The Complete Series
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Reviewed by Will Harris
any films have been transmogrified into animated form and graced the airwaves on Saturday mornings, but setting aside Disney’s contributions to the genre, many – okay, let’s say most of them – have rightfully fallen into obscurity over the years. Sure, there are probably fans of the Jim Carrey trifecta of animated series (“Ace Ventura, Pet Detective,” “The Mask,” and “Dumb and Dumber”), but did we really need cartoon adaptations of “Police Academy” and “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes”? Given the curve, you can see why it’s hard to convince people that a show called “The Real Ghostbusters” would live up to the standards set by the second “Ghostbusters” movie, let alone the first one.
Why the addition of the word “real” to the show’s title? Funny thing: there was a live-action show in the 1970s called “The Ghost Busters,” where Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch busted ghosts with the help of a gorilla named Tracy. When Messrs. Akyroyd, Hudson, Murray, and Ramis came, saw, and kicked box-office ass, the producers of the ‘70s show – Filmation – decided to offer up their own animated series, conveniently leaving out the space between the words “ghost” and “busters.” As you can imagine, Columbia Pictures wasn’t going to take that sitting down, so they decided to make sure the kids wouldn’t get duped by calling their show “The Real Ghostbusters.”
Next question: what made “The Real Ghostbusters” such a successful animated adaptation? Not to belittle anyone else involved in the series, since it was a very talented crew across the board, but it really comes down to one man: J. Michael Straczynski. If the name sounds familiar, it probably is, though the reasons for its familiarity may vary. Most recently, he wrote the script for Clint Eastwood’s “Changeling,” starring Angelina Jolie, but fanboys may know him best for having created “Babylon 5” and for his foray into writing comic books. He spent most of the 1980s, however, as a writer for various animated series, including “He-Man,” “She Ra,” and “Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors.” The beauty of “The Real Ghostbusters,” however, is that Stracyznski was allowed the opportunity to write to his heart’s content without the studio constantly looking over his shoulder.
It helped, of course, that the original “Ghostbusters” film offered up characters which were easily adaptable to cartoon form. With the primary trio, Dr. Ray Stantz was wildly enthusiastic, Dr. Peter Venkman was wildly sarcastic, and Dr. Egon Spengler was a genius who could generally be counted on to have an answer for everything while being rarely able to grasp the subtleties of basic human interaction. You had “the new guy,” a.k.a. Winston Zeddemore, who added the perspective of the average Joe to the group. And to round out the bunch, there was the Ghostbusters’ trusty secretary, Janine Melnitz, the only other person on the staff who could match Venkman’s sarcasm. There were concessions for the kiddies, of course, most notably the decision to transform the green spud-looking ghost from the film into the Ghostbusters’ sidekick and name him Slimer. But more often than not, “The Real Ghostbusters” played like a proper spin-off from the film, rarely wavering from the established mythos and, indeed, expanding on it in a way that the fans appreciated. We got the back story on how Slimer wormed his way into the team’s hearts after sliming Venkman in a hotel hallway, were introduced to the family members of various Ghostbusters (including Peter’s and Winston’s fathers, Egon’s mother and uncle, and Ray’s aunt), and found out that Egon’s interest in the paranormal first began when he was regularly stalked by the Boogieman when he was a child. After the second “Ghostbusters” film emerged, the series tied in with that as well, featuring an episode where the team utilized mood slime and – yes! – the addition of Louis Tully to a few episodes as well. There’s also a visit from despicable EPA man Walter Peck at one point, plus several drop-ins from the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man and occasional references to Gozer.
Given that cartoons tend to be dumbed down for the Saturday morning demographic, “The Real Ghostbusters” also proved to be a rarity on another level, offering a surprisingly dark tone and some downright creepy-looking ghosts, goblins, trolls, demons, and other assorted evil creatures, with designs ranging from the wacky to the surreal. Not unlike “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” horrific beings from throughout folklore and mythology were transformed into nemeses for the Ghostbusters, including Samhain, various gods and monsters, and even the Sandman, who embarks on a plan to put the entire world to sleep. There were also many pop culture references aimed at the parents’ sense of humor rather than their kids, including a suggestion to reverse the polarity of the neutron flow (borrowed from “Doctor Who”), comments by Peter than he’s a fan not only of “Moonlighting” but also of “The Bob Newhart Show” (Peter’s voice was originally provided by Lorenzo Music, who was the co-creator of the latter series), and even a couple of references to the works of H.P. Lovecraft.
Was it all genius? Of course not. As the series progressed, the powers that be decided to tweak the series and change its title to “Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters,” providing extra Slimer-centric adventures to the episodes. Fortunately, while this set includes all of those cartoons, they’ve kindly been moved to the last discs, so as not to interfere with the viewing experience of those who’ve come looking solely for the adventures of the Ghostbusters themselves. There are also some episodes which went less for a blend of horror and humor and got a bit too silly for their own good, but it’s possibly no coincidence that those tend to be the episodes which contain neither commentary nor introductions.
For all the love that fans have for this series, it’s still hard to offer up a recommendation to anyone outside of the established aficionados, simply because of the tremendous cost involved. If you’re a fan of the original movie, however, and you’ve got kids, you might see if Netflix is going to be stocking “The Real Ghostbusters: The Complete Series.” If so, consider checking out a disc or two and see just how well done the show was. If you are a fan, however, then there’s no question that this is a must-own item.
Special Features: As with most Time-Life productions, there’s a veritable treasure trove of material to be had. Spread throughout the set are new introductions by the various writers, producers, and voice actors, many of whom also provide visual commentaries for various episodes; several episodes also offer isolated music and effects tracks. There are also a plethora of photo galleries which offer a look into the character designs and layouts from throughout the run of the series, stretching all the way back to its embryonic stages. The set is divided into five volumes, each of which is home to a featurette: “Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts: Creating ‘The Real Ghostbusters,’” “Animating ‘The Real Ghostbusters,’” “Who You Gonna Call?: The Heroes of ‘The Real Ghostbusters,’” “Something Strange in Your Neighborhood: The Creatures of ‘The Real Ghostbusters,’” and “He Slimed Me!: The Green World of ‘Slimer! and the Real Ghostbusters.’” Beyond that, there’s even a separate disc consisting solely of bonus material, including the original promo pilot (with optional visual commentary), extended interviews with the creators and voice actors, and other items. And, lastly, let’s not forget the DVD-ROM features, which provide the series bible as well as various scripts and storyboards for the show.
The packaging itself, however, counts as a special feature. Each of the five volumes comes packaged in its own steelbook case, and there’s a thick booklet which lists off the episodes, offers bits of trivia about each one, and indicates what features are on what episodes. The outer box, meanwhile, is designed to look just like the firehouse that the Ghostbusters called home, with holographic depictions of Slimer as well as the ghost from their logo. In other words, the description “awesome inside and out” is an accurate one.