After the success of the first Ghostbusters movie, Columbia Pictures wanted to bring the franchise to television and the cheapest way to do that was as an animated series that could appeal to kids. Thus was born The Real Ghostbusters cartoon which ran from 1986-1991 and spawned countless toys, comic books and kept an entire generation of fans invested in busting ghosts. A couple of episodes even follow up on the events of the first film (one showing how the Ghostbusters got their new colorful uniforms, another showing how the “Real” Ghostbusters were involved in the making of the movie which lead to the cartoon. “Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis? What is that? A law firm?”). Towards the end of the series the show began taking cues from Ghostbusters II, including introducing the character of Louis Tully (Rick Moranis’ character from the films).
The show ranged from creepy to silly and introduced a whole slew of ghosts for the Ghostbusters to capture. Some of these were well-known paranormal phenomena drawn from myth or fictional stories such as the Boogey Man, Samhain (the spirit of Halloween), the Three Ghosts of Christmas, the Sandman, Cthulhu, the Headless Horseman (who is now a Headless Motorcyclist) and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
For an animated children’s show in the 1980’s-90s, the show dealt with some scary stuff and adult themes. In the episode “The Grundel” a young boy is talked in to doing bad things by a ghost (The Grundel) which causes him to become a Grundel himself in a rather terrifying transformation not normally seen in a kid’s show. “Ragnarok and Roll” features a man who ends up almost destroying the world because his girlfriend broke up with him, turning him into a creepy entity in the process. Numerous episodes deal with bullying and the effect it has on children. Other episodes deal with Peter trying to reconcile with his estranged (and sometimes devious) father. The music also lends to the creepy atmosphere of some of the episodes.
Since this was an animated series, it was able to do things a live-action show or movie couldn’t due to budget restraints or leaps in logic. In the episode “Mr. Sandman, Dream Me a Dream” a giant pizza flattens Ecto-1. One episode features animals talking and driving cars like humans. There are also numerous trips to other dimensions and even a few visits inside the containment unit where all the ghosts are stored after they’re captured.
Some of my personal favorite episodes:
“Mrs. Roger’s Neighborhood” – The Ghostbusters are called to investigate a haunted house owned by a sweet, little old lady who actually turns out to be a demon called Watt who is intent on releasing all the ghosts in the containment unit. Watt’s possession of Peter, while at times comical, is also a tad frightening (or at least it was for me when I watched it for the first time as a kid).
“Knock, Knock” – Some construction workers digging a new tunnel for a subway end up opening a doorway that LITERALLY TELLS THEM “Do not open until Doomsday”. Chaos ensues, including a pretty cool fight on a subway train full of ghosts.
“No One Comes to Lupusville” – A surprising episode that deals with class warfare, as a town controlled by two groups of vampires (one group wants to go public, the other wishes to remain hidden) clashes over their future. Things get even more complicated when it is revealed that the original townspeople are actually werewolves who have been imprisoned by the vampires. When a war breaks out between the vampires and werewolves, there are some startling results.
“Once Upon a Slime” – Slimer’s late library book starts bringing fairy tales to life with alarming results after being exposed to one of Egon’s new machines.
“Flip Side” – Peter, Ray and Egon get transported to a parallel dimension where “People Busters” (who are ghost versions of the three Ghostbusters) try to capture humans living in “Boo York”.
“Citizen Ghost” – Peter tells a reporter about the events following the Gozer attack (which occurred in the first movie), including how Slimer ended up living with the Ghostbusters and how their old uniforms became haunted creating ghostly (and deadly) versions of the Ghostbusters.
Episodes like these were incredibly well done for a children’s cartoon show. Everything from the writing to the animation was top-notch. Sadly, some behind-the-scenes creative changes (including changes in voice actors) and the show being changed to appeal more directly to younger viewers meant a drop in ratings and interest. The series was cancelled in 1991 but did garner a short-lived spin-off in 1997 (Extreme Ghostbusters) and remains a fan favorite to this day.