1984 was a HUGE year for movies.
Really. Check it out. It’s like the universe cracked open and poured out 90% of my favorite films ever.
Among the many absolute cinematic legends (Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, Police Academy, The Karate Kid, Revenge of the Nerds, Romancing the Stone, Red Dawn, Splash, Amadeus – THE LIST GOES ON) the highest grossing film that year was the blockbuster Ghostbusters. It shaped childhoods and was so widely beloved and such a surprise smash that it of course had it’s share of money woes as everyone tried to hop on the Ghostbuster Express to Cash City.
Now, much like my last Out of the Toilet, I’m not here to talk about a CRAZY popular intellectual property, but rather, something often forgotten and/or much maligned by pop culture.
Today’s post is all about one of my favorite shows – Filmation’s Ghostbusters.
It’s somewhat well known that Ghostbusters the film went into production before they had secured the rights to the name “Ghostbusters.” They had no idea that back in 1975, Filmation had produced a live action children’s show called The Ghost Busters. They say they learned late in the game, but in a move of surprising dickery, they decided to just go ahead and use the name anyway. Ghostbusters the movie came out and was a SUPERMEGASMASH and Filmation was all WTF.
So Filmation unchained their lawyers and sued Colombia for roughly two dump trucks full of money – and rightly so. Sure they were sitting on the then currently unused and obscure copyright – but Colombia should have at least tried to research for a copyright before production started (and if one existed, licence it from them). The suit was wisely settled quickly out of court – but in the settlement Filmation attempted a rather cunning attack. They secured the rights to solely use The Ghostbusters name in Animation. Filmation then backed up this right by secretly developing a cartoon series based on Ghostbusters the movie.
It was win-win. They would be the only ones who could use “The Ghostbusters” by name in their nigh monopoly of children’s animation, and they had a completed pitch for a cartoon based on the film. Everything was turning up Filmation, until Colombia for some reason didn’t want to do business with a company that just sued them. DIC reached a deal with Colombia, and they dodged the court settlement by naming their cartoon The Real Ghostbusters.
Filmation kicked itself soundly for not being more concrete in its settlement requirements – but rather than let it’s “The Ghostbusters” title go to waste, they started hasty work on creating a Ghostbusters cartoon based off their original property The Ghost Busters.
Their project started with a couple of adverse qualifiers before they were even out of the gate. Firstly, The WORLD knew the Ghostbusters as the Murray lead team of social misfits and blue collar workers that wisecrack and trap ghosts – meanwhile, in a world WAY before anyone thought people would care about home video or old TV programs, NO ONE knew about the original Ghost Busters. There was very little chance that kids (or adults) would care about a new Intellectual Property that seemingly stole the name from their new favorite thing (even though it was the other way around). Secondly, the original concept of the live action show was clunky at best – The Ghost Busters live action show was a slapstick driven vehicle for old F-Troop favorites Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch who basically WERE their characters from F-Troop (don’t fix what ain’t broke). They would always have to go to the same castle on the outskirts of town in every episode and deal with a ghost in some way. Two old guys and a poorly made gorilla suit doing the same thing over and over. It was far from innovative, engaging, or toy driven (as ALL of Filmation’s properties were in the 80’s).
Things seemed pretty grim from the start.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT
The original Ghost Busters from ‘75 was about the incredibly dry straight man Jake Kong, the zoot suit clad Eddie Spencer, and their smarter than average propeller beanie wearing gorilla Tracy. They busted ghosts with the help of their Ghost Kit and their Dematerializer. Their adventures were usually framed around a bunch of bungling.
[Filmation’s] The Ghostbusters takes place one generation into the future, where Jake Kong Jr., Eddie Spencer Jr., and the same Tracy (though now REALLY smart and sporting a cool Indiana Jones fedora) have inherited their father’s business, their headquarters – The Ghost Command (a haunted mansion tucked between massive skyscrapers), cool equipment, haunted artifacts, and their ape. It’s not an easy transition for the two men, who have had little contact with their fathers over the years and know relatively nothing about ghosts.
It’s all silly fun until Jake and Eddie are thrust into action when their fathers disappear and the time traveling Prime Evil comes to the present, but remains trapped in the Fifth Dimension. From there he commands a crew of motley evil ghosts from his Hauntquarters. (More on that in a second.) Prime Evil is part robot and part ghost because FUCK YOU, IT’S AWESOME. The guy is just fucking evil, and wants to break the barrier between the dimensions, and lead his unstoppable ghost army across the Earth.
WHY IT WAS COOL
# 1 THEME
There are a lot of reasons I really love this cartoon, but right off the bat is the world in which the show exists in. In the movie Ghostbusters, Ray, Egon, Winston, and Venkman are all insiders (more or less) to the scientific and reality grounded world of New York City. Their self designed and built equipment sweeps up ghosts like a garbage man cleans streets, and though they brush with the paranormal and the metaphysical – they have a classification and a scientific reason for each spook spector and ghost. In [Filmation’s] The Ghostbusters, Jake and Eddie are untrained outsiders in a world where the paranormal coexists with the normal, and reality is always in flux. They don’t have classifications or fancy science on their side – they have a few gadgets built and maintained by a gorilla and are constantly out of their depth. They get to go through a transformation sequence where they’re ripped from reality and imbued with powers from the Spirit World. They are heroes and adventurers picking up a family legacy (one that’s basically unknown) of being bad ass battlers against evil forces.
The best way to frame it is that Ray took out a loan and geeked out over a car. Jake inherited a haunted mansion in the middle of Manhattan and his car is a geek.
