When Warner Bros. was looking to launch its own network which would feature weekday afternoon and weekend morning cartoon blocks they looked to the past to fill out the ranks. In particular, they went to their cartoons that had been running on the Fox network for sometime. When the rights to those shows expired, such as with Batman and Tiny Toon Adventures, Warner simply moved them to their own network. For something like Animaniacs which was still ongoing, they simply created a spin-off. And probably the most popular part of Animaniacs, aside from the main Warner siblings, was Pinky and the Brain.
If you were a kid in the 90s then you’re likely familiar with this odd couple duo. Pinky and the Brain, as the theme song informs us, is a duo of lab mice where one is a genius and the other is insane. You can probably guess which is which based on their names. Each short they were featured in on Animaniacs involved Brain coming up with a scheme for world domination, and it was always introduced with this setup:
Pinky: Gee Brain, what are we going to do tonight?
Brain: The same thing we do every night, Pinky – try to take over the world!
Brain is voiced by Maurice LaMarche doing his Orson Welles impersonation that has been featured on The Simpsons and Futurama at this point. Cartoon veteran Rob Paulsen handles the role of Pinky in his most outlandish toon voice (I seriously forgot it was him until doing research for this write-up) that he can probably do. Familiar voices Frank Welker and Tress MacNeille were also regulars on the show. The show lasted four seasons airing from 1995 – 1998. Almost every episode involves Brain coming up with a crazy scheme and Pinky usually messes it up for him. Why a brainiac like the Brain kept Pinky around is something we’ll never understand. For their own show, the plots were freshened up some to seem less redundant, but the goal was always there. Brain, surprisingly, is actually pretty gentle with Pinky. He’s a not a Ren-type who slaps his dim-witted partner when he fouls-up, so maybe he actually genuinely likes his mentally-challenged friend. Also a bit surprising, is during the show’s first season the writers tackled a Christmas episode. Airing on December 13, 1995, “A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” involves the Brain coming up with a plan to use Santa Claus to take over the world.
The episode opens with the familiar credits dressed-up for the holidays. There’s snow falling and some of the lyrics are changed-up to reflect the coming Christmas holiday. It’s a nice touch and one the Warner cartoons did on more than one occasion. Pinky is in a jolly mood bouncing around being his looney self singing Christmas carols while Brain is hard at work. Pinky sits down to start writing his letter to Santa, while Brain drops a doll that resembles himself behind Pinky. When Pinky turns to look at the Brain-doll, Brain starts speaking through it and is able to hypnotize Pinky. He makes Pinky do some stuff to demonstrate the doll’s power including making him think he’s standing in hot sand (Pinky doesn’t try to get off the “sand” and instead screams) and asks him to impersonate William Buckley resulting in Pinky just shrugging his shoulders indicating he has no idea who that is. Brain asks him to do Regis Philbin instead and Pinky goes bonkers giving us our first dated joke of the episode.
After releasing his hold on Pinky, Brain explains he can use his doll, Noodle Noggin, to also hypnotize humans. Pinky then asks him if he’s sure he wants to take over the world on Christmas and we get some cut-away gags! I didn’t watch this show a lot as a kid, but I don’t remember the cut-away being a big part of the show’s construction. They’re introduced just like Peter Griffin would, “Remember that time you played Santa?,” and it’s kind of amusing for that reason. The actual jokes aren’t great, although the second one references those suction-cup stuffed animals tons of people would have in a car window. Brain insists he wants to go through with his plan on Christmas and explains it to Pinky. They need to get a Noodle Noggin into every home so Brain can hypnotize the world. Unfortunately, creating the billion dolls they need to pull this off would require over 100 years of labor for the two of them. Then Brain notices a help wanted ad in the paper for elves at the North Pole giving him the idea to use Santa’s work shop to create the billion dolls they require.
