The Real Ghostbusters: A Look Back
As a child of the 80s, there’s a lot out there to mold and shape an impressionable mind. From Saturday Morning and after school cartoons like Ducktales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, movies like The Karate Kid and The Goonies, and videogames, like Mario or The Legend of Zelda. Out of the massive, churning ocean of things that are vying for attention, there’s always one you remember the fondest or had the biggest impact on you.
For me, it was Ghostbusters.
Anything related to the movies or Saturday Morning Cartoon I would snag, and there was a ton. The massive line of action figures, the horrible videogames on the NES, T-Shirts, Halloween costumes, comics books (which were more of an extension of the animated series, although considerably darker in tone), trading cards, cereal, candy, an official soundtrack, shampoo, toothpaste….
Yes….toothpaste…and it tasted like that cheap five cent gum you would buy at a gas station. Not to be confused with the Slimer Gum, which also came in a tube, had similar packaging and tasted equally like crap.
Whatever could be marketed to impressionable kids I soaked in like a sponge. Out of all the hoopla, though, the one thing that had the biggest impact, and really the thing that spawned all of this, wasn’t the movie but the Saturday morning cartoon titled "The Real Ghostbusters."
Taking off from the movie, Ghostbusters 2 wasn‘t out until the animated series was nearing its end, we followed our heroes, Peter, Egon, Ray and Winston, along with the supporting cast of Janine, Slimer and eventually Louis, as they took on demons, ghosts, vampires, witches, werewolves, trolls, goblins, giant praying mantises….you get the idea. Everything that was “scary” to people, they battled and, more often than not, beat it to pulp, sucked it into a ghosttrap and threw the thing into the containment unit in the basement of Ghostbusters Headquarters. The show had action, comedy and just enough character drama to give us something pretty balanced as far as your 22 minute entertainment value could get. All that aside, most kids like me tuned in every week to see what big, evil (or sometimes misunderstood) ghost the team would be tackling and just to be as close to being an actual ghostbuster as we could get.
Parents weren’t the biggest fan of the show for the same reason I liked it. It was dark, involved demons, ghosts, monsters, mutants and could be scary to a number of kids. I loved all those things.
Children’s cartoons today are nothing like what 80s and early 90s shows like Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles or Ducktales were. It’s all flash, cheaply done and focused on action. The shows from the 80s and early 90s (Batman especially) approached it all like you would if you were shooting a movie. There’s close ups of faces and objects, build up, foreshadowing, actually conversation in dialogue, in other words written as though it were live action and the characters actually existed. Older animated shows were, simply, smarter, more creative and flat-out done better.
More importantly, though, is they take time to get you invested into the characters, their histories and personalities. When you think of, say, “Michelangelo” or “Peter Venkman” you know exactly who that character is because the shows did such a great job putting time and effort in making them real, real to kids at least.
The characters were all fully realized and everyone had their favorite (just like they all had their favorite Turtle, Gargoyle or Thundercat). Egon Spangler was the brainy and scientific one, usually the most analytical. Ray Stantz the warm, thoughtful one who’s considered the “heart” of the team. Winston Zeddmore who’s more the everyday man and then you have Peter Venkman. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him. He’s like the reluctant hero persona: a bit Han Solo, a bit Moe from the Three Stooges. He’s funny, flirtatious, but the show was able to show a sincere side to him as well as the the notion that he could be an all-out hero. There wasn’t a “leader” of the team, all carried their own weight, but Peter was the most widely loved, thanks, of course, to Bill Murray’s portrayal of him in the films as well and who doesn't like Bill Murray?
For the most part, the stories and creatures were extremely inventive and original and the pacing done to always bring entertainment, but I think what I think most kids liked was the sense of empowerment the characters gave us. As mentioned, kids identified with them as they do any popular animated show, but they allowed us to face our fears vicariously through whichever we were most like: even if that meant strapping on a cheap plastic proton pack (the stickers on mine were peeling off) and creeping around your house before bedtime to protect your parents from the goblins in the fridge.
