeply resent this". The show still had moments of wit, but its stories became even more slapstick-focused. Owing to low ratings there was only one new-format series. The rebooted Animaniacs (2020-current) includes a Pinky & the Brain segment in each episode. [SP]


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