Filmation Associates/Tribune Broadcasting Co (September 13 1986), BCI/Eclipse (February 27 2007), 3 discs, 688 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $39.98
Ready to hop out onto the streets with the real Ghostbusters? Long before Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston coined the phrase, there were others who trapped ghosts for a living! Now, their sons have teamed up with a nutty gorilla, reporter Jessica and female time-travelling Ghostbuster Futura to journey around the globe battling Prime Evil and his cohorts.
The Sweatbox Review:
Filmation ruled the Saturday morning airwaves along with Hanna Barbera during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, with a seemingly never-ending wave of continuous animated offerings, The New Adventures Of Superman, Tarzan: Lord Of The Apes and Flash Gordon among them, plus many shows built around the popular Archies comic characters. In 1975, Filmation moved into live-action television with Shazam! featuring Captain Marvel, and an original property, The Ghost Busters, starring F Troop’s Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch as its heroes, with Hollywood horror aficionado Bob Burns as the smartest of the group, Tracy the Gorilla.
As with their animated shows, producers Lou Scheimer and Norm Prescott made the show fast and cheap, though it was unique among the vast amount of strictly cartoon fare that made up Saturday mornings and proved something of a modest hit. The set up seemed perfectly suited to animation, but its central concept of a group of easily scared spook-hunters might have seemed too close an “homage” to their rival’s Scooby-Doo, and the live-action path was followed. Years later, when Columbia Pictures was mounting its phenomenally successful 1984 blockbuster, it was discovered that Filmation owned the rights to the coined phrase, and since the name had popped up all through the script and on signs during shooting, the now-Sony owned studio had no other choice than to license the Ghost Busters name for their movie.
All of this, according to who you believe, led to a later falling out between the to companies. With the movie clearly a global box-office success, Filmation’s Lou Scheimer understandably felt that it was in the running to produce an eventual animated spin-off. Columbia informed Filmation, however, that an animated show would not be forthcoming because they wanted to concentrate on a feature sequel. Filmation, quite justly as the owners of the trademark and concept, went ahead and developed a show based on their original 1975 series, this time going the animated route and basing the characters on the supposed children of the original stars.
When Columbia ran into management upheaval problems and a Ghostbusters sequel was put on hold, they were none too pleased that another project – and frustratingly for them the original – might make it to the screen first, steal their thunder and draw attention away from their proprietary characters. Columbia teamed quickly with cut-rate TV animation suppliers DIC Animation and rushed out the first series of the misleadingly titled The Real Ghostbusters. To prevent court action, Scheimer had to change the name of his show to Filmation’s Ghostbusters, though the now famous single-word spelling remained.
Completely different to the admittedly popular Columbia spin-off show, Filmation’s Ghostbusters saw Jake Kong Jr, Eddie Spenser and Tracy the Gorilla battle weekly villain Prime Evil and his hoards of various ghouls, ghosts, goblins and other monsters. The series opener, in true syndicated series style, is a five-part “movie” episode (all contained on Disc One), which would have run over the first week’s worth of shows to get viewers into the habit of watching. In part one, I’ll Be A Son Of A Ghostbuster, the 1975 Kong and Spenser – now animated but apparently still authentically voiced by Tucker and Storch – pass the baton on to their kids when Prime Evil first strikes. It’s a quite an ambitious first set of shows, spanning time like no-one’s business, but it sets up the characters, how everyone fits into the show and why, and has immense fun with the “factory line” process of suiting up (footage repeated each episode), with backgrounds like something from a mad Bakshi movie. The old-style Ghostbuggy is also a character, with the show’s main logo coming to life on the front grill and making obnoxious comments.
The five-episode arc continues in part two, Frights Of The Roundtable, which transports the guys back to Stonehenge before going even further back for the third part, No Pharoah At All (directed by Tom Sito, as are a number of episodes) and to the very beginnings of time in part four, The Secret Of Mastadon Valley. The series opener concludes with the fifth and final part, The Ones Who Saved The Future, which sees the guys coming face to face with Prime Evil before finally rescuing their kidnapped fathers, tying up the lose ends and setting the characters on the playing field for the rest of the series. These first five shows are among the best of the entire collection here, since it deals with introducing the characters and setting up the conventions of the show. There’s also a fun factor in actually having the original Tucker and Storch characters turn up and take part in fairly significant secondary roles, lending Filmation’s Ghostbusters a sense of continuity, even if the programs past and present wildly differ in various ways of execution.
