The Real Ghostbusters Episode 25: Who’re You Calling Two-Dimensional? (1986)

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Okay, let’s get the obvious out of the way right now. Here we have a children’s animated show that, despite an apostrophe, clearly projects the word ‘WHORE’ on its episode title card. Yeah, yeah, it says ‘WHO’RE’, but some things just can’t be unseen. Besides, I have never seen any one abbreviate the words ‘who are’ as ‘who’re’. Ever. Oh well, despite that, this is one of the absolute best episodes ever. Ever. J. Michael Stracynski returns to the writers’ chair for the first time in ages (‘Knock, Knock’ was over ten episodes ago).

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Speaking of returns, Slimer and Janine are back after staying on Earth when the guys went into outer space, and the little green spud has been strapped down to a torture chair (not really, but we can only hope) whilst Egon inflicts his latest experiment on him. Now of course, this is all consensual as Slimer has readily agreed to have these tests made on him over the series, and for the most part, these experiments are reasonably harmless, if occasionally discomforting. This week’s test involves peeling back each layer of Slimer (not literally, of course) to see what lies underneath. That’s right – we’re going to see what’s inside a ghost. The only problem is, the device emits lots of heat (Peter remarks on Slimer being in hot water most of the time anyway, ha ha) and before we can discover what lurks underneath all that green slime, all the popcorn that Slimer ate earlier starts to pop. And pop. And pop. One thing’s for sure, Slimer’s stomach is definitely the Tardis in regards to the inside being bigger than the outside. When Slimer’s insides become outsides, the entire room becomes full of popcorn, bursting the door open on an enquiring Janine who quite rightfully wonder what the hell is going on. A quick threat from Egon regarding Peter’s proton pack (Egon knows how to set it to self-destruct, Peter doesn’t) puts all of this embarrassment and mickey-taking in the past, and so begins the assignment and the story proper- at Walt Fleischmann Studios, not at all related to Walt Disney Studios. Not at all.

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Ray (who’s wearing black gloves for some reason) and Winston are over the moon at getting the chance to visit the studios – Fleischmann’s cartoons were the foodstuff of their youth, and Walt’s assistant is not at all humble in declaring her employer to be a ‘certified genius’. However, this one and only genius has been missing in action for forty or so years, a rumour clarified by his wonderfully monotone assistant, who called the guys in because of all the mysterious noises emnanting from his private studio, which Peter takes one look at the outside of (there’s a huge statue of a teddy bear, for example) and instantly declares Walt a loopy-loo. The PKE meter’s picking up nothing inside, but Ray doesn’t care – this is the home of Dopey Dog, Conqueror Duck and Ricky Roach, after all. Peter’s still unconvinced (the only roach he believes in is the one he just stepped on), and is accused of being utterly heartless as a result. Soulless too. Some people have to grow up Ray, deal with it. Still, no supernatural activity, so what gives?

That’s when the door appears.

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It’s a wonky door alright, almost like out of a cartoon. But The Real Ghostbusters itself is a cartoon, so what gives? The door is high on spectral activity, and for curiosity’s sake, it has to be opened. Egon does the honours, and inside is a maelstrom almost on the level of the nightmare contents of Dana Barrett’s fridge or what Peter discovered upstairs in ‘Mrs. Roger’s Neighborhood’. The guys (and lots of Walt’s stationery) are sucked inside the void, and the door closes up and disappears behind them. Surrounded by darkness, Ray requests a match. Peter obliges by suggesting ‘your face and my…’, which could have resulted in the rudest line of the series since Janine referred to lots of Slimers as ‘little buggers’ a few episodes back.

