Long before he was directing big-budget extravaganzas like Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton was just carving a name for himself as a director after being fired by Disney. Burton brought his unique vision to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, which director Duncan Jones (via Twitter) called Burton’s best picture. Burton’s gothic sensibilities and dark humor, along with a bravura performance by Michael Keaton, turned Beetlejuice into a comedy classic. However, was there anything about the original film that screamed, “Saturday morning’s kids cartoon?” Then again, Ruby-Spears produced 65 episodes of Rambo: The Force of Freedom and if a traumatized Vietnam vet could get his own animated series, why not a freelance bio-exorcist?
The animated version of Beetlejuice debuted on ABC in the fall of 1989 with the concept being significantly retooled to be somewhat family friendly. The protagonists of the original film, Adam and Barbara Maitland (played by Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis), are not seen or referenced on the show. Instead, the series focused on the friendship between Beetlejuice and teenage misfit Lydia Deetz, originally played by Winona Ryder and now voiced by Alyson Court, who portrayed Jubilee on X-Men. There’s no mention of the fact that Beetlejuice almost murdered Lydia’s whole family. Here, Beetlejuice has been re-imagined from a lecherous psychopath to a lovable con man and unrepentant prankster. Whenever Lydia desires to escape the drudgery of suburban life in New England, she speaks the name of Beetlejuice three times and summons the ghost with the most for a wild adventure. The majority of their exploits take place in the Neitherworld, a surreal dimension that will remind Looney Tunes fans of Wackyland. The Neitherworld is a far cry from the hellish, bureaucratic afterlife depicted in the movie.
While in the Neitherworld, Lydia hangs out with a colorful cast of characters that include Ginger the tap dancing spider; Jacques LaLean, a skeleton with a French accent; the gruff Monster Across the Street; and Beetlejuice’s car, Doomie, who could be a distant cousin to Benny the Cab from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Beetlejuice’s bizarre antics are a constant annoyance to the citizens of Neitherworld and it’s usually up to Lydia to bail him out of trouble, especially when it involves sandworms.
Beetlejuice’s off-the-wall humor and ability to shapeshift will remind some viewers of the Genie from Disney’s Aladdin. But, Beetlejuice’s jokes aren’t as tame. While they are still G-rated, his sense of humor is crude and tends to favor body odor, icky bugs, and really corny puns.
Although three episodes were included on the 20th Anniversary DVD and Blu-ray of the original film, the animated series hadn’t been released since the VHS era. Shout Factory has rectified the situation by releasing this brand new complete series collection. The first four discs of the set include seasons one and two of the show’s initial run on ABC. During season four, Beetlejuice moved to Fox who upped the episode order for broadcast on weekday afternoons. These installments are spread across eight more discs.
The video is presented in its original fullscreen aspect ratio of 1.33:1. The picture quality is extremely rough with a lot of grain along with plenty of unsightly scratches and specks. Colors are quite faded.
The audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. The sound is flat, but perfectly adequate for an early-90’s television show. Audio lacks any distracting pops or distortion.
Film Value: 6
Shout Factory has done a splendid job in restoring the childhood memories of my generation with the releases of shows like M.A.S.K., Rocko’s Modern Life and Beetlejuice. Unfortunately, a lack of bonus features and the grungy picture quality keep this from being a wholehearted recommend. Still, the die-hard fans will easily overlook these negatives and shell out their hard-earned money for the complete series.