‘Animaniacs’ creator tackles fairy tales with ‘The 7D’

July 05, 2014 | 8:09 a.m.
134026 0905 Animaniacs creator tackles fairy tales with The 7D

A recording session for "The 7D" featuring Jess Harnell and Kelly Osbourne, who play Grim and Hildy Gloom, with executive producer Tom Ruegger. (Todd Wawrychuk / Disney Junior)

134027 0217 Animaniacs creator tackles fairy tales with The 7D

"The 7D" cast and crew: Scott Menville (Sneezy), Maurice LaMarche (Grumpy), Tom Ruegger (executive producer), Kevin Michael Richardson (Happy), Billy West (Bashful), Kelly Ward (director), Bill Farmer (Doc), Dee Bradley Baker (Dopey) and Stephen Stanton. (Rick Rowell / Disney Junior)

Outside of certain circles, Tom Ruegger may not be a name that is synonymous with animation. But throw out the titles on which he was executive producer and helped create — “Animaniacs,” “Tiny Toon Adventures” and “Pinky and the Brain” — and images of really smart and fun cartoons come to mind. The multiple Emmy Award-winning Ruegger is heading up a new cartoon that launches on Disney XD on Monday called “The 7D” that hopes to capture the fun spirit of some of Ruegger’s other shows.

“The 7D” is, as its name might suggest, about the tales of the Seven Dwarfs — 30 years or so before their fateful run-in with Snow White. Living in the Enchanted Forest in the kingdom of Jollywood under the rule of Queen Delightful, the dwarfs are the area’s “most trusted” heroes, righting the wrongs that arise and often thwarting the plans of evil-doers when the queen calls for help.

“I was very intrigued about taking these classic personalities that are so important to the company’s foundation and carefully nurturing them so that we didn’t do something too completely blasphemous,” Ruegger says. “We realize that this is a fairly radical approach to them, but one thing that I realized about it is that it’s so different from the original that people might forgive us.”

Doc, Bashful, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey and Happy in "The 7D." (Disney Junior)

Doc, Bashful, Grumpy, Sleepy, Sneezy, Dopey and Happy in “The 7D.” (Disney Junior)

Fox, where “Animaniacs” and other shows were originally based, had a much different and general audience than Disney’s XD or Jr. channels, which skew very young in the tween demo.  With sillier plot lines and a unique style of animation, the show’s tone is, and has to be, very different from those other projects.

“There weren’t really many channels totally focused on kids when we made ‘Animaniacs’ and ‘Pinky and the Brain.’ As we went along on ‘The 7D,’ the folks at Disney Junior encouraged us to make something that Mom and Dad can get a laugh at,” says Ruegger. “That’s always been my hope in working in cartoons. Mindful of the target audience of course, but I’d love to get other demographics in front of the set as well.”

Ruegger is more than happy with being able to cast Dopey (Dee Bradley Baker), Doc (Bill Farmer), Grumpy (Maurice LaMarche), Sneezy (Scott Menville), Happy (Kevin Michael Richardson), Sleepy (Stephen Stanton) and Bashful (Billy West) with such skilled and veteran voice actors, many of whom he’d worked with already.

“Maurice as Grumpy and Kevin Richardson as Happy are the yin and yang of the group. Happy’s the heart and soul, and Grumpy is the crank that turns the handle on the group dynamic. Those two played back and forth with each other so well.”

One of the additions to the fairy tale is newlywed couple and 7D nemesis Hildy and Grim Gloom, played by Jess Harnell and Kelly Osbourne. Ruegger knew he had to create more of an obstacle for the group than daily chores, so he went with this magical duo bent on taking over the kingdom.

A recording session for "The 7D" featuring Jess Harnell and Kelly Osbourne, who play Grim and Hildy Gloom, with executive producer Tom Ruegger. (Todd Wawrychuk / Disney Junior)

A recording session for “The 7D” featuring Jess Harnell and Kelly Osbourne, who play Grim and Hildy Gloom, with executive producer Tom Ruegger. (Todd Wawrychuk / Disney Junior)

“I don’t know why I thought it was such a funny idea … but they’re newlyweds that are sort of hipsters in the way they dress,” Ruegger says. “Jollywood is sort of a starter kingdom, so they need to conquer it and show off their stuff.”

A few of the actors are more famous for their live-action work — namely Jay Leno as the Crystal Ball, Whoopi Goldberg as the Magic Mirror and voice-acting novice Osbourne as Hildy. Ruegger praised Goldberg’s readiness and willingness to have fun, and he said Leno would come directly from “The Tonight Show” ready to go, and “you don’t want to get in Jay Leno’s way,” comedy-wise. All seemed to fall into Ruegger’s lap and all fit well into the cast. Osbourne was a particularly great find.

“Our ace in the hole. She’s been absolutely a revelation,” Ruegger says. “She started without having ever done voiceover work before, and she grew into the role so quickly. We had her come in with Jess Harnell for most of the session and they got along so well. We encouraged her to go off script sometimes, and some of that made it into the show.”

The show comes during a sort of renaissance of fairy tale programs that cater to very different audiences. From the popular princess cartoons like Disney Junior’s “Sofia the First” to shows like ABC’s “Once Upon a Time” to the decidely-not-Disney-but-still-fairy-tale-based gritty NBC drama “Grimm,” familiar storybook characters have made a big return to TV. Ruegger will be joining the fairy tale fray but is not worried about continuity or sameness.

“As far as entertainment goes, I kind of like it. My family and I watch ‘Once Upon a Time.’ We are into it with very positive feelings about it. I went to see ‘Snow White and the Hunter’ …. Nobody’s offended me yet. But we’re staying close to Jollywood to create our own type of mythos there, and we’re even trying to come up with our own rules of nature,” says Ruegger.

“I think we’ll probably run out of the [fairy tale genre projects] soon, then another 25 years will have to pass until we come back to them again.”

– Jevon Phillips | @storiz@LATherocomplex

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