The Animaniacs are back! After 22 years, Wakko, Yakko, and Dot have returned to our screens. Hulu’s reboot recaptures the magic of the original, in part due to the brilliant musical score and songs. They throw you straight back into ’90s Saturday morning madness. It’s not just the Warner siblings who are back, though, as original composers Julie Bernstein and Steven Bernstein returned. And they couldn’t be happier. We chatted with the pair—over Zoom, of course—about continuing their work, creating during COVID-19, and why the wild humor of
Beware, this piece contains mild spoilers for Hulu’s Animaniacs reboot.
Despite their connection with the cult cartoon, the pair found out about the series’ return the same way as the rest of us. “There were rumblings for a long time—little articles in the trades here and there. That’s how I found out,” Steven recalled.
“I would have a friend email me or text me and say, ‘Hey, did you hear? Have you been called?’ and I’d say, ‘ …No,'” Julie laughed.
But after writing some letters and letting the production team know they wanted to be involved, they invited Julie and Steve in for a meeting to talk about writing songs—something they did on the original show. But things didn’t go as planned. “We had a great meeting, lovely people, and we went home,” Steven explained.
“Long story short, we’re not involved in the songs,” Julie laughed.
But the pair did get hired to create the new series’ score, which is as delightful and wacky as you’d hope. Returning felt like less of a reinvention and more of a direct sequel to what came before. “We were really happy,” Julie said. “We didn’t know what the new show would be like, we had absolutely no idea. So once we saw the cartoons—before the music was added—we were really happy and relieved because it feels like a continuation.” The show does truly feel like that. It has the same energy, laughs, and searing satire that made the original so special.
For Steven, however, it felt like parts of the reboot demanded something a little more epic when it came to scoring. He said, “It felt very familiar. But there are some aspects of what we’re doing now that are a little bit different. A little more contemporary and cinematic, I think. Larger scenes, the chases, and the transformations, and the monsters—they’re a lot bigger.”
“Maybe there’s a little bit less of what we call ‘Mickey Mousing,’ but I’m not altering anything. When I sit down and look at the scene, I just dive in the same way that I did before,” Julie explained. “I will say that I hope after all these years that we have gotten better. I always feel like there’s muscle involved. We’re exercising the composing muscle whenever we’re working.”
The pair shared their own particular creative process with us. “Procrastination is a big part of it!” Steven chuckled. Julie agreed. She said, “While you’re procrastinating, your brain is still working. This might be complete rubbish, but I really do feel like when you’re having some kind of problem, in our case, let’s say what to write. So you go away from it, you eat some cake, and do something else, but I don’t think the brain stops working on what you’re trying to work out.”
Like so many of us this year, Julie and Steven have had to adapt their process and work life to being based entirely out of their home, which has been quite a journey. “At first, everything was normal,” Steven recalled. “We were in the Warner Bros. scoring stage with 30 or 40 musicians, and we scored two and a half episodes live in person.” But then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, and with the shutdown came a new way of working. “We shifted gears and we started recording remotely with a slightly reduced group,” Steven continued. “It’s an amazing process doing it remotely. We have 30 individual musicians, providing us with their solo tracks recorded at home. Then we both sample it and edit it.”
The composers feel fortunate to still be doing the work they love during this tumultuous time. “We’re some of the lucky people that get to continue doing what we are doing and want to be doing,” Julie shared.
With the show now out in the world, Steven shared a moment he’s really excited for fans to see. “There’s so many. Some of the Pinky and the Brain stuff is so fun. Like Brain’s son, Pinky thinks it’s a microwave but it’s actually Brain’s creation which he kind of adopts as a son. I’m very proud of the music that we did for that. Just as a piece of music trivia, the theme for Brain’s son is the Pinky and the Brain theme upside down!” Steven revealed.
Julie continued, sharing how their creative process even has something in common with the title characters. “Our music is very thematic. If anybody ever thought to analyze the themes and look at how the music was written, they might find some, you know, upside down backwards things going on.”