Following the successful run of Batman: The Animated Series, Steven Spielberg contacted show co-creator Bruce Timm (with whom he was previously associated through Tiny Toon Adventures) to request his help in developing a new superhero show that would be made between Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. Timm and Paul Dini crafted the pitch for an edgy superhero with a manic personality that would star in a serious adventure show with comedic undertones. Timm named him “Freakazoid” after it just jumped into his head. Spielberg loved the pitch, but wanted the concept to lean more towards comedy.
|Bruce Timm's concept art.|
Timm, feeling unable to deliver the kind of show Spielberg wanted, bowed out of the project. Spielberg called in Tom Ruegger, who had developed Tiny Toons and Animaniacs with Spielberg, to redevelop the series from scratch. Ruegger utilized some of Timm’s initial designs and concepts, but the overall project had become a pure comedy series with the same style of humor as Tiny Toons and Animaniacs. This actually led to some criticism from comic book creator Mike Allred who felt the character was a direct lift of his Madman; from his appearance right down to personality. Timm had admitted that Madman served as an inspiration for his initial idea, and Allred was incensed over the lack of credit or compensation when the show finally came out. As Madman was an amalgamation of multiple influences himself, Allred didn’t pursue any action outside of sending Spielberg a letter about his displeasure.
|Original Freakazoid concept art.|
Ruegger compiled a collection of short story segments for the series, but Spielberg, while liking Ruegger’s offerings, wanted longer ones as well. Ruegger recruited writers John McCann and Paul Rugg to develop those longer stories and help figure out what exactly Freakazoid! was going to be.
Freakazoid! was about 16-year-old geek Dexter Douglas (David Kaufman) who had just gotten a new Pinnacle Chip for his computer. Unknown to him, the chip had a flaw that when someone entered in the code string “@[=g3,8d]\&fbb=-q]/hk%fg” (which was entered by his cat, Mr. Chubbukins [Frank Welker], walking on the keyboard) and hit “delete” (which Dexter did), the user would be absorbed into cyberspace where they would become infused with all the knowledge of the internet, given super powers, and be very silly with questionable sanity—a Freakazoid (Rugg, who won the role after Spielberg liked his demonstration of the voice they were looking for). Freakazoid possessed a variety of powers, including super strength, endurance, speed, agility, hearing (he once traveled across the globe to yell at a Tibetan monk for raking too loud), and could travel instantaneously by turning into a lightning bolt. However, Freakazoid’s primary method of travel was sticking his arms outward while running and making swooshing sounds, pretending to fly. Freakazoid could switch to and from his alter ego by saying “freak out” or “freak in.” Freakazoid’s perception of himself varied between episodes, as both he and Dexter would be regarded as the same person sometimes, and other times regarded as completely different individuals (Freakazoid would spend Dexter-time in an area of his brain called the Freakazone where he would reflect, have profound thoughts, and watch reruns of The Rat Patrol).
|Dexter with Duncan and Mr. Chubbikins.|
In Dexter’s life, he lived with his family in Washington, DC. Debbie (Tress MacNeille) was Dexter’s clueless mother who served as a parody of a stereotypical domestic type and often delivered lines on morose subjects in a cheery tone. Dexter’s father, Douglas (McCann), was an automobile dealer who believed a goblin lived in his gas tank and was a generally inept father figure. His older brother, Duncan (Googy Gress), was a bully towards Dexter and portrayed as a stereotypical jock. Dexter attended Harry Connick High School.
|Freakazoid with Cosgrove and Professor Jones.|
Over in Freakazoid’s life, he had his mentor Roddy MacStew (Craig Ferguson, after the producers failed to get Mike Myers), an ill-tempered Scotsman who worked for the company that produced the Pinnacle chip and trained Freakazoid in the use of his powers. Freakazoid’s best friend was Sgt. Mike Cosgrove (Edward Asner), a stone-faced monotoned police officer who often interrupted Freakazoid’s adventures to invite him to hang out somewhere and could put a stop to almost any situation by pointing and sternly saying “Cut that out.” Cosgrove was originally intended to be a one-time character by McCann, but Rugg liked him and brought him back as a regular. Freakazoid’s girlfriend was the perky blonde Stephanie (Tracy Rowe). Steff was a classmate of Dexter’s and viewed him as a creep, unaware that she’s technically dating him. Steff sometimes participated in Freakazoid’s adventures and displayed a technical prowess. Occasionally, when Freakazoid was portrayed as a Batman parody complete with gadgets, vehicles and a Freakalair, Freakazoid had a mute butler named Ingmar (a combination of Zorro’s mute manservant Bernardo and Batman’s butler Alfred Pennyworth). When Ingmar quit to become a rodeo clown, he was replaced by Professor Jones (created specifically for Jonathan Harris, who essentially reprised his role of Dr. Smith from Lost in Space). A running gag would feature someone asking Jones if he was “on a TV show with a robot.” Professor Heiney (Ed Gilbert) was a scientist often attacked by monsters at his lab who helped Freakazoid out on occasion.
