Beetlejuice is a children's cartoon series about the relationship between a creepy man and a little girl.
|It's a very unusual TV show for its
time period when you think about it, and it lasted
through two networks and eighty-something episodes. I
can't say for certain how much of an influence Tim Burton
had in the design, but from an outside perspective, it's
got his fingerprints all over it. The whole series is
crammed with bizarre background artwork and highly
offbeat character designs, all with a dark macabre
twinge. In fact the animation gets literally
experimental from time to time during the ABC seasons,
with brief "commercials" rendered in a
computerized cut-and-paste style. Heck, it was unusual at
the time for the main human character of a cartoon to be
a girl, much less one not obsessed with
makeup and ponies. Lydia was the first goth chick ever
animated, at a time when the words "goth chick"
had yet to mean anything.
The only reason something like this could get on the air on ABC in 1989 with no roadblocks in its way was because there had been a successful movie by the same name released one year prior, with similar characters. Only that movie sucked.
Like most kids, I suspect, I didn't see Beetlejuice the movie until after I'd seen Beetlejuice the show, and boy was it a disappointment. Beetlejuice was the BAD GUY! And there was barely any of him -- Michael Keaton only played him for 17.5 minutes of screentime (this is accurate). The entire focus wasn't on anyone from the cartoon, but some stupid ghost couple I didn't care about! Lydia HATED Beetlejuice, and the climax of the movie was a shotgun wedding between the two (seriously, you build this crazy world full of possiblities, and that's the best conflict you can come up with?) No, Beetlejuice is not a movie. Beetlejuice is a cartoon.
It's been unavailable for decades since it left the airwaves, but a boxset of every episode is finally about to become a reality thanks to Shout Factory. The complete set will be a web exclusive, but if it's too much cash, it'll also be released in season increments wherever DVDs are sold. That's all well and good. But it's not the FULL EXPERIENCE....
I have in my possession a recording of the very first airing of the Beetlejuice cartoon on September 9, 1989, as well as everything that came before it (the Real Ghostbusters season premiere, Bugs Bunny and Tweety, and the Pooh half of the "Gummi Bears/Winnie the Pooh Hour"). It's a cool DVD-R to have, especially since the masters of Real Ghostbusters Season 4 got screwed up. Most of the episodes that season were made with the hourlong format in mind and ran either longer or shorter than the standard 11 or 22 minutes. Later on they were hammered into proper-length half-hours by artificially slowing down or speeding up the footage. These changes stayed for the series' DVD set. Any taped footage you can find of the Louis Tully season, despite its middling quality, is worth tracking down. But we're getting off-topic.
Episode 1 of Beetlejuice is called "Critter Sitters." Mr. Juice is at the Neitherworld Shocking Mall (get used to puns, this is the first one of millions) because Lydia insists they celebrate their one-year BFF anniversary by exchanging presents. Yes, it's a weird match, but they take their friendship seriously and it adds a bit of depth to what would otherwise be an irredeemable character. Toon Beetlejuice isn't really a bad guy, but he's still egotistical, selfish and unapologetically gross. As in the movie, he's a ghost (with the most) who comes from the Neitherworld, a crazy supernatural dimension full of monsters, but they don't like Beetlejuice over there either. The main reason why he hangs out with Lydia so much may be because she is literally the only one in two dimensions who can stand him.
The problem is that Beetlejuice is always broke and so he can't buy Lydia anything. We're less than a minute in and he's already breaking the fourth wall out of desperation, mashing his face against the screen and begging the kids watching to "GIMME ALL YOUR MONEY! BREAK OPEN THOSE CERAMIC PIGS, I KNOW YOU GOT 'EM!"
It is very, very hard to take a screenshot for this series that doesn't look extremely weird out of context. But I will try.
Both Beetlejuice and Lydia make their first animated appearances while separately singing the Banana Boat Song by Harry Belafonte (Daaay-O, he say Daaay-O). The song played a role in one of the movie's most memorable scenes. We'll see if they're able to clear it for the cartoon's DVD.