The rest of the series is less concerned with carrying over plots and becomes more a routine syndication program, with self-contained stories and no allusions to other shows or even the five-parter opening (disregarding how several characters were left). Disc One rounds itself up with two more episodes: Witch’s Stew, and Mummy Dearest, the titles being pretty self-explanatory. Disc Two’s episodes (highlights in bold text) are: Wacky Wax Museum, Statue Of Liberty, The Ransom Of Eddie Spenser (actually my first experience with the show in the 1980s), Eddie Takes Charge, The Great Ghost Gorilla, A Friend In Need and No Mo’ Snow, a pre-global warming story which now works for other reasons and is just as topical today.
On Disc Three, we get: Prime Evil’s Good Deed, Cyman’s Revenge (quite a departure, and a quite an exciting space adventure), The Headless Horseman Caper, Banish That Banshee, Rollerghoster and He Went Brataway. Disc Four’s shows include: The Looking-Glass Warrior, Laser And Future Rock, Runaway Choo Choo, Dynamite Dinosaurs (fun shades of Godzilla), Ghostbunglers and My Present To The Future. Finally, Disc Five features: The Beastly Buggy (where the Ghostbusters meets Wacky Races it seems!), Belfry Leads The Way, The Battle For Ghost Command, Going Ape, The Haunting Of Gizmo, and Ghostnappers. All episodes usually finish with a coda that recounts the lessons learned within the show, but these are quite fun and not too overly preachy.
Thanks to the 1980s TV animation boom, the drawing quality in Filmation’s Ghostbusters is well on par with the best that was coming out at that time and the backgrounds are as good as the studio was always known for. Rather than rely on the one-liners and physical slapstick comedy that were mainstays of the original live-action series (also available, for comparison, on DVD from BCI) this animated show feels a little more tuned to Filmation’s “1980s style”, where boys’ toys had become big business after the rush of He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe and She-Ra, Princess Of Power, with much more of an emphasis on action and gadgets. Though his army of spooks are suitably kooky, Prime Evil himself likewise seems to be a hangout from another show. This unfortunately has the effect that Filmation’s Ghostbusters ultimately becomes more of a routine program, and despite the memorable premise couldn’t stand out enough from the crowded animation screens.
Unfortunately, the spat with Columbia Pictures over the animated shows and the licensed title would also prove difficult to overcome. As soon as the Columbia/DIC movie spin-off came along, the Filmation show was quickly eclipsed by the by-now more marketable and recognisable version. Some broadcast affiliates not only dropped the show but also began to cease ordering other Filmation product in favor of that from other rising studios including Nelvana, and DIC, of course. One further attempt to mine the toy market with another syndicated series failed, and a misguided attempt to switch to producing big-screen semi-sequels Pinocchio And The Emperor Of The Night and Snow White: Happily Ever After on the usual slim budgets eventually led to the demise of this unique studio.
If the company had managed to secure the Columbia series, no doubt Filmation would still be in business today. The studio is finally receiving due credit for the mostly cheap but good work they put out in the formative decades of television animation, and Filmation’s Ghostbusters remains an interesting combination of what they had been capable of in the past, and where they might have been headed.
Is This Thing Loaded?
True to form, BCI and regular Filmation bonus producer Andy Mangels have put together a nifty little package that complements this overlooked show, and provides much more than would be expected. The main menus offer up the usual selections of an episode list or a “play all” option, with nice animated links and touches.
Filling up Disc Six, the real extras begin with four series creator Interviews, with producer Lou Scheimer, writer Robby London and directors Tom Sito and Tom Tataranowicz. Filmation co-founder and long-time executive Scheimer is a mainstay on these BCI collections and always gets over a ton of information, even in a brief time, which he is only allocated here. He speaks candidly about not being able to secure the animation rights to the Columbia Pictures spin-off, and how the show is a sequel to the 1976 live-action series. Writer London elaborates on the creation of the epic five-part opening and the sense of family at Filmation, while Sito explains how the show was a departure from the routine actioners that had been being churned out, and Tataranowicz reveals his approach and things he found pleasing to work on during the Ghostbusters run.
Shot against a green screen for potential later manipulation, the interviews here, as with the live-action series release extras, drop that idea to present the soundbites “picture in picture”, with the Ghostbusters title and logo running at the front of each piece and along the bottom of the screen. Again, it’s nice to just hear the participants explaining their thoughts without cutting away to intrusive clips, though the running time is slim at around 12 minutes total, bolstered up by 90 seconds a time with a long end credit scroll and logos. Still, the info is worth checking these little nuggets out.
A Storyboard Slideshow is next, for “episode 22”, here called something else that’s hard to make out on the small panels, but which looks to be Laser And Future Rock found on Disc Four. While the panels are small, this is more down to Filmation’s process of using a number of pencil sketches on the same piece of paper, and only the full sheets have been scanned in here. No matter, this is an interesting look at how a show was mapped out and is presented as video, running 11 minutes, at a leisurely pace and accompanied by an instrumental version of the main theme (which loops and could end up driving you nuts).
