The Retro Bin: Filmation’s Ghost Busters (1975, 1986)
There’s something strange in your neighborhood. Who ya gonna call?
Or this squad?
Or how about this squad??
With the 2016 reboot of Columbia Pictures’ Ghostbusters looming on the horizon, today’s Retro Bin will be spotlighting the other team of spook catchers, the team that started it all. A team of paranormal hunters consisting of 2 comedians and…a gorilla? Before the Ghostbusters, there was Filmation’s The Ghost Busters.
To chronicle the Ghost Busters, we first have to go back in time to 1975.
Filmation’s The Ghost Busters was was a live-action children’s situation comedy that ran on Saturday mornings on CBS in 1975, about a team of bumbling detectives who would investigate ghostly occurrences. Fifteen episodes were produced. The show reunited Forrest Tucker and Larry Storch in roles similar to their characters in F Troop.
The Ghost Busters were a trio of bumbling, slapstick and shtick-prone paranormal investigators/ghost catchers named Spencer, Tracy and Kong. The first 2 characters’ names were a play on actor Spencer Tracy, while the latter was an obvious reference to King Kong, but spoilers! The one named Kong wasn’t the ape!
Kong (Forrest Tucker), clad in a numbered jersey, vest and pork pie hat, was the canny, dour-faced leader of the group. Zoot-suited Eddie Spencer (Larry Storch) was a fast talking wiseguy who was quick with the quips. The final member of the trio was Tracy, a gorilla who acted as the team’s Man Friday, lugging around the team’s ghost busting gear and props for any occasion. Tracy usually wore a yellow beanie cap with a red propeller, but would always be seen wearing a different hat when the gang went on missions (where he kept all these hats is anyone’s guess), which would always be to the same haunted mansion. Though Tracy was clearly an actor, Bob Burns, in an ape suit, Burns was always credited on the show as Tracy’s “trainer”, leading some naive kids to believe that Tracy was an actual intelligent gorilla, only to have their bubbles burst by the onset of adolescence.
Each week Spencer, Tracy and Kong would receive orders from some unseen commissioner, then Spencer and Tracy would head to the same antique shop and receive their walking orders from some random prop a la Mission Impossible; said object would then announce “This message will self-destruct in 5 seconds”, Tracy would shrug and start counting down from 5 on his fingers and the object would blow up in his face. Comedy! Then the Ghost Busters would head on down to the same haunted castle, have a slapstick-filled confrontation with the Ghost of the Week and then send him/her to the nether-realm with their Ghost De-Materializer. Wash, rinse, repeat for 15 episodes. Here’s the opening:
Then in 1984, the other Ghostbusters came along. Columbia Pictures did pay Filmation a license to use the name, but they did not want to license Filmation the rights to the movie Ghostbusters when they were looking to produce an animated series. Filmation had even gone as far as to attempt to work with Columbia Pictures and had completed initial design work for a cartoon to be based on the movie. Columbia changed its mind, deciding not to work with Filmation, and the proposed deal fell through (Columbia worked with DiC instead). Undaunted, Filmation realized that they already had their own Ghost Busters show, and decided to make an animated series out of that. A bigger, (somehwat) more kick-ass cartoon, which was in no way an attempt to cash in on the Ghostbusters phenomenon at all. This cartoon debuted in 1986 and was simply titled Ghostbusters. Filmation dropped the word “the” from their series original title and shortened “Ghost Busters” to just one word.
As if someone was begging Columbia and DiC to twist the knife even further, they called their cartoon series The Real Ghostbusters, which must’ve really put a burn in the ol’ britches, since technically Filmation’s show came first.
Just to kick things up a notch (BAM!), Filmation’s animated Ghostbusters was a next gen series, starring the young (teen? twenty-something?) sons of the original Spencer and Kong (when those guys managed to find mates and get busy has yet to be revealed), operating from a small haunted house sandwiched between 2 tall skyscrapers, armed to the teeth with high-tech spook-themed gizmos, some weird connection to the future for some reason and assistance from some other allies while in combat with a band of wicked specters who were sort of a cross between the Groovie Ghoulies and the Legion of Doom. They also employed a different opening theme, which upon revisiting it, actually isn’t that bad. It’s lacking in Ray Parker, Jr., but there are worse songs you can get stuck in your head. It fits the quasi-epic, spooky tone and it’s actually quite catchy.
In case you haven’t figured it out by now, “Let’s Go, Ghostbusters!” was supposed to be Filmation’s answer to “I Ain’t ‘Fraid of no Ghosts!”. Here’s a list of who was who in the animated Ghostbusters universe.
THE GOOD GUYS
- Jake Kong, Jr. – the son of the original Kong from the 1975 series. (So Kong’s first name was Jake all this time. Who knew?) Handsome, blond, straight-ahead, the usual leader attributes. Though Jake was apparently drying out from some undisclosed addiction to snorting ectoplasm, since his nose would twitch whenever ghosts were nearby. (Just one more, man, just one more….)
- Eddie Spencer, Jr. – the son of the original Spencer. Generally klutzy and cowardly, though he would on occasion bust out the jams and prove his worth from time to time.
- Tracy (not Junior) – in-universe Tracy was the same gorilla from the original series, only now colored brown and clad in a fedora, khaki cargo shorts and a backpack. He was incredibly well-preserved considering this was 20 years later. (With plastic surgery and liposuction, anything’s possible.) Also, Tracy must’ve been been doing some serious reading and studying during his decades long absence, since here Tracy is extremely smart and is credited with inventing all of the Ghostbusting gadgets and would often construct one to help a bad situation, in addition to being super-strong and powerful, using his strength to get out of tight spots. If Tracy could audibly order pizza over the phone, he wouldn’t need Jake and Eddie at all.
