Filmation Associates/Tribune Broadcasting Co (September 13 1986), BCI/Eclipse (July 3 2007), 3 discs, 726 mins plus supplements, 1.33:1 original full frame ratio, Dolby Digital 2.0, Not Rated, Retail: $39.98
Based on 1975’s live-action comedy show that preceded the Bill Murray blockbuster by almost ten years, the Filmation’s Ghostbusters animated show features the original superstars of the supernatural – Jake Kong Jr, Eddie Spenser Jr – the sons of the live-action series’ characters, plus their demented gorilla sidekick Tracy. They’re out to save the world from Prime Evil and his ghostly foes, from the darkest jungles to the loneliest castles, in the final 33 episodes of the popular show from the 1980s.
The Sweatbox Review:
Filmation’s Ghostbusters – the original paranormal practitioners, remember – return to DVD for the promised second, and final, collection of their animated adventures. The Filmation studio, were justly famous for its wealth of Saturday morning cartoon material, with such gems as The New Adventures Of Superman, Tarzan: Lord Of The Apes and Flash Gordon among them. A foray into similarly produced (cheap!) live-action programming resulted in a number of original properties, chief among them being the 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.
When Columbia Pictures wanted to get into the ghostbusting business for themselves, they had to pay Filmation’s owners for the privilege of using their copyrighted name. Unfortunately, Filmation executive Lou Scheimer failed to press for the animated series rights in return, and Columbia nixed the idea of such a program in favor of a feature sequel. When that proposal ran into its own problems, Columbia announced an animated show – without Filmation’s involvement. Being the original owners of the name and completely within their right to exploit their property, Filmation created their own spook hunting show, though a legal spat with Columbia resulted in their DIC animated show being named The Real Ghostbusters and Scheimer and company’s titled Filmation’s Ghostbusters.
Different in tone and style to the admittedly popular Columbia spin-off show, Filmation’s Ghostbusters found the “next generation” of ghoul spookers behaving in a much more “animated” way: leaning toward slapstick and action over the sometimes too-clever talky Columbia show. Carrying out their adventures from Ghost Command, with several staple sidekicks (including the kid-centric Belfry The Bat) in tow, the guys busted various monsters, mummies and more – all usually under the thumb of the frustrated paranormal principal Prime Evil. An ambitious show, the 1980s toon boom meant that you had to look pretty good on the airwaves, even if it was just for a “one off” weekly exposure, and so Filmation’s Ghostbusters has a certain amount of sheen that disguises its television-rooted shortcuts.
The set begins, on Disc One naturally, with Inside Out, picking up from when the first collection left off with a nicely epic journey to the center of the Earth. Since many of these shows ultimately become variants on a theme, I’ve selected a couple or so from each disc (highlighted in bold text) that stand out for originality or contain interesting ideas. Inside Out is one, and the other episodes on this first disc are: The Sleeping Dragon, The Phantom Of The Big Apple, Shades Of Dracula (an atmospheric episode, well designed from a story by early studio partner Fred Ladd), Outlaw In-Laws, Our Buddy Fuddy, Train To Doom-De-Doom-Doom, and The Princess And The Troll.
Onto Disc Two, where the ghoul catching continues with Second Chance, Tracy Come Back, Doggone Werewolf, That’s No Alien, Scareplane, The Ghost Of Don Quixote, The White Whale, and Country Cousin (probably this set’s lowpoint, where the question of what could be worse than one Belfry is answered). Impressive overall are the number of one-off characters (usually “guest villains”) that crop up in each episode, and fun is the recurring old-style Ghostbuggy, with the show’s main logo coming to life on its grill and never missing the opportunity to make an obnoxious comment at the most inopportune time!
Filmation was famous, of course, for reusing multiple stock shots and animation cycles, but after the first of Disc Three’s episodes, the ghostly video game/hacker story Knight Of Terror, we get completely recycled characters from another series! “Guest appearing” as an homage to an earlier spook-fest produced by Filmation, The Girl Who Cried Vampire features almost identical clones of comical count Drac and Bella from Groovie Goolies, gate-crashing as “new” characters Victor and Vampra – identical in everything but original voice. It’s still quite a fun crossover episode, and the two guests’ appearances – and some recycled animation, natch – make it worthwhile and probably the highlight of this particular collection.
Disc Three continues with Little Big Bat (or “The Incredible Shrinking Ghostbusters”?), Really Roughing It (it took ’em long enough to come up with a Peter Lorre-inspired baddie!), The Bad Old Days, The Curse Of The Diamond Of Gloom, and The Bind That Ties, while Disc Four features Like Father, Like Son (one of only three appearances in this collection of “the Dads” – the original Ghost Busters from the 1975 show), The Fourth Ghostbuster (Jessica’s nephew suits up), Whither Why (uh-oh…four Belfrys!), A Cold Winter’s Night (foreshadowing Treasure Planet’s space-ships and Happy Feet’s dancing penguins!), Father Knows Beast, Back To The Past (Dads to the rescue again when the guys are zapped back to childhood age), and Pretend Friends (a little self promotion here with another tiny reference to Groovie Goolies).
