Every generation is defined in a large part by the cartoons on the air when they were young. For many of us in our 20s and 30s, that consisted of Kids’ WB fare—specifically Animaniacs and its skit-turned-spinoff, Pinky and the Brain. Kids and teens of the 90s can sing their songs from memory, drop quotes, and likely passed high school geography and history thanks to the show.
It was also no secret that the creators loved to dig deep when it came to their inspirations, from Dustin Hoffman’s Rain Man performance inspiring the bumbling dog Runt to a running series that was literally just Goodfellas but with pigeons. One reference in particular, though, may have baffled even the most well-versed kids.
The short segment “Yes, Always” consists of the lab mouse duo Pinky and the Brain not plotting global domination as usual, but rather recording a commercial for frozen peas. Well, really it was more the Brain having a lot of feelings about how this commercial was going and who got to give him direction. While it was amusing for youngsters on the simple level of familiar characters bickering, it went over most of our heads.
But those in the vintage commercial outtake fandom would have recognized the bit as a nearly word-for-word recreation of Orson Welles’s outtake reel for frozen food company Findus. Known as “Frozen Peas” or—appropriately enough—“Yes, Always,” the recording features an increasingly bothered Welles as he critiques his script and berates the sound engineers.
If you’d like to hear what it sounds like, you can listen to it here. Just make sure the more impressionable amongst you have stepped out of the room—Welles becomes increasingly vocal about his discontent as he insists that there is no way to speak a sentence in the English language that begins with an emphasized “In.”
It’s no secret that the Brain was heavily inspired by Welles. In fact, you can hear voice actor Maurice LaMarche delivering essentially the same performance in series like The Critic where he impersonates the legendary actor. As it happens, the “Frozen Peas” tirade was LaMarche’s favorite warm-up for days when he would be voicing the Brain.
Eventually, according to voice director Andrea Romano, the team decided to let LaMarche do the scene for real. The sequence was retooled into a short featuring Pinky as one of the sound engineers, along with Romano and series writer Peter Hastings as themselves. LaMarche was not sent the script in advance—he arrived the day of recording to discover that he would get to record his favorite warmup for millions of oblivious children. And so, a bizarre bit of cartoon history was born.
The fictional sound engineers should count themselves lucky, though. As much of a diva as the Brain was in the cartoon, he was still easier to wrangle than Welles. Likely still upset that the frozen foods company had asked him to audition for the commercials, the legendary actor led Findus staff on a wild goose chase around Europe, scheduling recording times with them only to disappear in a kind of Catch Me if You Can scenario, only for recording English commercials about frozen vegetables. Eventually, the session was held in Vienna.
While many of us may not have understood the reference at the time, the wide appeal of Animaniacs means that people who might never have heard the obscure audio went and sought it out in their adulthood. And this is just one example of how the creators of these cartoons ended up expanding our horizons—anyone who goes back to rewatch these shows now is bound to smile at the myriad references, character cameos, and spoofs packed into each episode. The series’ wacky antics and adult-targeted jokes garnered both massive success amongst children and a dedicated adult fanbase who developed into one of the earliest internet-based fandoms, and paved the way for modern media that attempts to appeal to a diverse age range.
Citizen Kane might be Welles’ masterpiece, but thanks to Animaniacs we’ll always have that remote farm in Lincolnshire, where peas grow every July.