One great movie, one good movie and a fantastic, if not under-appreciated, animated series, the Ghostbusters franchise offered comedy, scares and entertainment across all forms...even if we had to put up with Slimer.
A Brief History of The Real Ghostbusters
-The Real Ghostbusters first aired on September 13th 1986 and ran for six season (two seasons aired in 1987, one on syndication), ending on Octuber 22nd, 1991. In all, it had aired 147 episodes (not including the “Slimer!” spin offs towards the end of its run)
-The original pilot was never aired. It was actually more of a sales promo set to the entire Ray Parker Jr. Ghostbusters song (roughly four minutes in length). In it, the four ghostbusters all wore the same suits from the movie, Peter looked much younger, the equipment looked newer (arguably generic) and Slimer was a villain more akin to the original movie. It’s noted that the animation is superior, though, to the rest of the series to follow (as is often the case with animated pilots and promos made to get someone to buy the idea-which ABC Television did). You can view the original sales pilot here.
-The characters were intended to not look like the actors from the film, but to only have the essence of the characters. Dan Aykroyd stated “Well…I know I’m the fat one.”
-The “Real” was added due to conflict with another show from the 1970s, called “The Ghost Busters.” Due to the success of “The Real Ghostbusters,” “The Ghostbusters” franchise was revived in 1986 as an animated series and actually produced a solid 86 episodes before going off the air in 1988. For those who don’t recall it: it’s the show with the gorilla sidekick.
-The original voice actors included Lorenzo Music as Peter Venkman, (also of Garfield fame), Arsenio Hall as Winston Zeddmore, (also of Arsenio Hall fame), Frank Welker as Ray Stantz and Slimer (a voice acting legend, best known for Trasnformers, notably Megatron.) and Maurice LaMarche as Egon Spangler (another legend, but probably best known as Brain in Pinky and the Brain.)
-A fun fact, Arsenio Hall actually beat out Ernie Hudson, who auditioned to do Winston’s voice. Also, we all know the Murray-Music-Garifeld-Venkman cycle, and that Murray hated the fact that his character sounded like Garfield. But it’s believed his vocal criticism to the studio might have got Lorenzo Music fired from the show.
-J. Michael Straczynski, the head writer for the show and story editor, intentionally made it dark and scary. He drew much of his inspiration from myths, folklores and fairy tales not to mention popular literature. Classic spirits such as The Sandman and The Boogeyman, monsters like Werewolves and Vampires and myths such as Cthulu and Ragnarok were all re-imagined as real things thanks to him and his team.
-Like many US animated series, the animation was outsourced to Japanese animators, in this case KKC&D and the 200+ people who worked on the show. Production was overseen by DIC/Cookie Jar Entertainment (Inspector Gadget, Alvin and the Chipmunks, the Nintendo series, etc...). The series had its share of quality directors as well including Will Meugniot (X-Men, Spiderman, Ninja Turtles) and Art Vitello (GI Joe, Hellboy, Tiny Toons).
-After the second season, the series was made to be less dark and more “kid friendly.” The sidekick Slimer became a marketing tool and episodes began to focus more on him, eventually leading to his own, albeit brief, spinoff series. This caused some of the original talent to leave, people to be replaced and new styles of animation tried, often for the worse. The early episodes were often better animated, written and directed.
-Dave Coulier (yes, that Dave Coulier) took over as Peter Venkman in season 3, Buster Jones took over as Winston Zeddmore in season 4.
10: Night Game
A great one for me to start off with because it shows how far animated shows have fallen. This is an episode with barely any punchlines, jokes or anything really funny at all (although the reveal of Winston playing baseball with a bunch of ghosts is funny). Yes, there was a time when children’s cartoons didn’t have to have joke and punchlines every five minutes done by people with ADD, and this Winston-based episode is a perfect example. It’s a slow drama if anything about Winston being forced to play a baseball game to save one human soul and has some interesting points about good, evil and morality.