|Longhorn, Invisibo, cyborg Gutierrez, Waylon Jeepers, Candle Jack, The Lobe, Cobra Queen and Cave Guy.|
A superhero isn’t much without a selection of supervillains, and Freakazoid had his share of enemies as wacky as he was. His most frequent sparring partner was The Lobe (David Warner), a super genius whose entire head was a giant brain. Other foes included Royce Mumphry, aka Cave Guy (Jeff Bennett, impersonating Jim Backus), a blue caveman with upper-class diction, education and taste who spoke in a stereotypical WASP tone; Audrey Manatee, aka Cobra Queen (MacNeille), a former shoplifter who was transformed by an experimental cosmetic left in the sun too long that gave her command over reptiles, as well as their general appearance; Jubal “Bull” Nixon, aka Longhorn (Maurice LaMarche, impersonating Johnny Cash), a former cat litter company employee who turned to crime with his sidekick, Turk (Hal Rayle), and had plastic surgery to turn himself into a Texas Longhorn Steer (Timm’s pitch had him be a strongman in a bull costume) in order to evade law enforcement (which didn’t work as he was still featured on America’s Most Wanted every week); The Nerdator (Aron Kincaid), a parody of The Predator, who sought to kidnap all the nerds in the world to absorb their knowledge and become a super-nerd; Ahmon Kor-Unch, aka Invisibo (Corey Burton, impersonating Vincent Price), a smart-mouthed pharaoh who only appeared visible with the Anubis staff he carried; Arms Akimbo (John Schuck, impersonating Edward G. Robinson), a former model-turned-extortionist whose years of posing left his hands permanently stuck to his hips; Candle Jack (Bennett, impersonating Jack Palance), a supernatural Boogeyman who abducted anyone who said his name and enjoyed watching F Troop; Waylon Jeepers (a play on country singer Waylon Jennings, voiced by Bennett), a creepy little man whose Medusa Watch could turn people (and pigeons) to stone and book, How to Summon Monsters the E-Z Way, allowed him to summon the demon Vorn the Unspeakable (Richard Moll); Deadpan (Bebe Neuwirth), a plain-looking and monotoned shape-shifter; Janos Ivnovels (Jim Cummings), the ruthless dictator of the fictional country of Vuka Nova; Dr. Mystico (Tim Curry), a mad scientist who turned orangutans into human-like creatures and vice versa; Kid Carrion (Bennet), a zombie cowboy who resembled Tex Hex from the show Bravestarr (and was part of Timm’s original pitch); and Mary Beth (a play on cosmetics giant Mary Kay, voiced by MacNeille), a cosmetics executive who transformed into a monster when angered and sought to absorb Freakazoid’s hero essence to remain immortal.
|Gutierrez in his Freakazoid form.|
Freakazoid’s arch-nemesis was Armando Gutierrez (Ricardo Montalban), the eye-patched man who ran the company responsible for the Pinnacle chip. Gutierrez sought to exploit the flaw of the chip for his own gain and ignored MacStew’s warnings about it. Eventually, Gutierrez was able to access the flaw and became a dark version of Freakazoid (however, maintaining his sanity) until Freakazoid knocked him into a cyber-pit. He returned as a cyborg to vex Freakazoid again. Gutierrez took umbrage to being called a weenie and usually demanded people laugh (and, in one instance, scream) with him. Gutierrez resembled Montalban, and his mannerisms were based on Montalban’s character of Kahn Noonien Singh from Star Trek II: Wrath of Kahn. Gutierrez’s main henchman was Jocko (Rugg), an inarticulate caricature of first season director Dan Riba.
|Freakazoid, Steff, Douglas Douglas, Sgt. Cosgrove, Emmit Neverend and The Lawn Gnomes.|
Other characters included Mo-Ron (later Bo-Ron after the network feared the first name might be offensive, voiced by Stan Freberg), an obese and dimwitted alien from the planet Barone (named after the production’s favorite pizza restaurant, Barone’s); Fanboy (Stephen Furst), an obese and zit-faced socially awkward fanboy who wanted to be Freakazoid’s sidekick; Hero Boy (McCann, using a voice he had originally conceived for another character), a parody of Astro Boy and star of Freakazoid’s favorite TV show who inspired Freakazoid with his catchphrase “I must succeed!” (even though Hero Boy had no powers and was often shrugged off by whatever foe he was facing); Paul Harvey (a caricature of the radio-host whom Rugg had once been a programmer for, allowing him ample opportunity to hone his impression of him), an obnoxious man who interrupted the story to give background information on the villain or ruin the ending, and often signed off with “And now you know the rest of the backstory. Good day!”; Emmitt Neverend, a short, hunchbacked man with a grimace designed by Mitch Schauer who appeared in a Where’s Waldo? fashion throughout an episode (the credits would reveal how many times he appeared); and Weena Mercator as The Hopping Woman, a fictional person acknowledged whenever credits were used in an episode but never actually appeared. Joe Leahy served as the series’ narrator and commentator, often becoming an active participant in the plot and occasionally appearing on screen as a caricature of himself.