Lydia is home from school, but she can't stick around for long, because she has a new job. Beetlejuice asks what kind of job -- maybe he can get an idea. While he's hanging around he spies a beetle on Lydia's wall and snatches it into his pocket, saying he'll "save this for later." Standards and Practices wouldn't let Beetlejuice eat the beetles onscreen. It's headslapping in retrospect because Timon and Pumbaa came along six years later and chowed down on bugs ALL THE TIME. And that was a Disney production, dangit. I could have handled this.
It is a babysitting job Lydia has, looking after the neighbors' infant son Arlo. "Hey, that'd be no problem!" Beetlejuice thinks. "I can sit on babies for hours!" He calls up some of the monstrosities in his neighborhood and offers his services. The first baby he's sitting belongs to a giant pink gelatinous blob, who barely trusts the guy. "YOU BETTER NOT SCREW THIS UP, BEETLEJUICE," he growls before driving off.
Beetlejuice thinks he can handle several babies at once, so he takes in two more, and yes, he literally plops his butt on them. Unfortunately the third one turns out to be fifty feet tall. He'll be hard to sit on.
While Lydia is with Arlo, Beetlejuice appears in her mirror and confesses that, uh, here's another fine mess he's gotten himself into. Lydia says she'll get there right away and shouts "BEETLEJUICE, BEETLEJUICE, BEETLEJUICE!" Common knowledge is that just summons him, but apparently it can also warp Lydia into the Neitherworld itself.
One element of the series that wasn't used in the film much is that Beetlejuice can morph himself into any shape, although sometimes uncontrollably. He opens a giant barrel of Neitherworld Infant Food Glop, which the babies get everywhere. Beetlejuice loves making a mess and finally begins bonding with the toddlers. Just as things are finally going right, he remarks "Taking care of these babies makes ME feel like a baby again!" ....which causes him to turn into one. Now Lydia has four monster babies (on top of Arlo) to protect, and just before we head to break she wails, "THIS ISN'T WORTH TWO DOLLARS AN HOUR!"
|So here's what aired that morning
besides the cartoon.
They made a doll that drools. "Baby Bubbles," they called her, because she makes bubbles with her spit (JUST FOR YOU!) They already had dolls that cried, blinked, crawled, walked and ran a temperature. Did we need any drooling dolls? Apparently we did. Wait'll I get ahold of THAT stupid elf.
|You're now looking at the last gasp of the "Three Chefs" era of Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The following year it was reduced to one chef -- Wendell -- and then a couple years after that Wendell also faded away so live-action children could challenge various know-it-all grown-ups on the "Taste You Can See." Now sugary cereal doesn't have as much of a presence on kids' TV as it once did. But it's not like Cinnamon Toast Crunch needed a campaign to sell boxes anyway -- that stuff's like Turkish Delight.|
|Sometimes things happen that you can't really explain, they just exist for existence's sake and you can't put them into words. So it's with a complete lack of explanation that I give you this: a Fruit Roll-Ups campaign where an animated wizard flew around boasting that FR-Us would generate "1001 Taste Adventures!" Said adventures usually amounted to real chidren being turned into grotesque two-dimensional Roll-Up-human hybrids. What a sick dude this is. Remember the Adventure Time cartoon where an evil magic man turned Finn into a giant foot? This has to be the same guy.|
|Before I get into Sunkist Fun Fruits:
what you need to know is that at some point in every ad,
children were suddenly greeted by a giant rubber tree
that laughed like Santa Claus. This time, however, things
play out a little differently. They're on a concert
stage, post-concert, for a metal band called "The
Hecks." They remark on how amazing the band was and
hope they can be rock stars when they grow up someday.