Concluding the series on Disc Five are the last three episodes, including The Haunted Painting and Maze Caves. Since Filmation’s Ghostbusters was always intended as a recurring show, meaning that episodes could be shown in any order or in a continuous loop, the final The Way You Are isn’t anything too out of the ordinary as in syndication it could have been placed anywhere in the run. Even though, I’d still probably pick it as the best of this last bunch and it’s as good as any to end on. Each show, as always, concludes with Filmation’s well disguised moral tag, which recaps the “lesson of the day” that we should have picked up, never feeling too much like a forced lecture or in any was preachy. What these shows do show up, however, is how ineffectual Prime Evil is as a habitual villain – perhaps a real threat would have balanced much more nicely against the often hapless heroes instead of the ineptitude he displays, ultimately rendering him not much of a menace at all.
Completely produced in-house by Filmation exclusively as a syndicated show, its thunder was stolen by the heavily promoted and branded Columbia phenomenon. It was, in Filmation’s favor, a good looking show, and well aimed towards the boys’ market that made their previous outings such as He-Man such hits. Though it could be that I’m seeing these shows too close to having sat through the previous volume, I have to be honest and say there’s a bit of a quality drop in this second half of the series, with the episodes more often than not becoming routine affairs concentrating on the sidekicks (particularly Belfry), and rather thin on the ground with the handful of highlights that really punched through Volume One.
Discounting the Columbia series, and despite the memorable premise, Filmation’s Ghostbusters ultimately still didn’t stand out enough from the growing crop of similar animation programs from other studios including Nelvana, and DIC, of course. An attempt to return to the “toyetic” nature of the He-Man heyday with the Hasbro-sponsored Bravestarr failed when the launches of the toylines and the series missed each other, and the Filmation story finally, and unfortunately, ended. The studio had produced its fair amount of dross along with some truly innovative series over the years, much of it coming to prominence again thanks to DVD. The episodes here don’t particularly point to Filmation’s Ghostbusters being among one of the better entries in their library, but it remains a high energy show, one of quality among a lot of rubbish that was screening from other companies at the time, and a reminded of how far Filmation had come.
Is This Thing Loaded?
While the episodes in this second collection of spooktacular adventures don’t quite incite the general feeling of warmth the first volume pulled out of the hat, the extras themselves really do push the boat out. I was going to suggest that, for anyone but the hardest Filmation’s Ghostbusters fans and the curious, you’re probably safe with sticking with the first collection only for a sampler, but BCI’s supplement supremo Andy Mangels has spooked up a number of indispensable extras that not only touch on this particular series, but appropriately the Filmation story as well.
The extras actually begin on Disc One, with a lone Audio Commentary track popping up for episode 37, Outlaw In-Laws. Directors Tom Sito, Tom Tataranowicz and storyboard artist Michael Swanigan join Mangels for a spirited discussion the covers how Filmation changed the shape of syndicated animation for American television and the challenges of keeping the show visually inventive while having to balance the budget and stock footage requirements of the production. Why was this episode chosen as the lone benefactor of such a track? Search me, as the choice seems pretty random and even the butt of a humorous aside mid-way, but it’s a nice touch.
Almost grabbing Disc Five all to themselves, save for the handful of final episodes, the big bonus here is the The Magic Of Filmation documentary, running a generous half hour and chronicling the history of the studio. It’s clear from the outset that this looks to be a leftover (or repeat?) from one of the He-Man releases (it was also listed for the never-materialised Happily Ever After special edition) since much of the talk is centered around that most successful of Filmation’s series and indeed the name tag graphics feature sidekick Orko in flight.
I would have hoped that the documentary would have been heavier on clips, seeing that Entertainment Rights now own pretty much the entire library, but they turn out to be few and far between, concentrating on the many talking heads, including co-founders Lou Scheimer and Hal Sutherland, and studio crew that went on to bigger things including Tom Sito, Paul Dini and, a surprise revelation for me, Babylon 5’s J Michael Straczynski. Things take a turn towards an odd “funeral tone” mid way, with eulogies to Scheimer and Sutherland, and the constant slow, repetitive background music, though not distracting or annoying, comes over as if these fine gentlemen are being praised after they’ve passed on. It’s an odd mix of platitudes and stories we’ve heard better told on other BCI sets, and most interesting are the occasional snatches of some vintage video footage, much more of which I wish we could have seen.
In similar fashion, a series of Creator Interviews feature voice actor Pat Fraley, and storyboard artist/animators Rob Lamb and Michael Swanigan, building on Scheimer and company’s remarks from the first set. Again shot against the green screen that would allow for backgrounds to be dropped in (as done to great advantage in the Magic documentary), the trio fill us in on production stories and their comments on the series. Fraley reminisces most entertainingly about the vocal recording process at Filmation for over 14 minutes, while Lamb (filmed in his office) speaks about his start at the studio and how Filmation’s Ghostbusters differed from the action-orientated shows they were producing at the time for eight minutes, and Swanigan talks briefly about his Animation By Filmation book for almost three minutes.
