Animaniacs Composers on Hulu reboot: Interview with Julie and Steven Bernstein

Animaniacs is getting a reboot, and it will be premiering this week on November 20th on Hulu. Even though it’s being called a reboot, it’s definitely a continuation of the ’90s series with the return of Rob Paulsen, Jess Harnell, and Tress MacNeille as the voice of Yakko, Wakko and Dot, respectively. In addition, composers Julie & Steven Bernstein have returned to score the new season. We had a chance to chat with the lovely duo about the show, John Williams, Jurassic Park, and more.

Julie & Steven Bernstein are Emmy-award-winning composers who have worked on Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain, Freakazoid!, Histeria! Taz-mania, and more. After 22 years, the duo is returning to bring life to the Animaniacs with music. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Nerd Reactor: With Animaniacs, it’s been 22 years. Has it been bottling up your excitement?

Julie Bernstein: From the day that it stopped, every time we bumped into any of the people that worked on it, somebody would say, “When are we going to do this again?” So it never left us. We always looked forward to it.

Steven Bernstein: It was such a great experience that we hoped at some point to grab a part of it back again. We did projects in those 23 years that kept us busy.

Julie Bernstein: We worked on making Looney Tunes, which was still in the spirit of, but it’s a little different.

Steven Bernstein: The demographic.

Julie Bernstein: We always hope for this, and it’s amazing that it’s actually happened. It is a dream come true.

Did you have any input on bringing it back to life? Like, “Hey, I think you guys should just do this now.”

Julie Bernstein: I think that our good friends, Rob Paulson and Randy Rogel, had a lot to do with keeping the spirit alive because they went around the country performing. They were performing songs Randy had written in the show. They even hired us to come because they wanted to expand it to an orchestra. So Steven and I actually toured a little bit with them so that the songs could be heard by an orchestra.

Steven Bernstein: Their main show was Randy on the piano and Rob performing. On a couple of occasions, we actually had a full orchestra.

Julie Bernstein: They probably helped with keeping it alive. Although I think it kept alive on its own merit as well because of the fans. The people that watch the show initially, and loved it, continue to love it. And then they have kids and show their kids and their kids love it. And now their kids are starting to have their own kids. I think that when something this good happens, and it really was across the board just so great, it keeps itself alive because it’s beloved.

Steven Bernstein: And we had fans and now we have grand fans.

The tour sounds amazing, especially for Animaniacs. Have you done touring for other shows?

Julie Bernstein: We’ve done a couple of orchestral shows that were educational and orchestral, utilizing music that we’ve written from a few different shows and cartoons. So we’ve done a little bit of that. We were involved in a really wonderful experience in a couple of different states. So yeah, that’s another letter for you. Of course, we’re also going to wait until the vaccine. Feel free to write that we will go all over the United States and the world. We’re happy to tour Europe, anywhere.

There are orchestras all over the world that haven’t played much of this type of music. It’s special writing music for animations, specifically, this show. And there are orchestras I think that would love to play this in other parts of the world.

Do you ever get goosebumps performing live with the orchestra?

Steven Bernstein: Oh, yes. Even recording for our sessions for the show, it’s goosebump-inducing. It really is. And the music is hot off the press. I mean, some of it was just written days before. And when we’re doing the live sessions, the baton goes down, and this music comes out of us, and it’s an amazing experience.

Julie Bernstein: Hearing the musicians’ tracks are really phenomenal. Our players are phenomenal. Believe me, some of it is very difficult because we know that they can do it, so we write even faster with more notes because they can do it. And then they do whatever we write. It’s thrilling.

There’s the score from John Williams on the first episode. Yeah, the Jurassic Park reference. That was amazing. What was that like being able to capture that?

Steven Bernstein: It is amazing. I mean, it had to be adapted from his score to our more diminutive orchestra.

Julie: Bernstein: Yeah, the orchestra that is at least one third the size.

Steven Bernstein: We have 40 and I’m sure he had well over 100. And it still works because the music is so amazing. And the timing of the music, I think, was so close to the original. I actually saw online somebody had the actual footage from Jurassic Park, and they put it side by side with the Animaniacs footage, and it was like frame by frame. That was perfect. And to hear the here Williams music with this, what a great opportunity.

Julie Bernstein: And then from the John Williams all of a sudden to the Animaniacs music was a really fun and great idea.

What if John Williams shows up during the live sessions to help conduct?

Julie Bernstein: We can remind him that we met him once before. He won’t know us. We should carry our picture of him and us. We were commissioned to write a little piece in honor of somebody and John Williams and a number of very famous composers and conductors were in the audience honoring this person for whom we wrote the music. So John Williams has heard a piece of our music that has nothing to do with cartoons. He has heard a piece of our music, and we took a picture with him. We can show him.

Will you be working on the next season of Animaniacs?

Julie Bernstein: In a few weeks.

Steven Bernstein: Very soon.

Julie Bernstein: It’s in the process because of the scriptwriting, then animating, the recording of the actors, and the many things that come before we get to our part. We’re resting up a bit so that we can dive back in.

Is there a certain genre that you would like to do that you haven’t done yet?

Steven Bernstein: Yes.

Julie Bernstein: Sure.

Steven Bernstein: I would love to do a big emotional drama, whether it be a historical, period piece or just something with real meat. Some music that will last in the same attitude for more than four bars.

Julie Bernstein: One of the wonderful things about writing for animation is that we get to write in all different styles. We start to get to amp up and writing particular styles. It could even be the dramatic one that Steve just mentioned, but it’s not going to last the whole time because of the nature of the cartoon. Different things happen.

Steven Bernstein: It leads to a joke.

Julie Bernstein: Or something has changed. So you might write a page with four bars, eight bars, or even 16/32 bars, but you write a certain amount, but it’s not a full piece.

Steven Bernstein: So it’d be nice to write four or five minutes of some emotional event, and that would be amazing. We both have written concert music and more serious projects, but that kind of thing would be amazing to me.

Julie Bernstein: I’ve done jazz and string quartet arrangements for some singers, and I would like to do more of that. I love writing for the full orchestra, but I also enjoy writing the small ensemble. I would love to write some more chamber music.

Animaniacs is available on Hulu.

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John Nguyen
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