The almost nine minute Original Promo Pilot is next and is something quite cool: the network presentation Filmation made to secure sales of the series. Narrated by what sounds like Lou Scheimer, it cleverly uses animated clips from the completed series within the Skelevision’s frame to introduce the characters and their basic motivation. It’s a nice potted sample of the show, which sneakily rests on showing off the good-looking special effects, some of the better shots from the series, and that suiting up sequence again. Fun fact: the end plate shows off the original title treatment before the program was re-christened Filmation’s Ghostbusters.
I shouldn’t say this, but I found the Ghostbusters Anti-Drug Spot to be hysterically of its time. With a young punk character offering Jessica’s nephew some stuff, the Ghostbusters come along just in time to stick up for the little guy. I don’t know, but seeing as these guys supposedly bust ghosts for a living, I’d have expected something along the lines of a spook trying to lure Jessica’s nephew over to the afterlife or something, and the result here is a little lame. That the nephew is the audience’s demographic-target age is probably what led them in this direction, but this 30-second spot isn’t the strongest example of these things, though it’s no less welcome to have included here. Model sheets and concept art make up the Image and Promo Art Galleries, split into Heroes & Allies and Promotional Art. With only a handful of images between them, I’d have liked to see a “rogue’s gallery” of villains (perhaps for Volume Two?) and found the promotional items lacking any color (surely some nice posters were made up?) and the ability to see much detail, but again these are things that could easily have been left out, so I’ll be grateful for their inclusion at all.
There are more scanned images on the disc’s DVD-ROM material, which comes in the form of five PDF scripts that present the five-part origin story. As usual, you’d have to be a real hard fan to sit script in hand along with the episode to spot any changes, but I like this kind of stuff for the breakdowns and notations, which go a long way to revealing the production process. While scripts for all the shows in the set really would have been un-needed overkill, BCI get it right by selecting just the right five here.
Wrapping up the related extras is the full live-action The Ghost Busters episode, The Maltese Monkey which really makes it quite obvious that Filmation had coined the phrase and set the basic template for this kind of concept long before 1984. The show, starring original spook hunters Forrest Tucker, Larry Storch and Bob Burns’ Tracy the Gorilla, isn’t the best of these outings, but as the debut episode it’s the natural pick. The rest of the series can also be checked out in another very fine BCI collector’s pack, so I won’t go into the program itself here since it is presented as an extra. As such, it’s a great little addition, and a nice peek into what came before, though I will add that this transfer seems to be a little cleaner than the one presented in its respective collection.
The Ghost Busters live-action opening can be caught again in three pages of Ink & Paint Previews for other Filmation shows available from BCI. Individually selectable, or running 11:40, 9:20 and 5:15 in their respective blocks, Filmation’s feature Journey Back To Oz is the only title that sticks out for being the one true theatrical trailer included in the bunch; a novelty in itself. The rest are mostly the opening titles for a number of other memorable shows, including He-Man, She-Ra, Groovie Goolies, Hero High, Ark II and Flash Gordon among many others. Nostalgia itself!
Three thin-pak cases hold two discs apiece, housed within a durable outer slipcover. The fronts of the sleeves and the discs present individual character art on each, with three original design model sheets reprinted on the reverse viewable through the clear plastic insides. We don’t get the usual booklet, which could have featured trivia and episode guides, but this doesn’t feel especially “missing”.
Ink And Paint:
Those who watched the show in its 1980s heyday will love the transfers here: they’re sharp, uncompressed and a world’s difference from the almost home-authored, blocky look of a Duck Tales or Gummi Bears from a much bigger studio. A little clean up has been done as routine, lending the shows stability but without taking away the vintage nature of the material.
Presented in Dolby Stereo, the sound is likewise perfectly suitable for the standard of the show and probably better than we remember hearing it on air or from previously released videotapes. A Spanish-language track, which is still Dolby 2.0 but sounds much narrower, is also available.
Its name probably gives Filmation’s Ghostbusters its biggest curiosity value in terms of today’s audiences, who may love it or hate it depending on what they think they’re picking up. It should be clear from the giant monkey on the front that this isn’t the Dan Aykroyd-inspired show, and therefore it seems collectors will be the ones in line, out for another fix of childhood nostalgia. As such, they’ll be pleased with the smattering of extras BCI and Mangels have provided, and more than satisfied with the presentation here. A second set is scheduled to complete the series, for which all I can say is, “Let’s go, Ghostbusters!”
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?