Behind-The-Scenes Stories About '90s Cartoons

List Rules
Vote up the most surprising stories about our favorite animated shows from the '90s.

If you're feeling nostalgic for the '90s cartoons you once loved, you can rewatch them and have a blast. But once you've relived enough memories, you might find yourself wanting to know more about what went on behind the scenes.

For this list, we're rounding up a collection of unexpected and interesting stories about the making of cartoons like Rugrats, The Simpsons, Rocko's Modern Life, Hey Arnold!, Animaniacs, and other great '90s animated kids shows

Did you know that The Simpsons might never have existed if a staff member hadn't bought James L. Brooks a Matt Groening comic print as a thank-you gift? Or that Groening's sister Lisa is the reason Helga Pataki of Hey Arnold! is such a complicated character? There's are plenty more great stories about '90s cartoons where those came from. 

  • 1
    115 VOTES

    George Clooney Made Hundreds Of VHS Copies Of Matt Stone And Trey Parker’s Animated Short And Gave Them To His Hollywood Friends, Eventually Leading To ‘South Park’

    South Park started as a crude five-minute short created by two college students. How did it turn into a 300+ episode cultural phenomenon? Surprisingly, it had a lot to do with George Clooney.

    During the mid-'90s, a friend of Matt Stone and Trey Parker named Brian Graden was a junior executive at Fox. He asked his pals to create a Christmas card featuring the foul-mouthed children from their college project. Graden sent The Spirit of Christmas to 35 of his friends, each of whom passed it along to their friends. Eventually, the VHS tape made its way to George Clooney, who made hundreds of copies and sent it to many people. Soon, it seemed like practically everyone in Hollywood had seen it. 

    The short's popularity helped Graden get a new job at Comedy Central, where he helped Stone and Parker develop South Park into a full-fledged series. Thanks, George Clooney! 

  • 2
    91 VOTES

    Yakko's World - The Famous Song From 'Animaniacs' - Was Recorded In A Single Take

    Yakko's World - The Famous Song From 'Animaniacs' - Was Recorded In A Single Take
    Photo: Fox Kids

    "Yakko's World" was a two-minute-long Animaniacs sketch in which Yakko Warner lists just about every country on Earth in rapid succession. You might imagine that a song like this would be recorded in multiple segments to save the actor's voice. Nope - voice actor Rob Paulsen recorded the whole thing in a single take. That takes some serious talent! 

    The song itself was written by Randy Rogel, a screenwriter for Batman: The Animated Series. While helping his kid with his geography homework, he noticed that "Canada, Mexico, Panama" rhymed. He decided to write out all the countries in a rhyme scheme set to the tune of the Mexican hat dance. Thinking it was well-suited to Animaniacs, he offered the song to Tom Ruegger. The song ended up on the show, and Rogel got a job as an Animaniacs staff writer out of the deal. 

  • 3
    60 VOTES

    'Pinky and the Brain' Was Inspired By Employees At Warner Bros.

    'Pinky and the Brain' Was Inspired By Employees At Warner Bros.
    Photo: Kids' WB

    Pinky and the Brain are two lab mice who regularly try to take over the world - well, at least the Brain does. Pinky is often found unintentionally foiling their plans.

    Their creator, Tom Ruegger, was inspired by his co-workers to create them. Pinky was inspired by Warner Bros. Animation director and artist Eddie Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald had an upbeat attitude, and often said phrases like “Narf!” and “Egad!” - phrases which would eventually be passed onto Pinky. Fitzgerald actually auditioned to voice Pinky, but the part went to Rob Paulsen instead.

    Many people think the Brain's appearance was inspired by Orson Welles, but he was actually based on Tom Minton, another Warner Bros. Animation artist and writer. The appearance of both mice was loosely based on caricatures of Minton and Fitzgerald drawn by Batman: The Animated Series producer and designer Bruce Timm. 

    While Brain's appearance wasn't inspired by Orson Welles, his voice was. Before taking the role, voice actor Maurice LaMarche used Welles's speeches to warm up before recording other roles. After seeing the Brain's design, he decided to apply his impression.

  • 4
    65 VOTES

    ‘The Simpsons’ Likely Owes Its Origins To James L. Brooks’s Production Designer Buying Him A Matt Groening Cartoon As A Thank-You Gift

    ‘The Simpsons’ Likely Owes Its Origins To James L. Brooks’s Production Designer Buying Him A Matt Groening Cartoon As A Thank-You Gift
    Photo: Fox

    The Simpsons is one of the most culturally significant pieces of media to come out of the '90s, but it might not have existed in the first place if production designer Polly Platt hadn't wanted to give producer James L. Brooks a thank-you gift for helping her get nominated for an Academy Award. The gift was a print of Matt Groening's comic strip Life in Hell titled "Success and Failure in Hollywood."

    Brooks needed a short cartoon to use as a bumper for The Tracey Ullman Show. He contacted Groening and asked to use Life in Hell. Groening didn't want to hand over the rights to something that was already making him decent merchandise money, but he did have another family - the Simpsons - that he was willing to let him use.

    It's a little disconcerting to think that if Platt had bought Brooks a bottle of wine or a book instead, The Simpsons might never have been made.

  • 5
    61 VOTES

    'Rocko's Modern Life' Had A Contract That Guaranteed The Network Would Be Totally Hands-Off - And They *Really* Leaned Into It

    From a family that consists of a cow and a bunch of wolves who planned to eat him but ended up adopting him to a grim reaper named Peaches with an udder for a head, Rocko's Modern Life is by far one of the strangest cartoons to come out of the '90s. Its wacky vibe wasn't confined to the show itself - it also made its way into the production team's office. 

    Creator Joe Murray wasn't too keen on working with Nickelodeon, since at the time the network didn't seem to have any of the sort of kids' programming he had any desire to make. He only agreed when Nickelodeon promised to give him free rein of the project. His contract even included a clause that promised no unexpected visits from network reps. This gave his staff the freedom to work however they wanted.

    In this case, that meant a guy who threw knives over his shoulder at storyboards and cut whatever scene it landed on when an episode needed to be shortened, and a guy who turned his office into a fake game show studio and played canned laughter whenever anyone said something funny. Employees who took time off could look forward to having their desks covered in plastic cobwebs. Overall, the environment was one that Murray called "organized chaos" - the perfect environment for a wild show like Rocko. 

  • 6
    70 VOTES

    Since ‘X-Men: The Animated Series’ Was Made Without Computers, The Creators Literally Brought In Their Personal Comic Books And Xeroxed Relevant Pages For The Animators

    When it first aired in the '90s, X-Men: The Animated Series was wildly popular - so popular that at one point, half of American TV sets were tuned into it on Saturday mornings. One thing that made the story special was its gender-balanced cast. About half of the characters were female, which was a rarity in the '90s. This was a happy accident that came as a result of the higher-ups wanting to include multiple Marvel figures in the series. 

    Overall, it was a great show - but it took a lot of work to make it happen. Series director and producer Larry Houston recalled some challenges that were unique to the time period: 

    No computers. There were no computers then. I brought in my collection of X-Men comic books to work. And when I went to hand out stories to the artists, I'd put them on the Xerox machine, copy the pages I thought were pertinent.

    That's some serious dedication to the craft!