9: Slimer, Come Home
I’m actually not a huge fan of this episode, but I can’t deny it’s pretty dark and disturbing and a popular one for fans. Slimer runs away and gets caught up with a group of spirits all congregating to an abandoned building. Eventually it’s discovered it’s a sort of “party” put on my a very powerful and large ghost. By “party” I mean one where the big ghost looks to consume all the other ghosts attending and absorb them. How does he do that, you ask? Well….he lifts up his shirt and there is a giant mouth, beckoning the other ghosts to come. Like kids on chloroform at Michael Jackson's house, they do and now the Ghostbusters have to find their ghostly friend before he is completely digested. Yeah…pretty dark, but it has a sweet sub-plot about the way Peter treats Slimer (which is why Slimer ran away). Good lesson for kids…treat your friends nice or their run off and get eaten by a 20 foot tall demon.
8: The Spirit of Aunt Lois
This episode really has nothing “scary” about it, but an interesting non-action episode with some comedy. Ray’s aunt calls her nephew and his “friends” over to a séance put on by a con-man. Of course, she thinks it’s all real…and eventually it turns into just that thanks to the conman, Mr. Basingame, disturbing the real spirits with his tricks and show. Good characterization, dialogue and shows you don’t need to wow people to get their attention (really what this story is all about to begin with). I always liked seeing the Ghostbusters a little out of their element and portrayed as everyday people. Ray seemed to get the most development with that, one episode even having him return to his home town, but this one had all four plus an asshole conman they can banter with, you can't beat that.
7: The Hole in the Wall Gang
A great suspenseful episode that literally grows and grows. Investigating a house full of ghosts, it’s discovered that the spirits are emerging out a hole in the wall. It’s too bad the Ghostbusters don’t figure this out until after they’ve put hundreds of holes in the wall, not to mention made the original hole 10 times it’s size. A quirky episode with great buildup. What I liked most was the sense of teamwork and camaraderie this episode gave us. Every character gets a chance to shine.
6: Mrs. Rogers Neighborhood
A classic haunted house story that turns really ugly, real fast. Called in to take a look at a little house in the city, the owner is sent off to stay at the Headquarters while the investigation is going on. Of course, even little old ladies aren’t what they seem as it’s Mrs. Rogers herself that they should be investigating. A cool episode with some nice scares and a great twist.This reminds me, the series also had montage sections with actual music and lyrics. You know, kinda like the Scooby Doo episodes where they'll chase a monster around with some awful 70s pop tune in the background. The songs weren't as bad as those, and the directing didn't make it constantly repetitive, but they do date the show a little.
5: Mr Sandman, Dream Me a Dream
No wars. Peaceful, blissful sleep. Not a bad idea, actually. This episode gives us a ghost with a motivation beyond just scaring people. As The Sandman goes around and puts people to sleep, their dreams become reality and even our heroes fall victim. It’s hugely original to see all of New York asleep and their dreams running amok…and boy do New Yorkers have some crazy dreams, including the Ghostbusters themselves. Ray dreams of giant pizza falling from the sky, Peter as "man of the year" and in a Rolls Royce with beautiful women, Egon dreams of Einstein. The only man left awake in New York is Winston, it's nice to see him take control instead of following. Fantastic twist for the ending as well.
4: The Thing in Mrs. Faversham’s Attic
A lonely old woman, living in the same home for over 70s years, finally has someone to go to and get help to look at the strange noises from the attic. Through flashbacks, we see a young Faversham reminiscing about how her father always went up to the attic, but she never knew why. He only warned her to never go up there after returning from it one day with a frightened look on his face. Now, decades later, the noises and voices have returned and gotten worse as a gravely "Faversham" echoes through the old home's halls. The final scenes are rather moving, showing a bit of humanism and emotion completely lacking in most animated shows, especially today, as Peter turns around, sad she's all alone, and walks back into the house to have some tea with Mrs. Faversham...slow fade to black.
