Macabre was nothing new to television. One only has to look to The Addams Family or The Munsters for proof. Those were decades before Saturday morning cartoons came into prominence. The genre was stagnant until Tim Burton brought his refreshing-at-the-time but now dear-Odin-please-go-away gothic sensibility to the mainstream with the film Beetlejuice. Seeing the opportunity, the adult comedy was spun-off into a cartoon that not only changed the general tone of the source material, but was surprisingly good.
If you’ve seen Beetlejuice (and the correct answer’s yes), feel free to skip this paragraph. The Maitlands (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) died, and are tethered to their house as ghosts. The Deetzes (Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and Jeffery Jones) move in with their obtuse modern art consuming the house. The Maitlands awaken Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton), an obnoxious con-artist spirit, hoping he’ll help them rid the house of the Deetzes.
All caught up? Good. Knowing the general plot of the movie (which you should have watched by now!) will make this easier. Though the cartoon shared the same license as the movie, many changes occurred to make it palatable for children, and some randomly. The Maitlands were gone, while Beetlejuice and Lydia (Ryder’s character) were now best friends, going on misadventures in the
afterlife Netherworld. And a mess of new characters were added.
Burton helped develop the show, but considering how he “directed” The Nightmare Before Christmas, I’m not so sure. Danny Elfman’s theme music was used. Since it sounds like the rest of his scores, I’m not sure anyone noticed. None of the actors reprised their roles for the cartoon, which was to be expected at the time. The show was mostly centered on puns, visual gags, pranks by Beetlejuice, and of course parody. Unlike many other shows that dipped into parody, this aped less treaded properties such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and of course, Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.
The show had an odd airing schedule. Three 13-episode seasons were produced for ABC’s Saturday morning line-up. Fox, increasing their cartoon catalog, ordered a standard 65-episode syndication run. The last year new episodes aired (1991), episodes were on Fox Monday through Friday, then ABC on Saturdays. Strange times, man.
I remember KB-Toys having some sort of free give away tie-in with the series. The commercials instructed kids to say ‘Beetlejuice’ three times to the cashier to receive whatever nonsense thing it was. My mom took me specifically to get it. They had already run out. I was crestfallen.
The complete series just released on DVD. It’s a solid collection if you’re a fan. If you run across an episode or two, give it a shot. It’s still a pretty decent show, unless slapstick gothic humor isn’t your thing, then this totally sucks.
Did you get my free toy? DID YOU?? Comment below!
In addition to THN’s Saturday Morning Cartoons and Nerd at the Movies, Tony writes for his own site, thecredhulk.com, about comics, video games, movies, TV and more, six days a week. You can follow his updates on Facebook or Twitter. Drop by and tell ’em hi.