Plot: The Ghostbusters trap three mischievous Class 5 ghosts who have terrorised a chocolate factory, only for Slimer to accidentally release them from the containment unit. He’s already in hot water for having eaten their reward from the factory bust – a life time’s supply of chocolates. The escapees – Zunk, Snarg and Slug – attempt to run the Ghostbusters out of business by posing as rival ghost trappers known as ‘Ghosts R Us’, doing so by staging haunts with Zunk as the ghost and Slug ‘n’ Snarg as the trappers. However, the ghosts’ final attempt to wipe out the Ghostbusters once and for all seriously backfires when they disturb the slumber of an enormous Class 10 ghoul resting in a nearby toy factory, who proceeds to invade New York, culminating in a spectacular showdown on the Brooklyn Bridge …
‘Ghosts R Us’ was one of my absolute favourite episodes as a child, and for one big reason – that big Toy Ghost. This is one those episodes that sneakily starts off as a quite innocuous tale – the three initial antagonists are all essentially comedy relief, but they merely pave the way for what turns out to be an immense threat. Yeah, the Toy Ghost. You see, Slug (short, orange, troll-like), Snarg (pink, pouty-lipped, frame like spaghetti) and Zunk (monstrously huge, wears a nappy) are listed as Class 5 ghosts, which puts them square in the middle of the scale of powerfulness. I’d have put them lower myself – these three are strictly jokers. Saying that, they manage to nearly drive the Ghostbusters right out of business in a few hours, but that’s less to do with their ingenuity and more to do with the sheer gullibility of the public who turn their back on their beloved Ghostbusters in favour of these dodgy looking chancers. The Toy Ghost is a Class 10. He’s bad news.
As this is the first episode, it helps to establish the characters effectively, and this is done fairly well, although this doesn’t feel like a first episode. Strangely, it’s ‘Citizen Ghost’ that always felt more like a first episode, what with its flashback to the events after the first movie and its detailing of how Slimer came to live with the team. So, the first time we see the guys, they’re established as such: Peter’s loving his fame, Egon is focused and concerned, Ray is excited and thrilled, and Winston looks a little jaded, weary, even! I wouldn’t have associated Winston with those characteristics normally, but everybody else seems spot on. We not only get to see Ecto-1, officially the coolest (if the unsexiest) car in 80’s pop culture (and it’s a more or less faithful reproduction of its cinematic equivalent), but we also get to see the mighty Ecto-2, which is like Ecto-1, but a helicopter! When I was younger, the only thing cooler than Ecto-1 was Ecto-2. Seriously, it was the best thing ever. The fact that it was rarely in the show made it all the more special. I guess I just took Ecto-1’s incessant presence for granted. Shame on me.
We also get Slimer, who is now a colleague of the Ghostbusters and not a nemesis. It would take a few more episodes before we discover just how he became accepted into the team’s fold, mind you. Slimer can be a royal pain in nearly every episode– in this instance, the greedy menace devours an entire year’s worth of chocolates given to the guys (who were hoping to surprise Janine) on the way home, and even after that he goes crazy when Janine says ‘piece of cake’ as a figure of speech. Slimer is simply a remorseless, thoughtless eating machine. Actually, scratch that – he does usually feel remorse and guilt for his insatiable greed, and he has saved the day on more than one occasion, though it’s often the case that it was he who caused the problem in the first place. I guess he just can’t help himself. Doesn’t stop him being annoying though. Slimer would become a major focus in later years when the show was rebranded as Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters. All I remember from these latter episodes is that they were the worst things ever.
What else? Well, we get Janine, who was such a cool character back in the day. True, some episodes dumped her in the damsel in distress role, but overall she was bright, smart and took no crap. I loved her. I also fancied her a bit as well, which is a bit odd as she’s not real. Her character would be notoriously watered down in later episodes, right down to the shape of her glasses, which went from spiky and angular to cute and round. Apparently, the powers that be reckoned the former design would frighten children. In a show about ghosts. I’m going to refrain from swearing in this part of my blog because I’m talking about a children’s show, but that really is flipping crazy.
We get the Ecto-Containment Unit, which is hugely jazzed up from the movie version, where it was just a box in the basement. Here it’s a spectacular prison bathed in red which in later episodes has a cool viewfinder so that you can see inside – think of the containment unit as a spectral version of the Tardis from Doctor Who. You know, one size on the outside, phenomenally cavernous on the inside.
We get the PKE meter, copies of which Egon will exhaust plentifully throughout the series, as they have a tendency to overload. In one delightful moment, the Toy Ghost confirmed as being a whopping Class 10 ghost, a stat that hilariously sends the needle of the PKE meter bursting through its right side. You’d have thought that his PKE meter would have gone up to 10, a nice round number. Or even 11, in tribute to Spinal Tap.
We get pop music. Just in case you weren’t sure what decade this cartoon was made, we get a chase sequence soundtracked by a pop song. 80’s cartoons loved to do this, and The Real Ghostbusters’ house band were a group called Tahiti. No, I’d never heard of them either, but they usually scored at least one sequence in any given episode, and here they play their song ‘Driving Me Crazy’ over the sequence where the Toy Ghost rampages through New York. The song is lighter than a feather, and Not a Good Thing when listening to it any context. Except this one. Yeah, it’s cheese, but it’s part of the deal.
There are some funny moments in this episode, and they all involve Ghosts R Us. They are three of the more memorable antagonists in the show’s history. I have to admit, I do have a soft spot for the following dialogue, when the Ghostbusters arrive too late and are greeted by our three ghastly rivals:
Winston: How come you got here before us?
Slug: Because we’re numero uno!
Zunk: Yeah, and you aren’t-o!
Zunk’s line is so stupid it’s almost genius, especially since he’s so proud of it he risks blowing his cover by leaping out of the ‘trap’ just to say it. I also really love the shot where all three of them are crammed in a phone booth when they make their call to Janine, hoping the Ghostbusters get to the toy factory. ’The sooner the better’ yells Slug. Yeah, ‘the better the sooner, er, quickly!’ adds Zunk. Zunk’s preposterously oversized nose takes up nearly all of the room in the booth too.
It’s also quite a spooky episode. The toy factory is a scary place. And the Toy Ghost in its original form is supremely creepy, a monstrous worm/spider like dust creature with a huge single eye who grabs all the nearby (and strangely oversized) toys from the abandoned factory he has been resting inside and becomes an enormous toy ghost with a cymbal crashing monkey for a head. Or a hat given that the jack-in-the box underneath it has eyes. He also has a brilliantly scary voice – listen to the way he says ‘Gone….permanently!’ when Slug asks him about Turlock, the ghost who was the original toy factory resident.
Later on, you may notice during this sequence that the Toy Ghost merrily runs over dozens of moving cars, presumably killing any drivers/passengers inside. Death is usually a no-no in children’s cartoons, but we’re only one episode into The Real Ghostbusters and the body count is in the double figures already. The more likely story is that the writers just wanted some spectacular carnage and hoped that the little ones wouldn’t put two and two together and realised that this Toy Ghost was actually, senselessly KILLING lots of innocent people. Maybe. Or maybe the writers of this episode are just evil.
There are some memorably intense moments during the final showdown, one of which is the ‘aim for the monkey’ bit when Ray blasts the simian on top of the Toy Ghost to bits, but this only makes the jack-in-the-box underneath to shoot out a horrifying oversized doll’s head which snarls angrily and scares the wits out of Ecto-2’s panicked occupants. Great terrified acting from Welker and LaMarche here. Another bit is when the Toy Ghost is seemingly defeated after falling into the river. Phew! Job done, right? WRONG! The Toy Ghost reverts back to its original form by emerging from the river but this time with a terrifying gaping mouth filled with razor teeth is quite a shocker, pretty unexpected it must be said.
Slug plans to run the Ghostbusters out of business. How does he do that? Well first of all, he passes himself off as human, by changing his skin colour from orange to….er, grey. He still looks like a ghost, mind you. So does Snarg. Yet remarkably, the residents of the local hospital are totally convinced that they are ghost catchers when they arrive to save the day from a spectral presence, who really is Zunk, who manages to terrify the staff despite doing nothing more than ‘oogie boogie’ noises and pulling comical faces. Slug and Snarg, assuming the identity of Ghosts R Us, ‘trap’ Zunk in their customised ghost trap (a trash can) and ‘save the day’ before the Ghostbusters have even had a chance to get their proton packs out of the boot of their car. The 1996 film The Frighteners may very well have riffed off this scam, as this is exactly what Michael J. Fox and his crew of ghosts do to hustle the public.
