Freakazoid!
Freakazoid.jpg
Title card
Also known asSteven Spielberg Presents Freakazoid!
Created byBruce Timm
Paul Dini
Developed byTom Ruegger
Voices ofPaul Rugg
Edward Asner
Craig Ferguson
Jonathan Harris
Tracy Rowe
Narrated byJoe Leahy
Theme music composerRichard Stone
ComposersRichard Stone
Steven Bernstein
Julie Bernstein
Gordon Goodwin
Tim Kelly
Carl Johnson
Country of originUnited States
Original languageEnglish
No. of seasons2
No. of episodes24 (47 segments) (list of episodes)
Production
Executive producerSteven Spielberg
ProducersMitch Schauer (season 1)
Paul Rugg
Tom Ruegger (senior producer)
Rich Arons
John P. MacCann
Running time22 minutes
Production companiesAmblin Entertainment
Warner Bros. Animation
DistributorWarner Bros. Television Distribution
Release
Original networkThe WB (Kids' WB)
Picture formatNTSC
Audio formatStereo
Original releaseSeptember 9, 1995 (1995-09-09) –
June 1, 1997 (1997-06-01)
Chronology
RelatedTiny Toon Adventures
The Plucky Duck Show
Animaniacs
Pinky and the Brain
Pinky, Elmyra & the Brain

Freakazoid! is an American superhero comedy animated television series created by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini and developed by Tom Ruegger for the Kids' WB programming block of The WB. The series chronicles the adventures of the title character, Freakazoid, a crazy teenage superhero who battles with a bizarre array of supervillains.[1] The show also features mini-episodes of adventures of other bizarre superheroes. The show was produced by Amblin Entertainment and Warner Bros. Animation. The cartoon was the third animated series produced by the collaboration of Steven Spielberg and Warner Bros. Animation during the animation renaissance of the 1990s.

Bruce Timm, best known as a major principal of the DC Animated Universe, originally intended it to be a straightforward superhero action-adventure cartoon with comic overtones, but executive producer Steven Spielberg asked series producer and writer Tom Ruegger and the Animaniacs team to turn Freakazoid! into a flat-out comedy.[2] The show is similar to fellow Ruegger-led programs such as Animaniacs, and the humor is unique in its inclusions of slapstick, fourth wall firings, parody, surreal humor and pop cultural references.

The series was one of the first to debut on the new Kids' WB Saturday morning block of The WB, on September 9, 1995. The series lasted for two seasons, finishing with 24 episodes, the final one broadcast on June 1, 1997. Although the series originally struggled in the ratings, reruns on Cartoon Network and a fan following elevated it to become a cult hit.[3] Warner Bros. considered renewing the series for a third season, but deemed it to be too expensive. The show also ranked #53 on IGN's Top 100 Animated Series list.[4]

Background

The show's title character is the superhero alter ego of geeky 16-year-old (later changed to 17-year-old) Dexter Douglas who attends Harry Connick High School. His name is an allusion to the alliterative names that superheroes commonly have. Dexter gained his abilities from a computer bug activated by a "secret key sequence" that was accidentally activated by his cat Mr. Chubbikins (a reference to the Pentium FDIV bug). The sequence of keys is "@[=g3,8d]\&fbb=-q]/hk%fg" (the quotes are included) which also activated when Dexter hit the delete button on his computer. Freakazoid has enhanced strength and endurance, extraordinary speed and agility, as well as access to all the knowledge on the Internet. These make him a powerful and fearsome force for upholding freedom and righteousness, unless he gets distracted by something like a bear riding a motorcycle. He has a base called the Freakalair, a parody of the Batcave, built by his mute butler Ingmar. The Freakalair contains a "Hall of Nifty Things to Know" and even a mad scientist lab. His greatest weakness, as he once explained to Guitierrez, is graphite bars charged with negative ions. He also expresses a great aversion to "poo gas".

Peripheral powers come and go: Freakazoid once developed telekinesis triggered by anger that was never mentioned again after the episode, and once crossed the globe to yell at a Tibetan monk for raking too loudly, but apologizes to him later in the same plot. He also has the ability to assume the form of electricity and cover long distances instantaneously, although he just as often simply sticks his arms forward and runs while making swooshing sounds with his mouth, pretending to fly.

Dexter can change into and out of Freakazoid at will with the words "Freak out!" and "Freak in!". When not in Freakazoid mode, Dexter looks and acts completely normal, and his family is unaware that anything has happened to him. Freakazoid spends this time in an area of Dexter's brain called the Freakazone, where he reflects, has profound thoughts, and watches Rat Patrol reruns.

While the show's setting is set around Washington, D.C., the locale often varies with the show's humor, taking Freakazoid to locations around the world as needed.

Episodes

Main article: List of Freakazoid! episodes

SeasonEpisodesOriginally aired
First airedLast aired
113September 9, 1995 (1995-09-09)February 17, 1996 (1996-02-17)
211September 7, 1996 (1996-09-07)June 1, 1997 (1997-06-01)

Characters

The Douglas family

Allies

Enemies

Freakazoid! features a number of campy villains. They consist of:

Other characters

The elusive Emmitt Nervend, who is often only seen briefly in the show.
The elusive Emmitt Nervend, who is often only seen briefly in the show.

Mini-segments

Freakazoid! also features several mini-segments, primarily in the first season. Each of these have their own theme songs and title cards, and rarely "cross over" into the continuity of the main show. These segments include:

Production

Voicing

The voice actors of the show Freakazoid! included various actors from other television series and films. Tress MacNeille, Maurice LaMarche, Jeff Bennett, and Frank Welker, who all provided voices in the series Animaniacs, were on Freakazoid!. Actors Ed Asner, Ricardo Montalbán, Larry Cedar, Jonathan Harris, and Stephen Furst also provided voices for the series. Also, writers John P. McCann and Paul Rugg (who played Freakazoid) added voices themselves.

Casting for the show had been difficult for the Freakazoid! staff, as no lead character had been found even after extensive auditions.[5] Eventually, when writer Paul Rugg was brought to demonstrate the voice in a recording session, he ended up filling the role, as he said: "I went in there and did it. Then they played it for Steven Spielberg and he said 'Yep! Fine, sure, great,' and then I panicked ... and I had to do it."[5] Rugg played the role of Freakazoid through the entire series run.

Animation

The animation was outsourced to Animal-ya, Studio Junio, and Tama Production in Japan, Seoul Movie, Dong Yang Animation, and Koko Enterprises Ltd. in South Korea.

Music

The music for Freakazoid! was written by Richard Stone, Steve Bernstein, Julie Bernstein, Gordon Goodwin, and Tim Kelly. Stone won a Daytime Emmy with lyricist (and senior producer) Tom Ruegger for the main title song in 1996.[6] Julie Bernstein was nominated for a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Original Song in 1998 for the song "Invisibo" from the episode Freak-a-Panel.[7]

Controversy with Mike Allred's Madman

Cartoonist Mike Allred has criticized the show and its lead character as plagiarism of his comic book Madman,[8] asserting that the title characters share several personality traits, and wear similar costumes featuring a chest emblem including an exclamation mark. During the short run of the show, Allred remained relatively silent on the subject, but in 2003, he responded to a question about the show on the message board of his official website:

[Show creator] Bruce Timm was kind enough to tell me that Madman was a direct inspiration for the show, with comics open and referred to when developing the show.

Stupidly, I was flattered; happy to inspire anything. But when the show came out, with no acknowledgement or credit or any kind of compensation, I slowly became annoyed as everyone and their uncle confronted me with "there's this cartoon that's ripping off Madman" and "you oughta sue".

I simply wrote a friendly letter to [show producer] Steven Spielberg telling him his production was a direct lift of my creation, I had no intention of creating ripples, I just wanted him to know that I knew. No one replied, which is fine. And to be honest, Madman is an amalgam of a half a dozen other influences. So who am I to complain (the exclamation mark on the chest still kinda irks me a little though. A little too close for comfort).[8]

Humor

The humor in Freakazoid! relied heavily on slapstick, parody and pop culture references. Due to the series being metafiction, much of the series was self-aware humor (i.e. breaking the fourth wall); for instance, after the first appearance of the Freakmobile, the show goes immediately into an impromptu commercial for a toy version, and later in the episode, Freakazoid addresses an audience, congratulating the staff on how hard they have worked to make the show toyetic. A running gag involves a repeated credit for "Weena Mercator as the Hopping Woman", though no such character appears in any episode. The show also incorporated humor aimed at the WB Network, such as questioning the meaning of the initials "WB".

Freakazoid! made frequent use of stock footage, including a peaceful scene of a field of flowers ("Relax-O-Vision"), numerous people screaming and traditionally dressed Bavarians dancing and slapping each other ("Candle Jack"), and a man being shot in the belly with a cannonball and a man wrestling a bear ("The Chip").

Cameo appearances were also a major element of the show's humor. At various times, Freakazoid! hosted appearances by characters from other Warner Bros. shows such as Pinky and the Brain, Animaniacs and even an insinuation appearance of Batman from Bruce Timm's animated version. Portrayals of many celebrities (including producer Steven Spielberg) and guest appearances by such figures as Jack Valenti, Leonard Maltin and Mark Hamill as themselves were also commonplace. Norm Abram had an entire episode, "Normadeus", built around him. One original character, a bizarre-looking man named Emmitt Nervend, plays no role whatsoever other than enabling a Where's Waldo-esque hunt for his constant cameos (complete with the number of his appearances announced in the closing credits).

One of the show's longest cameo appearances was when Wakko from Animaniacs and the Brain from Pinky and the Brain appeared in a scene in which they argue with Freakazoid over which of their shows is Steven Spielberg's favorite, with Freakazoid arguing that his show was the favorite (Tiny Toon Adventures was not represented in the discussion as it was on Nickelodeon at the time, while the others were on Kids' WB). However, when the trio confronts Steven over the issue, he simply replies: "Who are you people?".

History

Creation

I mean, it probably would not have worked as a straight super-hero show. It was really neither fish nor fowl. It was such a weird idea that it probably needed to be a comedy more than an adventure show.

Bruce Timm, Modern Masters Volume 3: Bruce Timm[9]

Freakazoid! was created by animators Bruce Timm, who had previously produced Batman: The Animated Series, and his writing partner Paul Dini, who was also a story editor for Tiny Toon Adventures.[3] Timm was called upon by Steven Spielberg, who Timm said "liked" Timm's Batman series, to help create a new superhero show.[10] After a meeting with Spielberg, Timm said that Spielberg had "really liked" the idea for the series,[10] after which Timm and Dini created the character Freakazoid, an edgy superhero with a manic personality. Timm came up with the name for the character naturally, as he recalled, "The name 'Freakazoid' just kind of jumped out of me, I don't even know where from. I said 'Oh, yeah, 'Freakazoid', that might be an interesting name.'"[3] Dini and Timm have also discussed their desire to create a TV show about The Creeper, another DC comics character who shares as similar comedic style to Freakazoid!, which it would later evolve into.

Timm originally created Freakazoid! to be a serious "adventure show" with some comedic undertones.[3] However, his initial idea for the series did not come to be, as he stated:

I don't mind that it's not on my résumé. [Laughs] I bailed on it really early. It started out as an adventure show, but it ended up turning into more and more of a comedy show; every time we'd have a meeting with Steven, the concept would kinda [sic] change, and it kept leaning more and more towards zany comedy. It really started out almost like Spider-Man, on that level of, like, a teenage superhero. And it reached a point where it became a comedy with the Tiny Toon Adventures/Animaniacs kind of humor. (...) I don't have anything against that; I just don't have a flair for it, so I bailed—I just hung out here while my staff had to do the show. [Laughs][10]

After Timm left the series, Tom Ruegger, who developed the other Spielberg series Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs, was brought in to re-develop the series Timm had created "from the ground up".[3] Ruegger's version of the series used some of Timm's designs and concepts, but Timm said that the series was "radically altered" to become the comedy series that was more to Spielberg's liking.[3]

Ruegger then began writing stories for the series, and came up with a pile of very short segments. Spielberg liked what Ruegger had written, but wanted longer stories for the series as well. Ruegger then asked writers John McCann and Paul Rugg to come onto the series to write longer, more elaborate stories for the series and, according to Rugg, "(...) figure out what this [Freakazoid!] was going to be, and the answer was like, 'We didn't know', and still don't".[3]

Premiere, cancellation, and syndication

Main article: List of Freakazoid! episodes

Freakazoid! premiered on Kids' WB's Saturday lineup on September 9, 1995.[2] During its run, Freakazoid! came across problems of appealing to its target demographic, young children. Tom Ruegger said that Freakazoid! had done poorly in ratings because the audience that the series gathered was older than the target audience.[3] Also, Freakazoid ran into timeslot problems. Writer John McCann said that the time slot of the series changed frequently: "They put it at eight o' clock in the morning, 3:30 in the afternoon, they shifted it all around; we couldn't even find it, and we wrote the thing".[3] The series ran on Kids' WB until February 14, 1997, when it was cancelled due to poor ratings, airing only one complete season and part of a second season.[2] Rugg said the series' demise was the result of a combination of people not understanding the series, time slot changes, appealing to the wrong demographics, and that "(...) there aren't a lot of Nielsen boxes in federal prisons. Had there been, I'm telling you, we'd still be on the air today".[3] However, the show was later picked up by Cartoon Network and was rebroadcast from April 5, 1997, until March 29, 2003.[2] The series had a total number of 24 episodes. In 2006, Freakazoid! was one of the shows scheduled to be broadcast on the AOL broadband channel, In2TV. The show is currently available to stream for free on Tubi.[11] In Italy, Freakazoid! along with Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain, was shown on RAI and later Mediaset. In Japan, Freakazoid! along with Tiny Toon Adventures was shown on TV Asahi.

Reception

The series won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program.[3][12]

Bruce Timm said that the series still has a cult following of fans who ask him questions about the series whenever they meet him.

According to Timm, the character's co-creator, he actually has a preference for the second season:

BRUCE: I actually liked the second season better than the first season. The second season was less Animaniacs. It was more Monty Python, it was much more surreal. It was less hip, topical in-jokes, and---

MM: And more eating cotton candy in the Himalayas.

