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TV Legends: Did Animaniacs Originally Star Three Duck Siblings?

TV URBAN LEGEND: Animaniacs was originally going to star three duck siblings named Yakky, Smakky and Wakky.

One of the best-loved cartoon series of the 1990s was Animamiacs, created by Tom Ruegger for Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment (in association with Warner Bros. Animation). The series aired from 1993-1998 (first on Fox and then, when Warner Bros. launched their own television network, The WB, the series transferred to there). It starred the Warner siblings, the Warner brothers, Yakko and Wakko, and the Warner sister, Dot.

They were old 1930s cartoons (which is why they looked like a lot of the other cartoon characters of the era, like Micky Mouse, Oswald the Lucky Rabbit and Felix the Cat) who ultimately escaped and caused havoc all over the place. When not causing trouble, they lived in the water tower on the Warner Bros. lot.

However, amazingly enough, originally the Animaniacs leads were WAY different. We're talking TALKING DUCK different!!

Ruegger had done a project with ducks in the past, so when he came up with the idea of the lead characters in Animaniacs (which he patterned after his three young sons), he went with ducks. He once described the drawing above as follows:

The three ducks in "the rings" were based on characters from an animated cartoon I made in my film school days: "The Premiere of Platypus Duck." Spent two years animating, painting and shooting this 11-minute "epic," then used this film as the showpiece in my job-interview with Bill Hanna at Hanna-Barbera. (I got the job -- as an assistant animator. I was very happy.)

This particular drawing of "the three ducks in the green rings" was done by Ken Boyer and/or Alfred Gimeno and has the influence of both. Over the course of a week or two, Ken, Alfred, Lynn Naylor, a few other artists and I were involved in turning these ducks into "the generic 30's-style cartoon characters" (the Warner brothers and their sister Dot) that we've come to know. Once we had a handle on their origin story, the designs came together fairly quickly.

The three brothers were named Wakky, Yakky and Smakky. Yakky and Wakky were basically the same general types of characters as their later Yakko and Wakko versions, but Smakky was an original concept. He was actually intended to be the lead character, an ill-tempered young guy who had to put up with his nitwit brothers. He was roughly based on how one of Ruegger's kids was going through a phase where he smacked people a lot.

Eventually, though, the idea of a straight man being the lead was considered to be too boring, so they decided that there wouldn't be a straight man and it would just be three crazy characters, with Dot eventually taking over the role of the third sibling (which also allowed them to diversify the genders a bit).

Ultimately, though, with Plucky Duck on Tiny Toon Adventures and Disney having Huey, Dewey and Louie on DuckTales and Darkwing Duck, Spielberg and Ruegger felt that there too many ducks for afternoon television, so they played around with the design, before settling on the sort of almost amorphous 1930s design that became so famous.

To be frank, Ruegger is so talented that I'm sure that the series would have worked with ducks, if they had gone that route, but it likely was for the best.

The legend is...

STATUS: True

Be sure to check out my archive of TV Legends Revealed for more urban legends about the world of TV. Click here for more legends specifically about animated TV shows.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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