This was a surprisingly good cartoon from the 1980s. It was loosely based on the hit 1984 movie of the same name. If you haven’t seen that movie, you can stream it on Netflix and should do so soon. The characters are good, the dialogue is good, I’m a little confused about picking the Environmental Protection Agency as required interfering government agency, and the special effects still hold up pretty well despite being nearly 30 years old. The effects aren’t Industrial Light and Magic, but the movie tried to rely on them as little as possible. It’s a weird, well-done comedy.
I’m not sure what prompted the development of a cartoon. The premise of the movie, people catching ghosts, certainly was good enough for a cartoon. In fact, such a thing was already the premise of a cartoon already called “Ghostbusters.” This featured two guys, a gorilla, and a talking car and they used magic to catch ghosts instead of science. Consequently, the cartoon based off of the movie was called “The Real Ghostbusters.” This confused me because when I watched the show, I didn’t know there was a movie nor did I know about this other cartoon.
The show used the four main characters from the movie, Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, and Winston Zeddmore. Peter remained a tall guy with brown hair, but Ray was changed to a short, plump, red-headed guy, and Egon the tallest and skinniest guy with a blonde mullet/Elvis-style curl. To further differentiate the characters each of them wore a different-colored jumpsuit – Peter’s was dark brown, Ray’s was khaki, Egon’s was blue, and Winston’s was white. The show also brought in Janine Melnitz, their sassy secretary who had exaggerated ’80s hair. I am led to understand these changes were due to copyright issues if they made the animated characters look too much like the movie actors, even though the show was based on the movie. That makes no sense to me, but I don’t work in Hollywood. Unfortunately, the cartoon also brought in Slimer, the hungry little green blob ghost. The cartoon was also set in the firehouse and they kept Ecto 1.
Egon: I have a plan.
Peter: No electro-shocks, Egon.
Egon: Okay, I have another plan.
The characters were much the same as the movie, if slightly toned down for kids. Ray was the child-like optimist, Egon was the mad scientist, Peter was the sarcastic one, and Winston was the down-to-Earth one. Janine was sassy, not annoying, and occasionally helpful. But then there’s Slimer. Ugh, Slimer. He was basically a cross between a dog and a toddler. Initially he provided comic relief and a source of annoyance to Peter, whom he liked to slime the most. On the scale of annoying ancillary characters, he ranked well below the Annoying Pup and Orko. However, as the show progressed, Slimer became a bigger and bigger part to the point the show was renamed, “Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters.” At that point, Slimer bypassed Orko because he literally stole the show and is only second to the Annoying Pup on the scale of annoying ancillary characters.
There was a lot of talent involved in this cartoon. The first story editor was J. Michael Straczynski, who I really like as a writer. He has a good feel for both short-term and long-term stories. The voice talent (at least initially) was also most excellent including the legendary Frank Welker as Ray, the great Maurice LaMarche as Egon, the late, great Lorenzo Music as Peter, and Arsenio Hall as Winston. I don’t know who offhand voiced Janine, but she was pretty good.
Peter: Egon, I had a thought.
Egon: You had a thought?
The animation was also not too bad for the time (see “He-man” for comparison) if not terribly consistent. A lot of work went into making the various ghosts and ghoulies look different. At the time, the American company producing the show outsourced the animation to various Japanese studios, which is why the animation is of variable quality and the main characters don’t have quite the same design. But the Japanese animation studios drew from anime, which may be why there was so much variety in the monster designs. Some looked like human caricatures and some looked like horror movie monsters. There was no over-arching story, as was typical of the time, although some of the ghosts did show up more than once. Some episodes featured a lot of ghosts, so I really do appreciate that the animators/designers weren’t lazy and just color-swapping one design. The dialogue was good with a lot of puns and one-liners, especially from Peter, although Egon and Janine got their own digs in.
Peter: Egon, I’ve told you if you want to stay on this planet you have to learn to speak our language.
Like many cartoons, there was a lot of puns in the episode titles which most children wouldn’t get, but showed the production team’s sense of humor. For example, what kid watching Saturday morning cartoons is going to get, “Apocalypse, What Now?” or “Bustman’s Holiday?”
Sadly, the show suffered a great deal from executive meddling.
Egon: Sometimes I think the universe just waits for me to get cocky.
For whatever reason, the executives thought Slimer was the real star of the show and they mandated more tie-ins with Ghostbusters 2, which wasn’t necessary. They also softened Janine’s character a good deal because some psychologist said she wasn’t feminine enough. Sigh. Executive meddling has been the bane of many a good show.
Egon: Really, Peter, such trivial things should be beneath you. Besides, it was my turn this time.
The fun of the series was seeing the day-to-day life of the Busters in a way the movie couldn’t show, and in a way that was entertaining for kids who had never seen the movie. I also have a soft spot for witty banter and sarcastic one-liners. This may not come as a surprise to anyone. I think it’s best to watch the seasons before Slimer and executive meddling took over the show and JMS left as story editor, but there are some episodes after the meddling that are also pretty good.