- Jessica Wray – an intrepid reporter (for which publication I have no idea) who would occasionally aid the Ghost Busters. She also seemed to be hot for Jake.
- Futura – purple skinned lady Ghostbuster from the future. (Why was she purple? Was she an alien? Is gene-splicing a thing in her time? Was she part eggplant? We never found out.) Futura would also frequently team up with the guys and also seemed to like Jake (so Eddie gets no love? That hardly seems fair.) Trivia Time: Futura was originally going to be African-American, but was changed to lavender at the last minute. White-washing, perhaps? Or is it purple-washing?
- Madam Why -a strangely Caucasian looking gypsy who would sometimes aid the guys or give them mystical advice.
- Belfry – a pink kid bat in a red onesie who kind of resembled Winnie the Pooh’s pal Piglet. He fell firmly in the “annoyingly cute tag-a-long kid” archetype.
- Corky – Jessica’s young nephew. Another Aesop-prone kid character. He wore a T-shirt with the Ghostbusters’ logo on it.
- Skell-o-Vision – a skull-shaped TV monitor with a face and feet who could talk. He would usually deliver the little PSAs that were tacked on at the end of the episode.
- Ansabone – another skull-themed prop, this one a talking phone who would crack wise whenever anyone tried to answer him. (“You’ve reached the Ghostbusters at a bad time: they’re here!” or “The Ghostbusters are out –out of their minds, that is!”) hey, you’d be snarky too if you had a constant ringing in your head.
- The Ghost Buggy – no prizes for guessing, this was the Ghost Busters’ car. It spoke with a Southern accent and the Ghostbusters logo at the front of its’ grill doubled as its’ face. He often complained about being weighed down by his passengers (“You guys should call yourselves the Car Busters!”)
- Time Hopper – Futura’s talking transport. Not surprisingly, it could travel through time. Time Hopper had a female voice and personality. Ghost Buggy was hot for her, though the feeling wasn’t mutual.
THE BAD GUYS
- Prime Evil – the resident Big Bad of the show. He was a dark and powerful ghost/wizard (think bad Beetlejuice) with a strangely robotic looking head. He basically held a huge simmering grudge against the Ghostbusters since the original Busters trapped him in a safe for 100 years (why he couldn’t just phase through it is unknown) and so now he turns up week after week to do bad guy stuff aided by his monstrous minions. The Ghostbusters infuriate this guy so much that he can’t even bring himself to say their group name, he usually substitutes it with something like “Ghost Bunglers”, “Ghost Blisters” or “Ghost Bozos”, and whenever he would try to speak their name, he sounded like he was soiling his robe.
- Brat-a-Rat – a mangy looking, legless rat-like creature who was Prime Evil’s Number One suckup and resident snitch. He usually clung to Prime’s shoulders like a pirate’s parrot.
- Scared Stiff – a robot ghost (don’t ask me how such a thing could come into existence –maybe he was the Ghost in the Machine that I’m always hearing about). Usually in a state of quivering cowardice and with the habit of falling to pieces, literally, whenever he was scared.
- Fangster – not just a werewolf, but a werewolf in sneakers! Technically, werewolves aren’t ghosts, but just go with it.
- Misteria – the pale skinned self-proclaimed Mistress of Mists. Extremely vain, she spent as much time primping as conjuring mists. She also had the habit of calling everyone “darling”; perhaps she was the missing Gabor sister.
- The Haunter – a British safari hunter ghost (sure, why not). He could make his pith helmet large and fly around in it. His voice and mannerisms were based on actor Terry Thomas, substituting his ‘r’s for ‘w’ a la another famous hunter, Elmer Fudd. he also had the habit of calling Prime Evil “Old bean” or “Old sport” or “Old boy”, which ticked him off to the point where Prime Evil would usually zap him with lightning or in one episode, shove him inside a jar.
- Airhead – a mummy whose chief trait was that he was very, very, very stupid. He usually referred to himself in the 3rd person and would make “jokes” that only he found funny (“Airhead make joke!”). Mummies aren’t ghosts either, but Team Prime already had a werewolf in their ranks, so why not a mummy?
- Apparitia -a green skinned vampish sorceress capable of conjuring up monstrous apparitions, hence her name. You knew she was a vamp because she talked like Mae West.
- Sir Trance-a-Lot – a skeletal knight whose lance could mesmerize. “A Bad Knight to All”. You knew somebody was gonna say it!
- Long John Scarechrome – a pirate ghost (or ghost pirate, whichever you prefer).
- Flozart – a ghostly musician who not surprisingly unleashed musical based spells. Despite his name, he more closely resembled Ludwig Von Beethoven.
Not only did these new Ghostbusters have to contend with all of that, but they went through this same sequence in every show just to put on their uniforms.
-They had to go through that every day? Hopefully neither Jake or Eddie ever showed up for work after a bender, ’cause that would be one heck of a thing to endure with a hangover.
Of course, this being Filmation, a lot of the same stock animations and sequences were re-used, and there were little Aesops tacked on to the ends of each episode, though Jake never told the kids at home the dangers of snorting ectoplasm.
And I’m just gonna say this: I don’t care if it was random and silly and made no sense….
Unlike their “real” rivals, Filmation’s Ghostbusters only ran for a single season, for 65 episodes. However in this era of reboots, remakes and revamps, I’ve gotta ask: