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The Art of BoJack Horseman: Rian Johnson's tearful reaction to Season 1 and more insights from the hit Netflix show

Contributed by
Aug 31, 2018

At first glance, Netflix's BoJack Horseman resembles a really strange acid trip. After all, it's set in a universe where humans and talking animals co-exist side by side.

Upon further inspection, however, you find the hit animated series is actually a really profound rumination on loneliness, selfishness, depression, and the overall human condition. The titular character (voiced by Will Arnett) is our doorway into this world that can be super depressing at times, but can also be hilarious and heartfelt, just like our own world. Even with such a surreal premise, the show never loses sight of trying to figure out what makes us tick socially and emotionally. 

After four glorious seasons (and a fifth on the way), Abrams Books has published BoJack Horseman: The Art Before the Horse. The book (aside from being a clever play on the phrase "putting the cart before the horse") explores the origins of the series and the various influences on creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg. It goes on to showcase the initial artwork done by production designer/producer Lisa Hanawalt, pitching to Netflix, efforts of the writing staff, the process of animation, and more. 

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Credit: Abrams Books/Netflix

For fans of BoJack HorsemanThe Art Before the Horse offers over 200 pages of fun, behind-the-scenes tidbits and images that you just won't find anywhere else. 

Here are some fun "Hollywoo" facts that we learned from reading the book...

Horsing Around: An Essay:

It all began in sixth grade (circa Sept. 16, 1994) for Lisa Hanawalt. She wrote an essay about herself, in which she described her love for horses in detail, along with an equine illustration. 

"To start off, I'll make it clear that I like horses. I REALLY like horses. I REALLY, REALLY like them ... People make fun of me and call me 'Horse Poop' and 'Lady Horse.'"

Well, who's laughing now?! 

Hanawalt actually went to school with Raphael Bob-Waksberg, and their long-term friendship would turn into a fruitful professional relationship in the entertainment industry. And while it was Mr. Bob-Waksberg's original idea, it was Hanawalt's unique art style that would embed itself in the minds of viewers. 

From the Muppets to Roger Rabbit:

As we said above, BoJack Horseman is a somewhat surreal piece of art. With that said, its alternate reality of talking animals alongside regular humans is reminiscent of classics like The Muppets and Who Framed Roger Rabbit. These genre-bending precedents served as major influences on Bob-Waksberg, who also wanted to poke fun at the world of entertainment, which is where NBC's 30 Rock came in.

His pitch was that "we were going to start with a wacky goofy cartoon show and it was going to start getting darker and darker so it becomes like a Girls or Louie or even Mad Men."

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Credit: Abrams Books/Netflix

“Bojack the Depressed Talking Horse”

In 2010, Bob-Waksberg sent an email to Hanawalt, telling her about his idea for a new show. 

"Hey, do you have a picture of one of your horse guys, by himself?" the email starts off. "I came up with this idea for a show I'd like to pitch. Tell me what you think ... BoJack the Depressed Talking Horse."

Indeed, a bunch of the creator's initial ideas were very different from what we ended up getting on the show. For example, BoJack's freeloading housemate Todd (voiced by Aaron Paul) was named Topher, and Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins) was BoJack's agent. Then there was Honeybucket, a horse-person who also acted in TV during the '90s; Diane, Honeybucket's girlfriend; and Chelsea, BoJack's ex-girlfriend.

Obviously, Mr. Peanutbutter took the place of Honeybucket, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie) became his girlfriend, and Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) took over as BoJack's agent and ex.

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Credit: Abrams Books/Netflix

The Disney connection:

While it's got talking animals and jokes, BoJack Horseman is as far from Zootopia as you can possibly get. It's not a Disney production, but it is produced by the Torante Company, founded by former Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner.

Eisner recounts the first time he ever heard Bob-Waksberg's idea, saying:

"Thinking that sounded interesting, original, and theatrical in this century — yet harking back to my youth of Mister Ed, the talking horse from the early sixties — I simply said, 'Yes, let's do that one.'" 

You're 'whale'-come:

If you watch the show, you know that most of the breaking news is delivered via Tom Jumbo-Grumbo, a news anchor who is also a blue whale and voiced by none other than Keith Olbermann. When writing the early scripts, Bob-Waksberg described the character as "a Keith Olbermann-type," not thinking that they'd actually hire Olbermann to do the voice; it was just a simple descriptor.

However, once they were able to lock him down for the series, they recorded his lines over the phone, while he was in New York. After all the dialogue was finished, they asked respected political commentator Keith Olbermann to start making whale noises that they could use.

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Credit: Abrams Books/Netflix

"And he says, 'Mmmmmmrrrrwrwrwwrwr!' [whale noises] and it's like, 'That's Keith Olbermann!' Making whale noises for our little cartoon," Bob-Waksberg recalled.

"We were like, 'Can you make a noise like you're spraying water out of the back of your head?'" added supervising director Mike Hollingsworth.

The concept of "a [insert celebrity here]-type" did make it into the final product, with Adam Conover (Adam Ruins Everything) voicing "A Ryan Seacrest Type."

Rian Johnson weighs in:

The same year that we learned he'd direct Star Wars: Episode VIII, Rian Johnson was openly weeping over the first season of BoJack Horseman

Not long after the show premiered on Netflix in 2014, Aaron Paul received an email from The Last Jedi director, which said:

"I just finished BoJack Horseman Season 1 for the second time, and I had no idea that I would cry so much watching a cartoon on television."

Johnson was such a fan that he got a small role on the show during its second season.

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Credit: Abrams Books/Netflix

Head on down to the following gallery for a look at a collecton of the book's interiors! You can pick up a copy for yourself on Sept. 4, the Tuesday after Labor Day.

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