It’s amazing the Ghostbusters haven’t sussed out us who Ghosts R Us really are, though I suppose their scam is given credibility when Egon confirms that their ghost trap definitely had a ghost inside it. Why his PKE meter didn’t also confirm that there were ghosts pushing the bin along remains a mystery. True, Winston does suspect the familiarity of these competitors, but everybody else is clueless.
When Peter works out (finally) just who Ghosts R Us are, he states that they were they ghosts they busted this morning’. This morning? That means that Ghosts R Us’s swift destruction of the Ghostbusters’s reputation was achieved in a mere few hours. Now, forgive my nit-picking, but you’d have thought that it would have taken such a thing to happen over a few days at least, a week maybe? But no, the Ghostbusters, with their hitherto peerless reputation, has already been destroyed by two weirdos and a trash can – no one wants to hire them anymore. Blimey. Ghostbusting is a more cutthroat industry than Hollywood.
Things I noticed:
We get no music for the first few seconds of this episode – the main theme sort of cuts in a fraction or so late, whoops!
Egon clearly has no love for New Jersey. He reckons Zunk and Co. must come from there as they register ‘almost no intellect reading’. Miaow!
There’s a smart panning shot taken from the edit suite of the TV network covering the Ghostbusters’ success which covers various camera takes of the same scene – nice and slick, this.
Ray’s wired enthusiasm reaches an apotheosis in two shots. The first is when he leads the charge against the ghosts in the chocolate factory. Just before he gets a month’s supply of chocolate IN THE FACE, he pulls a grin that’s wicked, cruel even. He deserves what he gets in the next moment. The other is near the start of act two when he proclaims ‘this time no one beats the Ghostbusters!’ Coupled with that expression Ray makes this sound far more like a threat than a boast.
I have to say I love Egon’s deeper voice in these very early episodes. He just sounds so damn serious! Listen to him say ‘Nothing could escape that unit unless it was shut down’ or ‘Knowing them, they’re already there!’ Don’t know why, I just love the delivery! Oh of course, and ‘aim for the monkey’, which is hands down, one of the best scripted (and delivered) lines in any TV show, ever.
There’s a great shot where Slug is loudly rattling on the bars of the entrance to wake up an old ghostly acquaintance called Turlock, who is a whopping Class 7 phantom. The shot slowly retreats further and further back as Slug rattles and rattles until he’s just a dot in a screen of darkness. Classy.
When Ecto-2’s self-destruct countdown reaches zero and takes the Toy Ghost with it, this a rare instance in the show where a ghost is destroyed rather than captured.
Slug breaks the fourth wall when Zunk states the toy factory is weird. Slug says ‘look who’s talking’ directly at the camera.
I’m wondering if Janine’s assertion that her employers are ‘the REAL Ghostbusters, NOT Ghosts R Us’ is also a veiled dig from the writers at the rival Ghostbusters show that inspired the makers of this show to plonk a ‘Real’ slap bang in the middle of their title.
One last thing. ‘Ghosts R Us’ appeared in different versions when screened on ITV – this seemed to be a regular thing regarding the first season of episodes, with lots of incidental scenes snipped, for time reasons, I assume. It can’t have been for censorship reasons, as lots of the scenes were usually character led scenes. For example, the scene where the ghosts have just escaped hang out on the roof of the GBHQ has been trimmed – in the longer version Slug berates Zunk for being too fat and for not combing his hair. True, this isn’t vital to the plot, but I hated it when ITV would show these butchered versions – luckily, the DVD releases contain the complete episodes. Other scenes I remember being missing from the shorter versions are some of the Toy Ghost’s rampage towards the Brooklyn Bridge, and Ghosts R Us laughing their heads off at the Ghostbusters’ gullibility.
This is a spectacular, epic episode that kicks off the series in grand style.