BRUCE: And the weird Astro Boy parody and stuff like that. I thought that stuff was much funnier and much more unique. The first season, to me, was just Animaniacs with a super-hero in it.[9]

Video on demand

United States

As of June 2022, the series is currently available to stream for free in the United States on Tubi. It is also available to purchase on DVD and digital stores. In Latin America, the show streams on HBO Max.

International

The entire series is currently available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video in Italy.

Merchandise

Print

Freakazoid never had his own comic book, but he did make a special guest crossover in issue #35 of the Animaniacs comic book published by DC Comics.[13]

Home video

Warner Home Video has released the entire series on DVD in Region 1.

DVD name Ep # Release date Bonus features
Season 1 13(+1) July 29, 2008 (2008-07-29) Audio commentary on three "key episodes", promos from the series launch, and a featurette tracking its evolution from an action series to a comedy series.[14]
Season 2 11 April 29, 2009 (2009-04-29) Featurettes on the making of the last episode, "Favorite Moments" from the series, and an original demo tape for the song "Bonjour, Lobey" from series composer Richard Stone.[15]

In popular culture

The sixth season episode of Teen Titans Go!, "Huggbees", aired on November 14, 2020, and features Freakazoid helping the Teen Titans defeat the Lobe and Brain when they join forces. It was mentioned by Freakazoid that Steven Spielberg would have to approve the crossover which led to Robin sending a message to Steven who approves of the crossover. According to Rugg, the production team for the show had sent him a script involving Freakazoid in December 2019 which he approved. The episode has Rugg, David Warner, Ed Asner, and Joe Leahy reprising their respective roles.[16]

References

  1. ^ Perlmutter, David (2018). The Encyclopedia of American Animated Television Shows. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 220–221. ISBN 978-1538103739.
  2. ^ a b c d Lenburg, p. 638
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Tom Ruegger, Bruce Timm et al. (2008). Steven Spielberg Presents Freakazoid: Season 1. Special Features: The Original Freak (DVD). Warner Home Video.
  4. ^ "53. Freakazoid". Top 100 Animated Series. IGN. Retrieved 13 December 2011.
  5. ^ a b Rogers, Brett (1996). "Freaking Out With Paul Rugg". Animato!. No. 36. Archived from the original on 2007-11-04. Retrieved 2007-06-29.
  6. ^ education, Elaine Woo Elaine Woo is a Los Angeles native who has written for her hometown paper since 1983 She covered public; Local, Filled a Variety of Editing Assignments Before Joining “the Dead Beat”-News Obituaries – Where She Has Produced Artful Pieces on Celebrated; national; Figures, International; Mailer, including Norman; Child, Julia; in 2015, Rosa Parks She left The Times (2001-03-15). "Richard Stone; Won Emmys as Composer of Cartoon Music". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2022-05-05.
  7. ^ Crump, William D. (2019). Happy holidays--animated! : a worldwide encyclopedia of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and New Year's cartoons on television and film. Jefferson, N.C. p. 146. ISBN 978-1-4766-7293-9. OCLC 1076805299.
  8. ^ a b Allred, Mike (2003-11-07). "Re: Freakazoid". Mike Allred Message Board. Archived from the original on July 28, 2006. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
  9. ^ a b Nolen-Weathington, Eric (June 1, 2004). Modern Masters Volume 3: Bruce Timm. TwoMorrows Publishing. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-893905-30-6.
  10. ^ a b c Lamken, Saner (2000). "The Ever-Lovin' Blue-Eyed Timm! Bruce Timm Interviewed by Brian Saner Lamken". Comicology. No. 1. TwoMorrows. Archived from the original on 2006-06-04.
  11. ^ "AOL to Launch New Video Portal". Time Warner Newsroom. Time Warner. 2006-07-31. Archived from the original on 2007-08-02. Retrieved 2007-06-29.
  12. ^ "Freakazoid! on WB: 1995, TV Show". TV Guide. Retrieved 28 May 2009.
  13. ^ Moore, Jennifer; Sean Carolan (w), Batic, Leonardo (p), McRae, Scott (i). "Tour DeFreak" Animaniacs! 35: 1-19 (March 1998), DC Comics
  14. ^ "Rear Box Art for Freakazoid!". TVShowsonDVD.com. Archived from the original on 2008-04-30. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
  15. ^ "Freakazoid! – Finalized Box Art, Front & Back, for 2nd Season Better Explains DVD Bonuses". TVShowsonDVD.com. Archived from the original on 2009-02-04. Retrieved 2008-04-28.
  16. ^ Weiss, Josh (November 11, 2020). "Wire Buzz: Doctor Who S13 Filming; Mortal Kombat Movie Delayed; Freakazoid! Meets Teen Titans Go!". SyFy Wire. Retrieved November 12, 2020.

Further reading