Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Real Ghostbusters Vol. 1
TV on DVD review by Sombrero Grande

Who you gonna call for nostalgic '80s cartoon fare that won't let you down? The Real Ghostbusters!

The Real Ghostbusters (dubbed "Real" to distinguish itself from another '80s cartoon, not based on the 1984 film, called simply The Ghostbusters) follows the adventures of Peter Venkman, Ray Stantz, Egon Spengler, Winston Zeddemore, Janine Melnitz and their "pet" ghost, Slimer, as the troop of spectral eliminators repeatedly saves New York and the world from the evil machinations of the paranormal.

I've written before about cartoon shows from the '80s and '90s that don't hold up as well to my adult eyes as they did when I was a kid, but thankfully, The Real Ghostbusters isn't among their ranks.

What separates The Real Ghostbusters from these other shows is the quality of the stories. The writing, line-for-line, is about on par most other Saturday morning cartoon fare of the time, and the animation is barely passable at best (characters go "off-model" so often you'd think it was intentional), but it's the stories as a whole that still manage to suck me in as an adult viewer.

One in particular included in this set involves the most clever twist on Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol that I can recall. The Ghostbusters, caught in a snowstorm in the mountains, accidentally pass through a time rift and end up in Dickensian London. It's there that they overhear an old man being tormented by ghosts and proceed to bust in and trap the apparitions. Upon returning to their own time, the foursome learn that the old man was Ebenezer Scrooge and that they trapped the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future, leaving the world a far worse place where everyone is uncaring and there's no Christmas. While Egon must hunt-down and rescue the trio of spirits in the containment grid, Ray, Peter and Winston go back through the time portal and attempt to pass themselves off as the ghosts to teach Scrooge the lessons he must learn to restore the world to the way it should be. In the process, Peter learns to see past his own "Scroogeness" about the holiday.

In another episode, the ghosts of New York form their own television studio to allow them to be "broadcast" through any TV set. When the Ghostbusters infiltrate their way into the demonic transmission tower, they must not only blast their way through ghost parodies of shows like Star Trek, He-Man and Leave It To Beaver, but confront a ghoul that encrusts himself with commercial products, from cars to household appliances. To attack, the ghoul hurls these products at the heroes, spouting evil twists on commercial catchprashes. As an adult, watching this scene in a kids' cartoon show that so mercilessly mocks the whole central construct of ad-supported television programming, it really made me smile. It's clever and fun stories like this that still make me come back for more from The Real Ghostbusters to this day.

The Ghostbusters themselves, while they may look and sound very different from their live-action counterparts, for the most part are written just as, say, Bill Murray would play Dr. Venkman. I find it interesting that Lorenzo Music (the voice of Garfield in cartoons) voiced Murray's character in these episodes of The Real Ghostbusters, while Murray went on to voice Garfield in the Garfield movie after Music's passing. Arsenio Hall, long before his career as a late night talk show host began, voiced Winston. Maurice LaMarche, perhaps best known for later voicing Brain in Pinky and the Brain, gives voice to Egon while Frank Welker, another very prolific cartoon voice actor, speaks as both Ray and Slimer.

There are 30 episodes spread across 5 discs in Volume 1, comprising over 11 hours of Ghostbusters goodness. Nearly every episode features at least one short introduction by one of the cast or crew of the show, usually containing a bit of trivia about the episode. Some episodes sport an optional isolated music and effects track, and a few include "visual commentary" that's really a treat. In these, the commentators appear in their own windows alongside the episode and stills in an impressive and fun treatment I haven't seen anywhere else.

Other special features included in the discs are stills galleries, a wonderful behind-the-scenes featurette on making the animated series, as well as some scripts and storyboards in PDF format.

The discs of Volume 1 are packed tightly in a very nice tin case and are accompanied by a booklet that describes each of the episodes and offers a bit of trivia about some (such as, when Egon is inside the containment unit in the Christmas episode I mentioned earlier, ghosts that were caught in the previous twelve episodes can be spotted pursuing him).

According to the booklet, the episodes have been "meticulously gone through" and ordered according to what "best reflects the production and storyline continuity of the series." It's clearly evident without even needing to read that line that "meticulous" is a fantastic word to describe the treatment given to this great show in this fantastic DVD release. If you were ever a fan of The Real Ghostbusters as a kid or are intrigued about checking out the show for the first time today, this DVD set is a wonderful vehicle. Hands down, this set is a gem and should be in the collection of any fan of the Ghostbusters or '80s nostalgia.


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