Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain - Was That Real?
April 12, 2016
(The shortened opening)
NC: Hello, I'm the Nostalgia Critic. I remember it so you don't have to. And welcome to another rendition of WTR, AKA Was That Real?
(It cuts to the WTR title card, then to clips of "Small Wonder", "Dumb and Dumber", "Dog City", the Star Wars Holiday Special, "Star Wars: Ewoks", "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective", and "Cowboys of Moo Mesa")
NC (vo): This is where we look at TV shows that may be forgotten by some, but remembered by others for how strange they were.
NC: With that said, when you hear the term "Steven Spielberg-produced cartoon", what's the first thing that usually pops into your mind?
NC (vo): For most people, it's usually "Tiny Toons", "Animaniacs", "Pinky and the Brain", "Freakazoid", or, if you want to go really obscure, you might even think of "Histeria" or "Toonsylvania".
NC: But there's one that even diehard fans usually forget about, because... even mentioning the name usually results in a giant... (makes a sound of extreme pain and frustration) That, of course, is "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain". (he hears a polyphonic sound of extreme pain and frustration) See?
(Cut to clips of "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain")
NC (vo): Yep, this actually happened, folks: not an episode, not a standalone special, but an entire series that absolutely nobody demanded.
NC: Those aware of its existence often ask the same question: (awkward pause) "Why?"
NC (vo): These two elements seem to have nothing in common, so why put them together?
NC: Well, to understand, we gotta start at the very beginning.
(Cut to clips of "Pinky and the Brain")
NC (vo): Pinky and the Brain, the two lab mice bent on world domination from "Animaniacs", were doing pretty well with their own spinoff show, entertaining kids with the same adult edge that most Spielberg cartoons had. But the studio was concerned that just having the two of them wasn't enough.
(Cut to shots of a toy store's shelves, full of, in order: plush Pokemon figures, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers action figures)
NC (vo): You know, seeing as how a show's success isn't based on the show's success, but rather how many toys you can sell.
(Cut back to "Pinky and the Brain")
NC (vo): So, in the middle of their successful run, the writers were encouraged to put in an extra character. Oh, not a side character like ones they had before, but one that would be a permanent addition to the main cast.
NC: The response was a surreal slap in the face known as "Pinky and the Brain and Larry".
NC (vo): Without explaining to the audience what was going on, there was a weird occurrence where, out of nowhere, a character named Larry existed. And he was squeezed in to literally do nothing but declare himself as Larry.
(Intro to said episode plays)
Singers: They're Pinky and the Brain...
Larry: And Larry!
Singers: Yes, Pinky and the Brain...
Larry: And Larry!
Singers: Their twilight campaign is easy to explain...
Larry: Larry will explain it!
NC (vo): Audiences laughed, even though they probably didn't fully get it, but the message was made clear to studios: "Pinky and the Brain" worked, because it was only Pinky and the Brain, and if it wasn't broken, it didn't need to fixed. For a while, the stunt worked, seeing how the pressure to include more characters faded away.
NC: (crossing his arms) But in 1998, the studio had a new idea:
(Cut to various shots of Elmyra Duff)
NC (vo): To combine Pinky and the Brain with a character from the since-then canceled show "Tiny Toons", Elmyra Duff. Intended as a little girl version of Elmer Fudd, except instead of hunting animals to death, she loved 'em to death, somebody somewhere apparently really loved this character, because she showed up everywhere. They used her in dozens of "Tiny Toon" episodes, had her cameo in both the "Animaniacs" and the "Plucky Duck Show", they even tried to give her a spinoff series based on her family that never got off the ground. While not a bad character, somebody clearly wanted to use her as much as possible.
(Cut to a clip of "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain")
NC (vo): And here she was again, now being forced into a comedy duo that nobody wanted to do. And I mean NOBODY.
NC: And I know what you're thinking: "Ohh, where's your proof that the writers of the show didn't want to work with it?" (pointing his finger down at the desk while saying...) Right... in the show's... intro!
NC (vo): Every week, the title song made it clear that this was being done under protest. And they summed it up in one lyric:
Singers: So Pinky and the Brain share a new domain! (Elmyra shrugs at Pinky and the Brain being kicked out of the Warner Bros. office) It's what the network wants, why bother to complain?
NC (vo): There was even another lyric, hinting that the entire project is out of their control:
Singers: The Earth remains a goal, some things they can't control! They're Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain... Brain... Brain...
NC (vo): You can't get any more obvious than that.
NC: (holding a DVD cover for the show) Even the DVD cover kinda looks a little half-assed. "Ah, just draw it fast to see if we can get a few bucks outta this." So after years about this show's existence and finally breaking down and buying the DVD, is it as bad as everybody has built it up to be? (looks around uncomfortably) Well... how do I put this? I'm kinda disappointed that... I'm not more disappointed.
(Cut to clips of "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain")
NC (vo): I mean, yes, it's a bad idea and clearly nobody wanted to do it. But it's still the same people who did "Animaniacs" and "Pinky and the Brain". And for what it's worth, it shows. Not only is the animation still pretty damn good, but the voice actors are hilarious. And the writing, though in a scenario that's hard to be creative in, is still pretty friggin' funny. No joke. There's a lot of times when I laughed really hard while watching this. Maybe because they knew this wasn't such a hot idea, there's an extra dose of cynicism that made it a bit more pessimistic than usual.
The Brain: Happy ending? There are no happy endings. Life is an interrupted series of humiliating failures./Whatever.
Pinky: I think Elmyra's seen "Titanic" a few hundred times too many.
The Brain: Let's hope she never rents "A Clockwork Orange".
NC (vo): Almost like the attitude was: "Screw it, if we're gonna be stuck with this, we might as well do the best damn job we can with it." And that's evident throughout most of the episodes.
NC: (holding up both hands) Don't get me wrong, these are by no means masterpieces. In fact, a lot of the stories feel very rushed...
NC (vo): ...with most of them being shorts, rather than taking up an entire episode, like the original show. But, truth be told, it does have some genuinely funny moments. Not only are some of the lines funny, but the delivery from the voice actors on some of these lines that wouldn't get a laugh suddenly turned out hilarious because of how well they say it.
Pinky: If Fred Flintstone knew the giant order of ribs was going to tip over his car, why did he order them every week?
The Brain: I am truly alone./(Shines a flashlight at a wall) Elmyra... Look at the wall...
The Brain: It's a magic doorway. Run and jump inside the light.
Elmyra: (running toward light) I see it! I see it! (crashes into light and falls down)
NC (vo): There's even a kind of dark humor to how much the show loves to insult Elmyra. She's just a little kid, but the world seems relentlessly cruel to her.
Talent show host: Let's begin the tryouts for our talent show! Our first student is... Oh dear. Elmyra.
Audience: (polyphonic sounds of pain and frustration)
NC (vo): But she's always too naive to realize it, so it never comes across as too mean-spirited.
Corn and Cheese Fun Hut proprietor: (to Elmyra) Get away from my store before I curse you!
NC (vo): Some of the jokes are enjoyably strange, too. Like they hint in the opening that somebody from the burnt-down lab is trying to hunt them down.
NC: And you wanna know who that somebody is? Christopher Walken!
(Cut to footage of Christopher Walken on the show)
NC (vo): Yeah, no reason why, it just so happens to be Christopher Walken!
Rudy Mookich: (to Walken) You're gonna run him over with your car?
Walken: You're a very hostile little man. Come see me in ten years; I might have a job for you.
Rudy: Can I blow up dumpsters?
Walken: Yes, you can. Now go away; you depress me.
NC (vo): It's beyond bizarre, but how can you not chuckle at that?
(Cut to an animated Tim Curry on this show)
NC (vo): There's also a strange choice where they take a carnival owner who's voiced by Tim Curry, and just... make him look like Tim Curry. Yeah, they're just making it look like Tim Curry owns an evil carnival now for some reason.
Curry: (to Elmyra) Wonderful, just wonderful. Save that energy for the next show./Ahahahahah! Boy, I laugh a lot!
NC (vo): Sure, you're scratching your head, but you're kinda giggling at the idea, too.
NC: There's also some side characters that are surprisingly not bad.
NC (vo): While we never see Elmyra's family, we do see her next-door neighbor [Rudy Mookich], who she has a huge crush on, despite being the fact that he's just a big, dumb boy. In fact, he's even voiced by the actress who did Nelson's voice, Nancy Cartwright.
Rudy: I'll give you five bucks if you put a dead rat in the potato salad./Where's those talkin' mice?
NC (vo): This gets especially strange when he falls in love with the Brain disguised as a little girl named Patty-Anne, and it forms the most bizarre of love triangles. Elmyra even kind of resorts to kidnapping! It's pretty out there! There's still references to modern-day commentary, and there's some very impressive writing satirizing "The Raven", done entirely in rhyme! And for a weekly cartoon show, these are some of the cleverest rhymes ever associated with the poem.
The Brain: "You're demented," I asserted, "preternaturally perverted! I refuse to acquiesce you, you spawn of incubi!"
Elmyra: Potty mouth!
The Brain: ...her voice came blaring...
Elmyra: Cranky mousies always swearing!
The Brian: No, I only was declaring that your brain's a few cells shy!
NC: So, there seems to be a lot of good about it. Does that technically make it a good show? Well, it depends on what you're looking for.
NC (vo): While there are a ton of laughs, there's also a heavier lean towards smaller kids, with a lot more songs and child-friendly imagery. While Pinky and the Brain was never huge into stories, they were usually creative and were given time to grow. Here, the stories seem more like excuses for jokes. They often don't go anywhere and usually feel like they're more stopping rather than coming to a conclusion.
NC: There's also the problem that Pinky and the Brain worked, because it was an extreme genius teamed with an extreme moron.
NC (vo): But now, there's two morons, and a lot of it is centered around Elmyra, so Pinky almost seems pointless to the setup. On top of that, as funny as a character Elmyra can be, she was usually best in small doses. Remember, originally, she was the antagonist, the person you were trying to get away from. Pinky was still a protagonist, so you liked being around him. When you design a character you purposefully want to get away from, and then find out you had to put up with her for 24 minutes, it can be a little bit to stomach. (Elmyra is seen crying obnoxiously into a pillow)
NC: The great irony in all of this is that the idea of a dumb little girl having a brilliant lab mouse who's trying to take over the world is actually kind of a clever show idea.
NC (vo): It could potentially be funny if that's what it started off as, instead of what we did start off with. But, because it's already a combination of already-established ideas that weren't meant to be that, it's not allowed to go as far as it could. So most of the time, we're stuck in suburbia and not allowed to travel to many other places.
NC: Plus, as good as the elements are that I mentioned before, you can never really get around the fact that this feels like a forced sellout.
(Cut to a shot of "The Lego Movie")
NC (vo): Some ideas, even if they sound like that, are strong enough to escape it...
(Back to "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain")
NC (vo): ...but just saying the title "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain", it... just sounds like they're grasping at straws.
NC: (holding up the Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain DVD) So if you're wondering whether or not this is actually worth checking out, I would say... yeah, kinda.
NC (vo): Is this as good as the other shows? No. Does every episode have laughs? No. But for an obviously forced idea, I think it's worth sticking up for a bit. It's a testament that even though the people behind it had to do it, they still seemed to give it their all.
NC: It would have been so easy just to not try and let this crash and burn, but, judging by the acting, the writing and the animation, it's clear they were at least trying to make it work. And the result, in my opinion, is definitely worth looking at. Not just as a valiant attempt, but for some reasonably funny moments.
NC: I know, it's weird! I'm defending "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain", and I'm not even defending it as anything that great!
NC (vo): But with such an idea, it's kind of amazing they got this much out of it. In a strange way, it's something to be admired, even if it doesn't always work. It shows that even in the toughest situations, you can turn out something when everybody expects nothing. In hindsight, if I was a writer or an actor or a producer, and I was offered a job like this, why wouldn't I want to work with so many people...
(Cut to a montage of the actors on the show: Maurice LaMarche, Rob Paulsen, Cree Summer, and Nancy Cartwright, plus a crowd of cast and crew on various Warner Bros. cartoon shows of the 1990s)
NC (vo): ...who not only have great talent, but also have great reputations as fun people to work with?
(Cut to another montage, this one of various cartoon shows around the same period: "Bobby's World", "The Rugrats", "Sabrina: The Animated Series", "Extreme Ghostbusters", "Godzilla: The Series", and a collage of shows on Cartoon Network)
NC (vo): It's still being done at a time when cartoons were not expected to be that funny. At least not for kids.
(Back to "Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain")
NC (vo): So if you're curious enough to say, "I don't care how bad it sounds, I just want some laughs from people I know are funny," you just might find a little bit in the most unlikely of places.
NC: I mean, come on! It was a lot better than (the poster for "Batman v Superman" appears in the corner) this crossover! I'm the Nostalgia Critic; I remember it so you don't have to. (gets up from his chair and leaves)