On the first set, we were treated to a fairly lengthy promo pilot that served as the network presentation Filmation made to sell the show. This time around, we’re offered an unaired Filmation’s Ghostbusters presentation running just over four minutes, which seems to predate even that promo. Here, we’re introduced to the characters not through animation but by way of some pretty neat design drawings that reveal just how ambitious the early version of the show was. Narrated by what sounds like consummate salesman Lou Scheimer, most interesting are the alternate gadget names and concepts. Although the multi-generational video quality leaves a bit to be desired, that’s actually part of the charm, and we’re lucky nuggets like these have remained and exist at all…fascinating!
I found the public service announcement included in the first collection to be more than a little dated, and lacklustre in its choice of how to use the characters, but the Ghostbusters Anti-Drug Spot #4 featured this time around isn’t so convoluted, being a straight forward, 20-second message to just say “no” from Tracy the Gorilla, and works all the better for being clear and simple. We were presented with a stills gallery for the Heroes of the series in Volume One, and I remarked at the time that I was hoping we’d see some of the more interesting designs for the bad guys in this second set. We’re well covered here with two Image Galleries, split into the hoped for Villains selection, and an assortment of Background & Promotional Art. Totalling 80 images, the promo art is mostly ads we’ve seen in the first set, while the Villains are most in-depth, including a pre-cursor to Treasure Planet’s Long John…?
A DVD-ROM bonus is the chance to read five complete episode scripts (for Inside Out, The Princess And The Troll, The Girl Who Cried Vampire, The Curse Of The Diamond Of Gloom and Father Knows Beast), all of which have been page scanned into PDF form and don’t reveal any Earth-shattering annotations. Fantastic is the added original Filmation’s Ghostbusters Series Bible in the same format, which reads like a text version of the network presentation but manages to include some terrific, black inked preliminary drawings that truly leap off the page. Amazingly detailed, again stuffed with many characters and concepts that didn’t find their way into the final series, this one is a 75-page printout and keeper!
Finally, the original 1975 program is represented with The Ghost Busters live-action bonus episode Dr Whatshisname, featuring F-Troop’s Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch, and Bob Burns in the Gorilla costume. The full 15-episodes are also available in another very fine BCI collection, reviewed elsewhere, so I won’t elaborate on the nature of the show here. This episode, the second in the original run, is better than the debut show included as a bonus on the first selection of the animated version, being a fun-packed run in with the Frankenstein Creature that may entice viewers to check out the rest of this crazy, off the wall, but good natured comedy series.
Rounding out the package – as always with these BCI collections – is a trio of pages promoting other titles from the company’s Ink & Paint brand. Running over 26 minutes in total, these are mainly the opening titles for a host of nostalgic memories, including He-Man, She-Ra, Groovie Goolies, Flash Gordon and the Journey Back To Oz theatrical trailer among many others, making several of these sets more than tempting to pick up.
The first two of three thin-pak cases hold two discs apiece, housed within a durable outer slipcover, which features the bad guy ghosts “invisible” in the black background. The fronts of the sleeves and the discs present individual character art on each, with three original design model sheets reprinted and viewable through the clear plastic on the reverse. The final case keeps the bonus disc safe while also holding a terrific booklet, which was lacking due to space in the first volume. This eight-paged insert lists all the episodes, writer and director credits, synopsis recaps and trivia, making for absorbing reading. A second foldout promotes other animation and live-action releases from BCI and their affiliated distributors.
Ink And Paint:
As with the first collection, the transfers here are probably better looking than when the show originally ran and spooks the pants off the compressed look of Disney’s over-packed television sets such as Duck Tales. Cleanup has evidently been done to help the image appear slightly more vibrant, but this doesn’t detract at all from the correct feel of the 1980s material. There’s a welcome lack of film or videotape grain, color is solid, and overall this is pretty impressive and should be how all TV cartoons are presented.
The Dolby Stereo tracks match the quality levels of the show and the visual treatment it gets here. The tracks could have been too packed, as a great many shows from the time were, but there’s a general holding back of them becoming too busy, perhaps an indication of the good directors supervising the series who wanted to go with the grander approach. A Spanish-language track is also available for each episode, though even if it says it’s also Dolby 2.0, it sounds much narrower.
A curiosity perhaps mainly because of its name, which may bring some new folks to the show expecting something completely different, I don’t think Filmation’s Ghostbusters, in this day and age, will lead to the same kinds of misunderstandings that plagued its original showings. Collectors will, I’m sure, be the first in line to pick up this trip down memory lane (for the appropriately aged!), and while I’d only strongly advise the set for fans who were surprised by Volume One, Mangels and BCI have collected a impressively compelling bunch of supplements that just about pushes this over into a wider recommend for those interested in the Filmation studio and their particular genre of animation.
Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?