"DON'T WAIT FOR SOMEDAY!! ROCK RIGHT NOW!!!" yells the tree, which has suddenly appeared and is wearing Lennon glasses. That can't be topped; everything else that happens from there is just gravy.
|Zany hyperactive worlds seemed to be common back then. Maybe Roger Rabbit's Toontown had inspired people, but in addition to the Neitherworld you also had Tiny Toons' Wackyland and the "Wacky Warehouse" Kool-Aid campaign. The things you could get from the Wacky Warehouse weren't cheap....well, some of them were, but the more patient and frugal kids could send in a mountain of clipped point badges to redeem for video game consoles or mountain bikes. I don't know how many got there, but it was an option.|
Back to the action! We last left poor Lydia babysitting four monsters. "Okay....you can do this, they're still babies. What do babies need? A bottle, a nap....." She looks up nervously at the giant one. "....A diaper change?"
"ME KNOW WHAT ME WANT!" pipes Baby
Beetlejuice. "ME WANT PRESENT!"
"Oh yeah, Beetlejuice, you really deserve a present."
"ME KNOW WHERE TO GET ONE!" He runs off and the other babies follow.
When Lydia catches up, she finds them completely trashing the Shocking Mall. They're throwing junk, riding tricycles through the aisles at high speed, and eating various items whether they're edible or not.
Lydia yells at him to grow up. "Grow up?" Beetlejuice repeats -- and that turns him back to normal. But it's too late to reverse all the damage he's caused, and the monster cops arrive with handcuffs.
It's only the first episode and Beetlejuice is already facing jail time. The prosecutor names off a giant list of his past crimes, including a gila monster in the mayor's underwear and a Noodle Incident only referred to as "Beetlemania." The jury is howling for his punishment and the judge isn't any less biased; he began yelling "GUILTY! GUILTY! GUILTY!" the moment BJ was brought in. If he loses the case, he'll be fed to the Sand Worms. Can Lydia in lawyer regalia save his unwashed skin?
|Here's an ad for Chiclets starring the raddest kids in the world.|
|To those who haven't turned on a
kid-centered TV channel recently, there's something you
should know: McDonalds appears to have finally retired
Ronald. They tried to update the old clown to appease the
angry parents of today, briefly turning him into an exercise-obsessed nutcase, but his long past of shilling fatty glop was
just too much to forgive. So he's gone. Happy Meal ads
are now centered on a small squiggly-animated kid and his
pet goat, who go to McDonalds to eat meals of milk and
fruit (haha, riiiiight).
This is a rare 60-second spot, "Red Shoe Revue," which is typical Ronald nonsense.....but when I think of the 1980's McDonalds slogan, "Good Time Great Taste," this is the ad that comes to mind first. After that is another McDonalds ad, centered around the Fry Kids, who have gotten their wires crossed with the Hamburglar. What do pom-pom-like beings made of fries want with more fries? The Hamburglar clearly wanted to eat all those burgers, even if his eyes were far bigger than his stomach. The Fry Kids can't eat fries -- that's cannibalism. Are they actually radical left-wing liberators, then? Is this a mission to "free" the fries? We'll never know; the ad doesn't get into specifics.
|This is one I specifically remember,
because the ditty got stuck in my head for years.
However, I remember the kid in the ad looking a lot older
than this. You may have forgotten, but when you're a kid,
the ages of other children are a lot easier to tell. I
remember kids one grade younger than me looking like
toddlers and kids one grade older looking ready to shave.
Then I grew up and all kids started looking the same.
"And if you line up three Xes or Os in your spoon, YOU WIN!" What do I win?
|Talk about taking advantage of your audience. If you matched up both halves of the giveaway tickets and sent them in, Tang would give you five or ten dollars a week for a year. The prize amounted to $260 or $520 per winner. That's appallingly low from a grown-up perspective, but the kid benchmark to being obscenely rich is around $100.|
Lydia isn't making much leeway in the court. Not even a brief musical number is enough to convince the jury. Beetlejuice's goose seems cooked. The judge demands to know why he was put in charge of babies in the first place.