Pinky is over-joyed to be going off to see Santa as the duo plan to play elves. They create a very crude dummy (during the commercial break) to play the role of their caretaker and hitch a ride on a small plane to the North Pole. The pilot isn’t very bright and just thinks her passenger is quiet comparing him to a previous boyfriend, who she informs us turned out to be a propane tank. She’s a character, all right. While riding in the plane, Pinky continues work on his letter to Santa. When Brain ridicules him by saying Santa could not possibly read every letter, Pinky corrects him by saying the elves in the mailroom handle that and enter everything into a massive computer. Brain bristles at the thought, but I’m certain Pinky’s assumption will prove true because that’s the kind of joke this series likes to make.
When the pilot tells the dummy to take the wheel for a minute they go into a dive. She slaps the dummy and his head pops off, though she doesn’t react in a horrified manner to decapitating her passenger. Instead she continues to scold it while Pinky and Brain struggle to remain in their cage. The passenger door pops open and the dummy tumbles out. Brain is able to grab the dummy’s falling head, which was apparently a pillow case, and he and Pinky are able to use it as a make-shift parachute. As they fall, Pinky remarks to Brain that he doesn’t want to be an elf. “What do you want to be?” “A dentist!” “You’ve seen too many Christmas specials, Pinky.”
The mice somehow manage to acquire a team of sled-dogs and manage to find the North Pole with minimal effort. Once there, they put on their elf disguises and head in for a job interview. Brain lists his many qualifications to the interviewer whom agrees they’re worthy of a hire, but sends them to the mail room. As expected, the mail room is exactly as Pinky imagined. He’s loving being in Santa’s work shop, and Brain isn’t too down-hearted as he sees a way to make this work to their advantage. Brain simply adds Noodle Noggin dolls to all of the lists and we cut to Santa working out (while eating a turkey leg) and looking over the lists wondering what a Noodle Noggin doll is.
Back in the mailroom, Pinky is delighted to see all of the elves are being invited to a party at Donner the reindeers house. Brain remarks that he sees no appeal in joining the Donner party for anything – hah! I bet that one went right over the heads of this show’s target audience. When Brain finishes with the letters, Pinky points out there’s still his to enter and Brain tells him to grow up. They set out for the work shop with Brain’s Noodle Noggin blue prints so they can get these dolls into production. They spot the design room and when the elf in plain sight heads off somewhere, they enter to drop off the plans. They, however, run into the elf that interviewed them (Schotzie, who appears to be Santa’s #1 elf) and he questions what they’re doing there. Brain tries to say it’s a union-mandated break, but the elf points out they don’t have a union prompting Brain to question if that’s wise. Santa’s work shop is apparently very against unions because the elf reacts negatively and gives chase, pulling off their ear disguises in the process. Recognizing that Pinky and Brain are in fact not elves, he sounds the alarm.
Pinky and Brain run into a toy room full of toy cars. They try a girl’s toy first, but it’s just a fancy makeup case that won’t drive. The second is a dump truck that is much too slow, while the third is a race car that’s plenty fast. Unfortunately for them, it’s also an RC car and Schotzie has the remote. He crashes the car and apprehends the two, pulling off the remainder of their disguise. Brain tries to tell him they’re Canadian elves just trying to blend in, but Schotzie informs them they’ve failed.
After the break, Pinky and Brain find themselves under the bright lights in an interrogation room. Schotzie wants answers, but Brain is naturally reluctant to reveal why they’re really there. They’ve also been fully undressed and they’re just sitting there as lab mice. Another elf finds the Noodle Noggin blue prints and Schotzie immediately thinks it’s espionage. He accuses them of working for other various holiday institutions before Pinky tries to explain how they really came to have the blue prints. Brain hushes him, happy to have Schotzie and the elves think they’re common thieves and still produce his doll. Schotzie falls for it and tells the other elf to get these into production and fast. While doing so, Brain and Pinky run off. They’d have probably been able to escape but Pinky happily yells out that they’re getting away, thinking it’s all a game, apparently.