|Fanboy, Mo-Ron, The Huntsman and Lord Bravery.|
For a little variety, Freakazoid! had several other features that had their own theme songs, title cards and rarely crossed over into the main show. Lord Bravery starred Nigel Skunkithorpe, aka Lord Bravery (Bennett, impersonating John Cleese), was a snooty, cynical and particularly British knight dressed like a Roman soldier. He yielded no respect from the public, or his relatives, and was generally the laughing stock of superheroes. The Huntsman starred Marty Feeb, aka The Huntsman (Bennett, impersonating Charlton Heston), a hunter who saved a chunky elf from being eaten by a crow and was rewarded a magic sack of corn that gave him super strength, speed and glistening teeth. Despite his willingness to do good, he often failed to find any crime to fight. Toby Danger was a loving parody of Johnny Quest that was originally written by Tom Minton for Animaniacs. The short starred actors who previously appeared on Quest in similar roles, including Don Messick as Dr. Vernon Danger, Granville van Dusen as bodyguard “Dash” O’Pepper, and Scott Menville as Toby. The Lawn Gnomes was a parody of Disney’s Gargoyles animated series. The gnomes were cursed by a wizard they played a prank on to turn to stone during the day until they mended their evil ways and fought alongside mankind. Fatman and Boy Blubber was a parody of the 1966 Batman television series starring the morbidly obese Fatman (Marc Drotman) and Boy Blubber (Rugg).
|Freakazoid and Norm Abram.|
Rugg, who was also the writing supervisor on the show, served as one of the primary writers alongside McCann. Other contributors included Ruegger, Paul Dini, Alan Burnett, Melody Fox, Tom Sheppard, Wendell Morris, Lisa Malone, Ken Segall, Mitch Watson and Jed Spingarn. The humor from the show relied heavily on slapstick, parody and pop culture references. The series was metafiction, so the characters often broke the fourth wall. For instance, one episode’s story was interrupted so that Freakazoid, Wakko Warner (Jess Harnell) and the Brain (LaMarche) could argue which of their shows was Spielberg’s (Welker) favorite (Tiny Toons wasn’t featured, either due to their being on another network or Spielberg citing that they existed in a universe separate from Animaniacs). Other cameo appearances included other characters from Warner productions and celebrities, some of whom played themselves, such as Mark Hamill, Jack Valenti, Leonard Maltin and Norm Abram (who got a whole episode centered around him). Stock footage played a role in some of the gags, including peaceful scenes of flowers for “Relax-O-Vision”, numerous people screaming for “Scream-O-Vision”, traditionally-dressed Bavarians dancing and slapping each other, a man being shot by a cannonball, and a man wrestling a bear. A running gag on the show was Freakazoid reminiscing fondly over the many sidekicks he had that had fallen in battle.
|Freakazoid with Wakko and Brain.|
Freakazoid!, originally slated to premiere in 1994, debuted as one of the launch titles for the new WB Network’s Kids’ WB Saturday morning programming block on September 9, 1995. The series’ theme was composed by Richard Stone with lyrics by Ruegger. Stone, along with Julie and Steven Bernstein, Gordon Goodwin and Tim Kelly scored the entirety of the series. The title sequence was animated by Animal-ya (now Ekura Animal), who also worked on two episodes. The rest of the show was animated by Dong Yang Animation, Koko Enterprises Company, Seoul Movie, Studio Junio and Tama Productions. The series had encountered several difficulties: it failed to attract its target audience, netting older viewers than the children The WB wanted, and it was frequently shifted around the network’s schedule so that it became difficult for viewers to find. The show managed to earn a second season, but WB cancelled it in February of 1997 before the final two episodes aired. Cartoon Network picked up the series that April and aired it in its entirety, and continued to rerun it until 2003. Had the show not been cancelled, the character of Freakazette, a female version of Freakazoid who made a cameo appearance in the first episode, would have been introduced as possibly the alter-ego of Steff. In the years since its original airing, Freakazoid! had earned a cult following of fans.
|Freakazoid explains his ratings.|
Despite its comparatively short run to the other Warner Bros. Animation efforts at that point, Freakazoid! still managed to land Daytime Emmys for its theme song, “Outstanding Original Song” for “Invisibo” from the episode “Freak-a-Panel”, and “Outstanding Special Class Animated Program.” Although Freakazoid never received his own comic series, he did make an appearance in Animaniacs #35 by DC Comics, which was written by Jennifer Moore and Sean Carolan, who also penned the potential Freakazette script. Moore and Carolan pitched a miniseries to DC for Freakazoid, but the idea was abandoned when the series was cancelled. Between 2008 and 2009, Warner Home Video released the complete series on two season sets.