"Well, I'm gonna have to ruin the surprise, but...what're ya gonna do. I was....going to use the money to buy Lydia an anniversary present."
Lydia, deeply touched, insists that this proves he's innocent -- at least in some way.
The judge disagrees and yanks a large lever, dropping the bottom out from BJ's cage and leaving him dangling precariously over hungry sand worms. But just then Arlo hops down the hole and into the pits!
Lydia screams in terror. Beetlejuice is the only one who can save Arlo, but sand worms are the one thing he becomes petrified with fear over. Can he overcome his anxiety and rescue the baby? .....Sure, instantly.
With a few words of encouragement and a reprise of the musical number from earlier, Beetlejuice gets back his confidence, scares the bejabbers out of the sand worm and flies back up into the courtroom with Arlo.
This selfless act was just enough to convince the judge to allow Beetlejuice's freedom and give him one more chance (which he's assuredly going to blow next week, and the next eighty weeks after, but then we'd have no show).
I just noticed now, from looking into the screenshot from Beetlejuice and Lydia's anniversary party, that they're not blowing into paper noisemakers, but into little traumatized snakes. These two creeps deserve each other.
IT'S NOT OVER YET -- we still have to burn through the house ads and public service announcements!
This was the most common sight on ABC Saturday Morning -- I don't need to upload it because there are fifty different YouTube accounts that have it up at any given day. ABC had a vast library of PSAs to choose from, but nine times out of ten they were short on time and reached for one of two 10-second spots starring a dancing cat in a shoddy sailor's outfit. The cat's name was "O. G. Readmore." Guess what he was all about.
By 1989, these spots were starting to get seriously old. They have a copyright date of 1983 and are scored with dated "reee-owwww" synth. If that wasn't sloppy enough, they recast Readmore between the first spot and the second one, so he has two different voices. This was never fixed despite how long the ads ran -- he sounds like Ed Wynn in the first spot and like a carnival game announcer in the second.
They shoved O.G. down our throats as long as they could, but I don't think he ever convinced one child to read more, and he's not really beloved now. The "After These Messages" claymation spots were used for half as long as Readmore was and no one ever forgot them.
|Computer Critters? This was another
one of ABC's non-Schoolhouse Rock interstitials, and may
be the most forgotten of them. The last shorts in
Schoolhouse Rock's original run (it was uncancelled in
the mid-90's) were about how to use 1980's computers.
hosted by a talking IBM named Mr. Chips. As Tom Yohe
mentions in the Schoolhouse Rock official guidebook, they
were a misguided waste of money because no one realized
yet that children take to new technology like a duck to
water -- it was the grownups who had problems
adjusting to computers.
This short was made in 1984, and was already obsolete by 1989, yet....here it is one more time. The cuddly animals instruct you on how to use a word processor to achieve amazing abilities like cut-pasting and spell-correcting. This was done in the short with the arrow keys. The original Mac had just come out in '84 and the mouse was unfamiliar to most people. Technically you can still edit this way, as the arrow keys have never been removed from a standard keyboard. Try it sometime if you want an extra challenge for no reason.
|You know what else they replaced Schoolhouse Rock with? Yakov Smirnov. No, I'm not kidding -- you can see the attached video for proof. Smirnov appeared at least three times that morning on "The Fact Is," 30-second spots where he told bad jokes and one useless factoid was mixed in.|
|Oh, good -- a Bugs Bunny spot where he talks about the Constitution. I've wanted to see these again for years. They usually aired during the Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show, though this time one appeared elsewhere.|
|This is "One To One," ABC's transparent attempt to rip off NBC's One To Grow On. Balki is depressed because Bruce Willis is better-looking than he is. Larry in response tells him that everyone is beautiful in their own way, and that by some people's standards, Balki is prettier. Hope you learned something, kids. Just don't question the fact that Bronson Pinchot was available for the lead role in Die Hard yet never got the call.||&|
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