A chase scene commences and we get a look at the rest of Santa’s work shop. Various assembly lines are shown constructing toys, including Brain’s Noodle Noggin. Brain decides to hide out among the dolls by jumping into the assembly line and instructs Pinky to do the same and to just look like him, which he does rather well. Schotzie almost spots them, but gets called away because Santa can’t remember that thing he always says to make the sleigh fly. The plan is going well, until Brain realizes they’re about to have Noodle Noggin arms jammed into their bodies. That’s not as bad as what’s next – head removal so a speaker can be inserted. Brain tries to free himself from the assembly line’s feet shackles, but can’t, and a doomed look crosses his face. Off-camera, the technician apparently fails at removing Brain’s head and he’s tossed into a bin marked “Rejects.” There, we see Brain’s head has been turned completely around. He fixes it just as Pinky comes sailing in. A janitor elf, with what appears to be a candy cane dangling out of his mouth to resemble a cigarette, comes by to empty the bin into his garbage can.
Outside, the duo finds themselves in a dumpster, but they’re just in time see Santa as he heads to his sleigh. Brain sees this as an opportunity for escape, while Pinky sees it as his last chance to give Santa his letter. Brain angrily tells Pinky they’re not going to do that, and the two disguise themselves (poorly) as reindeer amongst Santa’s team (which includes Rudolph!). Santa and Shotzie stand over the two ridiculous looking mice and regard them appropriately, but not enough to remove them from the team. Santa takes off and when Brain notices they’re above ACME Labs they remove their harness and plummet all the way through the ceiling window (apparently they didn’t really need that parachute earlier) smashing onto a lab bench. Unfortunately, they landed on Brain’s transmitter for his Noodle Noggin dolls and he must scramble to rebuild it.
Pinky, now realizing he’ll never be able to give his letter to Santa, becomes inconsolable. Brain needs Pinky to stand by a power switch and turn it on when the meter hits red, but Pinky is basically sobbing and hysterical. Brain grows ever-frustrated, snatches the list, and places Pinky into position who just whimpers obediently. Brain, standing with a maniacal look on his face, prepares for the moment to arrive. We see Noodle Noggin dolls have been delivered all over the world, including even to President Clinton. As Pinky goes to throw the switch, Brain takes notice of Pinky’s letter. Turns out, it was a letter to Santa from Pinky telling Santa how much he loves his best pal, The Brain. It includes observations about how determined he is in spite of his many failures, and asks Santa if he has The World in his sack. Brain is overcome with emotion, and when the time comes to broadcast he’s at first speechless. Pinky implores him to speak through his machine, and finally finding words, all Brain can do is command the world to have a Merry Christmas while sobbing like a child. He then goes about smashing the device, apparently viewing it as something that caused him to hurt his dear friend Pinky.
The world reacts accordingly, and it appears everyone does indeed enjoy a very, merry Christmas. Brain gives Pinky a Christmas gift – a spell checker, apparently inspired by Pinky’s letter writing. Pinky gives Brain his gift too – the world, as a keychain, plus a great big hug. Brain resists only slightly, as Christmas carols lead us into the familiar Pinky and the Brain theme song.
“A Pinky and the Brain Christmas” is pretty entertaining, and I’m surprised I didn’t see the ending coming until basically it got there. I figured Pinky’s letter to Santa would play a role in foiling things for Brain, just not in that way, though I probably should have. The humor isn’t as manic as Animaniacs, and some of the jokes are quite dated, but Pinky manages to be over-the-top without being too annoying and Brain is the perfect foil. I like that Brain ended up foiling his own scheme this time. The plan essentially worked, and global domination was in his hands, but he turned it down because his quest made him treat his friend like crap. It’s a cute ending, though maybe not as emotional as the writers thought it would be. The animation is wonderful though, and that whole ending sequence shows it off with the various facial expressions made by both Pinky and Brain, which are the type we hardly ever see from them.
As for watching this special this year, that remains to be seen. Boomerang was showing Pinky and the Brain, but I don’t know that it still does. The show was released on DVD in its entirety and this special even had its own VHS release back in 1996, if you really want to dust off your VCR. Perhaps more than any other special I’ve covered this year, this one feels worth digging up because it’s pretty unique, and for me it’s still pretty fresh as I’ve rarely seen it on television. I always enjoy cartoons the focus on diminutive main characters as seeing the world from their perspective is a great deal of fun for me. Check it out, if you can.