# 2 ARTWORK AND MUSIC
Secondly is the frankly GORGEOUS artwork and music. The animation is cheap and recycled (much like in most of Filmation’s cartoons) but the designs are sound and the backgrounds are LAVISH. Especially the Spirit World and transformation sequence backdrops.
The theme is one of my favorites from any 80’s cartoon, and the insidental music is mostly original from episode to episode. They build a large library that they can pick from – and it makes for a much more animated show (despite the sometimes lack of character movement).
# 3 THE VARIOUS THEORIES OF DEMATERIALIZATION
Thirdly is the idea of Dematerialization. I had my theories of what this exactly meant, but in my research into this article I discovered a small community of fans that had pulled apart this very idea and proposed three varying ideas of what the technology was, and how it worked. The first thing to consider is that a ghost shot with a dematerializer is returned to the Fifth Dimension (The Spirit World). So it’s easy to assume that being shot with the Dematerializer would open a split second door to the Spirit World and suck the target back. This is unsound because any missed target shot accidentally would return to the Spirit World, and it only seems to work on ghosts sent from the Spirit World. The second and slightly more sound idea is that the Dematerializer is a time machine of sorts, and that it de-ages ghosts – robbing them of their powers. This sounds feasible given the amount of time travel in the show (more on that to come) – but Go-er community member Nix (Go-er is apparently the nickname of a Filmation Ghostbusters fan) has suggested the currently held group belief that a Dematerializer does just what it’s name suggests. The ghosts that exist on Earth have a corporeal state of being, and a blast from the Dematerializer dissipates this state and sends the ghost reeling back to the Spirit World.
Yes, you can think that hard about it.
# 4 CHARACTER STYLE
Jake and Eddie have casual clothes that they wear off duty WHICH ARE AMAZING.
Also, Jake’s hair is awesome. I styled my own hair after his when I was a kid, and I never changed it.
Speaking of Jake, he’s not just the everyman/leader of the group – he’s also quite the ladies man. He’s clearly dating the famous redheaded news reporter Jessica Wray.
BUT he’s also flirting with Futura, the Ghostbuster of the future who teams up with them on many adventures (more on time travel in a second).
# 5 THEIR STUFF
Ghost Central, the Ghostbuster’s HQ is a haunted mansion FILLED with stolen relics, trophies, and strange powerful paranormal items.
From their answering machine, AnsaBone who answers the phone and insults the caller (something I wish I could design for cell phones to force people to actually answer their phones in a timely fashion) to the Skelevator that takes the Ghostbusters into a part of the Spirit World where they’re suited with their uniforms. It’s clear that Jake and Eddie are sitting on not only PRIME NYC real estate but a wealth of unimaginable supernatural power and technology – which they usually squander on menial labor and tasks.
PLUS everything in their own HQ FUCKING HATES THEM. All of the stuff in the mansion is constantly pulling pranks on them or generally making life more complicated. It’s like if you tried to look up directions on your phone and a skeleton hand pops out of your phone and hits you with a pie. I REALLY like the fact that it’s always an uphill battle for Jake and Eddie to get anything done.
Their equipment is insanely powerful. Each Ghostbuster is equipped with a GhostPack which is like a TARDIS – nearly infinitely larger on the inside than it is on the outside. Each creating a pocket dimension full of useful crap they can pull out whenever they need it. Plus they also TURN INTO FUCKING JET PACKS. Lets see the TARDIS transform into something cool OH WAIT IT CAN’T BECAUSE IT’S BROKEN.
But that’s not the only Doctor Who-like connection
# 6 THE CONCEPT
Like I mentioned before, Prime Evil is from the future.
On the Ghostbusters first training exercise with their Dads, they successfully trap Prime Evil in a massive vault inside a mine. Since he’s too powerful for their equipment, they think “job well done”, and they strike back home and leave him there to rot. Or whatever ghosts do. Oh that’s right, HE’S A FUCKING GHOST AND CAN’T DIE. Prime Evil is trapped there for 100 years, and at the tail end of that time, he “befriends” a mutant bat creature called Belfry who he tricks into releasing him.
Now in the year 2086, he forms his legion of ghosts and takes over the Earth.
THE BAD GUY WINS.
Back in the present, Jake and Eddie are watching the Skelevision and realize that the horrible things they’re seeing in the future are actually THE REAL FUTURE. THEY REALIZE THAT THEY CAN SEE THE FUCKING REAL FUTURE AND IT SUCKS. So they run to tell their Dads about this crazy shit, only to find them kidnapped – INTO THE FUTURE!
So Jake and Eddie team up with a super smart gorilla and hop into their belligerent talking car, the Ghost Buggy, which transforms into a plane/rocket and then they ACTIVATE THE TIME TURBO AND GO TO THE FUCKING FUTURE.
AND THAT’S THE FIRST EPISODE OF THE SHOW
YOU ARE NOT MISREADING THAT
They cover the existential horror of being imprisoned for 100 years, a bad guy who’s competent and actually takes over the world, and novice protagonists that jump into the frying pan to TRAVEL TO THE FUTURE TO SAVE THEIR DADS.
The entire first 5 episode arch is all up for free on Youtube!
I present them now for your viewing pleasure because I’m awesome like that.
BONUS: The episode where The Ghostbusters travel to the 1600s and have to stop a witch trial!
So hopefully this helps you get reacquainted with [Filmation’s] The Ghostbusters. If you never gave it a chance as a kid because of The Real Ghostbusters – I think you may want to give it another chance. Just be warned – it’s a children’s show.
From the 80’s
There are cool ideas and awesome art, but you’ll be saddled with some ANNOYING AS FUCK sidekick characters that talk in terrible voices.
But if you survived Snarf, you can make it through Belfry and Brat-a-Rat.