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Luckily, a light cord appears out of nowhere, everything is illuminated and nothing exists. That’s right – nothing. Just a pinky-blue limbo. Then, all of a sudden, Conqueror Duck barges past. But Conqueror Duck – a psychotic, sword-wielding anthromorph – is a cartoon! That’s right, Egon says, a cartoon, and so are they. The world around them is an animated world, a blank slate, presumably waiting to be drawn on. Then, a cockroach driving a car – Ricky Roach, of course – asks the guys for the Duck’s whereabouts and then drives off. Peter doesn’t seem to notice that Ricky has more or less the same voice as his father. They’re both parasites, that’s for sure.

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Peter then finds himself hurtled up, up, up into the sky – Egon says that Peter would never be able to jump that high in real life. A quick rewind confirms that Peter never jumped in the first place, he was pretty much just catapulted. Given that this is a cartoon world, anything can happen, so Winston suggests Peter thinks of a cliff to block his ascent. This works, with painful results. Peter quite rightfully asks Winston why he didn’t suggest a pillow instead. In the meantime Winston is wondering where the audience is in all of this. They’re in a show, after all, so who’s watching? Cue a staggering piece of meta-madness where Winston walks directly to the screen, to us, touches the lens of the screen and asks if anyone’s there. Turns out ‘we’ change channels as a result. Cute.

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No time for larks though, as we can hear poor Walt pleading for help somewhere out there, but where? All of a sudden the void takes on some kind of form, a cartoon city, which the guys run through trying to find their man. It’s weird that this universe almost instantly is recognisable as cartoonish, a difficult thing to pull off in a cartoon, but the lack of definition in the buildings, not to mention the smoke rings floating from the roof of Walt’s prison are a dead giveaway.

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Inside this building, with its mass of whirring gears and conveyer belts, is Walt pleading for mercy at the feet of a cloaked and gloved man-sized wolf with a slightly goofy voice. Wait til you hear his name. The wolf sees no need for mercy as he believes he’s committing no nefarious acts. Producing the longest scroll known to man, Wolfie (that’s not his name, but bear with me) checks where he and Walt are on their itinerary. Oh yes, it turns out that whatever hilarious pratfalls Walt subjected onto his imaginary creations are being meted back to him and only him. So since he was responsible for characters falling through trap doors a whopping four thousand, five hundred and fifty-three times, he must experience the same indignity. And Walt’s only halfway through that amount. This isn’t just a mere trapdoor fall onto a comfy crashmat either. He has to fall through some clearly under-sized pipework (the end of said pipe has a tongue for good measure) and wind up in a dank cell. Poor guy. I mean I know it sounds like some kind of poetic justice is being doled out to Walt, but he wasn’t hurting anyone real, was he? Except they were real. Either way, 40+ years punishment is way over the top, and no fun at all, no matter how many times Wolfie says the word ‘fun’ to convince anyone otherwise. I do like Walt’s definitive plea for this all to end, to which Wolfie simply says ‘no’. Sometimes the simplest answer can be the most effective. Walt screams in torment.

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The guys witness this unhappy business and Winston thinks they should break out the protons, free Walt and get out. Wolfie is about to administer yet more trap-door horrors when he’s rudely interrupted by the Ghostbusters, whom he somehow seems to recognise. This seems weird – like the cartoon world has been keeping tabs on the real world. I always liked the freaky notion that the cartoon world was completely shut off from reality, but no Wolfie knows who they are, and he cannot hope to defeat them. There is only one thing he can do. Trap-door! I have to say, the guys are pretty dumb here, as Wolfie’s phoney surrender voice shouldn’t be fooling anyone. Down the guys go through those claustrophobic pipes, and they arrive not in a cell but in a desert, a desert which can be viewed from afar via Wolfie’s ultra-cool survelliance cube in his own personal void-room, filled with nothing else but his throne and a cuckoo-clock. Mad visuals in this episode, I love it! The first act ends with Wolfie’s assurance that the guys aren’t going anywhere, not for a long, long time…

