Veteran voice actor Rob Paulsen is known for playing many characters in hundreds of animated films and television series. In addition to voicing Yakko and Pinky from Animaniacs and Pinky & The Brain, Paulsen also had the incredible opportunity to bring two ninja turtles to life in the form of the 1990's iterations of Raphael and Donatello.
The voice actor recently beat throat cancer just in time to reprise both Pinky and Yakko for the 2020 Animaniacs series, which will also see another thirteen episodes released this year.
Despite all of the popular characters that he's played, he admits that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are the most universally loved - so much so, in fact, that he explained to us how the magic of 'turtle power' helped to save not only his life but many others who have shared their stories with him as well.
We sat down with Paulsen to discuss many things, and when we brought up his new book, Voice Lessons: How a Couple of Ninja Turtles, Pinky, and Yakko Saved My Life, we got to learn a lot about the life-changing (and life-saving) stories he had to share with us. One of the stories is about how he helped a young boy named Chad outlive his doctor's expectations by years.
"My good fortune to be involved with Chad and his family; to have them accept me, essentially, as a family member, changed my life in no small way. It gave me my first glimpse into the power of real turtle power. We used to say it all the time on the show and lots of t-shirts and bedsheets. You can buy a coffee cup, it says, 'turtle power!' But I got to really see what this young man believed; that turtles were the real deal. It's in the book a lot about what Chad meant to me and how his family and we bonded over a freaking cartoon character.
Courage, empathy, kindness, joy, and love often come from the most unexpected places. And it turns out that Yakko, Pinky, Carl, Raphael, Donatello, and even Snowball are sources of incredible joy to people, but even more deeply things that if you hear other people, not my words, maybe kept them from suicide, or got them through an impossibly acrimonious divorce. Or they were in the foster system from the time they were six months old. Now they're 40 and married. And I'm here with my kids and my wife, and we're all wearing our old school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirts because we want to tell you what it meant to their dad and this woman's husband that Ninja Turtles was there every time he had to go to a new foster home are you [frick]ing kidding me? So I learned all that firstly from Chad.
But then, when at 60, I was given the diagnosis that I might not be able to speak again. They're going to save my life, but can you sing like Yakko again? Can you sing as Pinky if the show comes back? We didn't know, but it didn't really matter once I got involved because getting through it was really what I was all about. Just getting through it. But then, people who love me reminded me of, 'Hey man, you don't even have to watch a cartoon. All you gotta do is start singing.' (Sings) 'It's a great big universe, and we're all really puny. We're just tiny little specks about the size of Mickey Rooney. You might think that you're essential. Try inconsequential. It's a big universe, and you are not!"'
"Look what's happening to you. And it happened to me. That's no small thing, man, to be able to see what that does to other people. So now, when I get to have these wonderful conversations with nice young folks like you, it reminds me that I have a bigger opportunity to do good, to spread joy and kindness and laughter. I know how integral it is to be dealing with a miserable circumstance, but I can do more now because I know the power these characters have. I understand. It's way bigger than a paycheck. It's way bigger than an action figure. It's way bigger than a rating point. But look at the opportunity I have now because I know what I got, and I know how to use it. I also have added my own anecdotal experience where I know how you feel about the power of these characters and the joy.
I have a friend of mine whose little boy was just diagnosed with leukemia. And this kid eats, sleeps, and breathes Animaniacs. 'Could Yakko-' you won't even get it out of your mouth before I say, 'when's he going to be home? When's he going to be at the hospital? When will his parents let me talk to him? Are you kidding me? I'll talk to that little boy all damn day.' And again, I'm not special. We all do it. But I know now what that will mean because little Chad, he made it to, I think, 25. They expected him to make it to 16 or 17, but that boy died loving Ninja Turtles. And the 40-year-old people I meet now will die loving Ninja Turtles. That's a big [frick]ing deal, man."
You can hear what Paulsen has to say for yourself in our full chat with him below. He uses the voices of Rick and Morty's Snowball, Jimmy Neutron's Carl Wheezer, TMNT's Raphael & Donatello, Lilo & Stitch's Reuben/Experiment 625, Goof Troop & A Goofy Movie's PJ, A Land Before Time's Spike, and of course, Animaniacs' Yakko and Pinky from Pinky & The Brain.