3: X-Mas Marks the Spot
Probably the best written episode in the series (Although Egon’s Ghost is pretty touching), this brings up a lot of unique ideas. First, the Ghostbusters, traveling along in the country to (or from) a job on Christmas Eve get caught in a blizzard. Somehow, they get trapped in a wormhole and travel back in time to England. Confused, and not sure what’s going on, they stumble upon of all things, the home of Ebenezer Scrooge. This being Christmas Eve…guess who’s around – the Spirits of Christmas Past, Present and Future. They do their job, capturing the ghosts, not realizing what’s going on but note that something about it all seems familiar. They eventually get back to their time and realized they completely changed history. Christmas isn’t celebrated anymore and Ebenezer Scrooge is an icon to the masses. With the ghosts in the containment unit, it’s up the crew to go back to Scrooge’s place and pretend to be the ghosts to set things right as the real spirits are searched for by Egon. It’s a funny episode, especially the crew trying to show their “ghostly” abilities (involving a wheelchair, flares and a viewmaster with slides.)
2: When Halloween Was Forever
Samhaine, the name given to the end of summer, also known as All Souls Day, is envisioned here as an actual spirit (Sprit of Halloween, that is) who is reborn. Having been trapped for centuries, he wishes to never repeat that hardship and, instead, wants to last forever by having Halloween last forever and for people to worship him again. Samhaine returns a number of times in the series, but his original appearance is very memorable with a great voice, great lines and a great look. A lot of good action and drama in this one.
1: The Boogeyman Cometh
For any fan of the show, this one should be obvious. One of the most creative, well-written and legitimately scary episodes. We follow the story of two children who go to the Ghostbusters with a problem: the Boogeyman is in their closet. Despite the Ghostbusters being, well, Ghostbusters they laugh it off. But this was an Egon episode and, in what I think was the first time I ever saw flashbacks used in a kids animated show, we learn that Egon was haunted by the Boogeyman as a kid, and it’s the reason he became a Ghostbuster in the frist place. Thus, he rallies the team to investigate. It’s actually a great character arc as he finally faces his fears and does what he could never do as a child, and helps these new kids as a result.
I know what you’re thinking, though. Boogyman, huh? But to a kid, that idea was scary enough as is. Then you have one of the most popular series on Saturday morning showing us what is in our closets…and he looks like this fucker:
Who…who the hell designed this? It’s not so much the design as the way it was used in the show, such as when the children look over their covers to their glowing closet and the Boogeyman’s head, taking up nearly the whole frame of the door, is looking back at them and smiling.
You know…for kids!
Or when the children hide back under said covers and all we hear is raspy, heavy breathing, the clip-clopping of his goat hooven feet and see a shadow slowly creep across the room…closer…closer….
You know…for kids!
Even though the Ghostbusters take him out, locking him away forever, the images were already stuck in our little heads. Then they bring him back again later which tells us we can’t believe in the Ghostbusters either…thanks, writers!
There were a ton of classic episodes I had to leave off, notably most from the first few seasons. Knock, Knock, Ragnarock and Roll, Citizen Ghost, Ghost Repellers, The Man Who Never Reached Home…but these 10 are all quality all the way through.
I don’t know where exactly children’s animation turned to cheap, quick-cut action and poorly drawn characters, I'm thinking after the Disney line died off. After series like Ghostbusters, the Disney shows and Fox Animation stopped contributing, it seems it’s nothing but goofy looking characters and stupid stories. There’s no drama or personality anymore and definitely no originality. Either it's imported from japan, a reboot from an early show or are repeats of the old shows in the first place.Then again, I'm older now and don't really watch animated series, so I might be mistaken. All I know is I see more infomercials on Saturday mornings than what I was accustomed to back in the 80s and early 90s.
Ghostbusters is making a comeback, in case you’ve been living under a rock lately. A third movie is in pre-production, a videogame around the corner and blu-ray releases of the films. The best thing in a while, though, is Time-Life’s box set of The Real Ghostbusters series - all episodes remastered, packaged beautifully in a firehouse with a ton of extras that will suck you away into its nostalgic bliss. So strap on your plastic proton packs, bust out the ecto-cooler and enjoy what we hope will be the rebirth of the franchise. It worked for Transformers, Ninja Turtles and even Star Trek.... So long as the world isn't overrun by a massive army of Stay Puft Marshmellow Men.
But if that happens....and you know I had to say it eventually..."who you gonna call?"
Yeah, you're goddamn right.