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Act two and we’re still in the empty, empty desert, the guys are trudging through this sun-baked bleakness with their heavy proton packs and Ray ponders where the good guys are in this cartoon world. Where’s Dopey Dog? Egon and Peter scoff at this – I have no idea why they’re being so snooty, considering they’ve already met Ricky Roach. Ray remembers that the only way to call him is to sing his theme tune, which sounds remarkably like Robin Hood’s signature piece but sounds awful when heard in tone-deaf style. The other guys don’t even stop to gaze upon this spectacle, though Peter’s ‘geez, that’s awful’ reaction is quite hilarious. Ray’s vocal request actually works though, and Dopey Dog appears from nowhere, wearing a red jumpsuit, an eye patch, chewing a piece of straw and quite nonchalantly asking ‘you called?’

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Well yes, Ray says, for they need help thwarting the diabolical plans of Winchester Wolf. Yes, that’s his name, and Ray knew all along. Peter comments on the stupidity of that name. Winston suggests Peter say that to Winchester’s face. Still, no time for that, for it’s flashback time as we discover just how Walt came to be trapped in cartoon land.

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Beautifully narrated by Dopey Dog, we go back to Fleischmann’s heyday as a cartoonist (and certified genius) – it turns out he more or less was the first animator, but his obsession for further greatness ended up manifesting itself in his creations actually assuming real-life form. All Walt had to do was point and shoot his cartoons, which must have been a relief on his wrists. New characters ended up being added to Walt’s roster, but he ended up creating one too many when he created Winchester Wolf, who was clearly designed as a bad guy from the off (as evidenced by the shot of him laughing maniacally as terrified bunny rabbits flee the town he’s just set on fire). But then Walt discovered that what he was making was speeding too far beyond what was there.

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Winchester’s evil could not be controlled, and, in an act of outright thuggery, he created the door to link cartoon and reality, snatching Walt from existence. The one bonus is that no one ages in cartoon world. Winchester is eavesdropping on this whole tale of woe, and he’s worried that Dopey Dog might show the guys a way out, so he comes up with a plan. He even does this cool thing with his cloak, draping it around himself to make him disappear. It’s even more obvious in this scene that his cuckoo clock has a long tongue for the bird to sit on.

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Meanwhile, back in the desert, Winston quite rightfully asks why the heroic Dopey Dog didn’t do anything to help Walt. Dopey says that it’s one thing to play a hero, another thing to actually be one. Oh. I thought Dopey Dog was real here, but this confession makes him out to be some jobbing actor stuck in a long-running, off-Broadway show playing the part of a brave, fearless dawg. By the way, if you remember, this isn’t the first time Dopey has made an appearance in the series – back in ‘The Boogieman Cometh’, Ray plays with a Dopey Dog stuffed toy (which doesn’t resemble the dog we’re currently seeing on screen), proving that Ray’s fandom is long established. So this particular dog may be a pussy, but our guys aren’t, so let’s kick some animated arse! That’s when the huge painting of a lake almost crushes them from the sky. Er, what? Conqueror Duck appears, and quite jovially asks them what Ray, Peter and Winston are doing way up on that cliff. What cliff? Cue a cliff erupting from the ground beneath them, sending them way up into the skies. Unfortunately they don’t remain stood on the surface, instead holding on the edges for dear life (Egon’s helpful suggestion that they ‘hang on’ is not ignored without sarcasm). The dastardly duck flies up to tell them, laughing as he does so, that if they wait ’til winter, they can ski down the cliff, no problem. Winston doesn’t think that’s very funny. The duck quite reasonably says that if Winston had been stuck in limbo for forty years then his jokes would wind up stale too. Good point. The duck’s flying away as Peter whispers an obscene gesture, which makes him fly right back to double-check what he heard. Peter insists he merely requested that he’d like to get down. The duck obliges, rocking the cliff back and forth which makes our guys fall at rocket-speed towards certain death. The only solution? Move the lake from the painting so that they can land in it! Egon refuses to comply, thinks it’s ridiculous. I want to punch Egon here. Stupid rational Egon. Just move the damn lake! It’s easy! No seriously, it’s really easy. Dopey and Egon move the lake, the guys fall in, no one dies! They’re soaking wet though, but that can be resolved too. Just walk out of frame, and then walk back in! This episode is brilliant!

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But what about Walt? Well, Dopey says they’ll need help, but it can be done, even if it means journeying to very edge of Cartoon World. I don’t care what he says, Dopey IS brave. He and the guys storm through the friendlier parts of this world and gather up all the good guys, heroes like Ronald Rooster, Foxy, Felicia Feline (absolutely terrific name), Sinclair Squirrel, George Gopher and so on. They have to be quick though, because Walt is being mercilessly attacked…with custard pies. Such is the ennui of Cartoon World that a bored-looking Winchester hasn’t even got the spirit to throw the pies – he’s got some mechanised contraption doing the hurling for him. 450 or so pies and counting. We get to see some of the bad guys during this bit but there’s no time to formally introduce them as the good guys begin their attack – Foxy even has a baseball bat, so we know this is going to be hardcore. The war begins, and in true pathetic cartoon bad guy style, Winchester orders his minions to stop them, he himself staying well back. Actually, the Ghostbusters stay back too, letting the cartoons scrap so violently that all we can see is one of those clouds of dust that obscures everything. Not that their protons can serve any use, as it’s only now they realise that they don’t work in cartoon land. Winchester finally gets in on the action as he and Dopey duel with swords – Dopey is so valiant he even warns Winchester to defend himself, what a hero!

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All the while, a lovely bespectacled mole digs out of the earth to bite Walt’s ropes of imprisonment free. The bad second-tier cartoons are dispatched, Peter makes a surprising crack about ‘cartoon rabies’ and Walt and the guys make a bid for freedom. Winchie’s not bothered – where can they go?

This is where.

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The good guys get their pitchforks and claws to literally rip the ground away, tearing the scene apart, tearing the film as it were. Winchie panics like crazy – this cannot be done! Underneath is a horrifying vortex and then a huge, HUGE roll of film that leads all the way towards a spool device, which acts as a gateway to home. Huge thunderous skies, a film that’s flailing wildly – it doesn’t look safe. It does look absolutely fantastic though – when I was little this finale was unforgettably epic.

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The guys and Walt find themselves on the film strip and ready to escape – but what about Dopey, hanging on the side of the strip? Don’t worry, he says. But I worried. How the hell does he get back up to cartoon world? As for Winchester, he’s not done with them yet, growing to enormous size and pursuing them through the vortex and the film strip – the guys and Walt try to jump and fly to the exit but Winchie’s on their case, pleading with them to turn back, that he and the cartoons won’t exist without Walt – is this true? They were real enough before they kidnapped Walt, but it appears this may be the end of them, although that could be emotional blackmail on Winchie’s part. Still, Winchie sounds genuinely terrified – ‘you’re destroying us!’ he screams- and I used to pretty sorry for him at this stage. It’s quite an intense moment, especially Walt’s screams of ‘don’t look back!’ and Winchie’s helpless, hopeless attempts to grab the guys (he’s literally disappearing before our very eyes) and descent into stormy limbo is quite a vision, though his desperate final line (‘we had a contract!!!’) is pretty funny.

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The guys and Walt return home, the cartoon door disappears, and everything’s back to normal. Except for Walt of course – he’s essentially forty years into the future. His assistant is suitably stunned. Walt seems happy as anything, but I want to see what happens when he leaves his studio and tries to integrate himself in 1980’s New York. How can he thank the Ghostbusters? Well Ray comes up with a cute but selfish request. Cut to later back at HQ – Janine wakes up Ray as though its Christmas morning and he rushes downstairs to be greeted by a huge giftwrapped parcel containing a lifesize Dopey Dog doll. The others are horrified. Ray loves it. Dopey Dog turns to Ray and gives him a wink. The lines between cartoon and reality are shattered once more. What an episode!

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