“Beetlejuice” – Remembering the Animated Series That Came in the Wake of Tim Burton’s Movie

For this month’s installment of “TV Terrors” we revisit the animated series adaptation of Tim Burton’s “Beetlejuice, which aired from 1989 to 1991 on ABC/FOX Network.

In the eighties and nineties, studios were never shy about taking mature intellectual properties and cashing in on them by giving them their own animated spinoffs for kids. Among the rather extensive list were direct G-rated adaptations like “Rambo,” “Conan,” “Ace Ventura,” and even “Police Academy.” One of the most notable, and more widely celebrated adaptations was of Tim Burton’s 1988 hit film Beetlejuice. While the original movie excelled in being as menacing, bizarre, and raunchy as possible, executive producers Tim Burton and David Geffen opted for a more kid friendly variation of the “Ghost with the Most” for the animated series.

Aimed more for the 8-12 Saturday morning cartoon demographic, the animated show thankfully stuck true to much of what made the movie so entertaining. Taking off directly from the movie, “Beetlejuice” centered on Goth teen Lydia Deetz, whose adolescence is spent trying to fit into her weird town. She’s also friends with the mischievous ghost Beetlejuice, who appears often to either get into trouble with her in the real world, or take her into his own Netherworld (no longer the Afterlife) where they inevitably find danger together.

The “Beetlejuice” animated series was a shockingly faithful spinoff from the original blockbuster, channeling the Gothic aesthetic and sinister supernatural themes, but toning them down for younger audiences. Today it feels like a precursor to the Klasky-Csupo animation era, which has helped it aged wonderfully despite being released at the very beginning of the 1990s. Along with maintaining its darker more horror oriented atmosphere, it also included a truncated, re-arranged version of Danny Elfman’s title theme song, and featured many of the characters from the movie (sans Barbara and Adam), often repurposed into less sinister variations.

Lydia Deetz (voiced by Alyson Court) was no longer the death obsessed teenage foil to Beetlejuice, but more of an affable Gothic tween with an adventurous streak. Her parents Charles and Delia Deetz (Roger Dunn and Elizabeth Hanna) were less opportunistic personalities and became more attentive albeit wacky parents to Lydia. They now lived in the small town of Peaceful Pines, in a new house which allowed Beetlejuice new stomping grounds. And the titular Beetlejuice (memorably voiced by Stephen Ouimette) changed a bit from the menacing, foul mouthed, raunchy rival to Lydia we knew from the movie, transformed for the animated series into a more likable, comedic, and playful entity who was a loyal friend to her.

In each episode, the duo would either fend off the villain of the week, or Lydia would spend her time chasing after Beetlejuice to make sure he didn’t get himself into massive trouble. They, of course, were always careful to avoid the dreaded sand worms. What I always found peculiar was that the animated Beetlejuice character felt less like a take on Michael Keaton’s iconic portayal, and more like mid-eighties Bobcat Goldthwaite, if he had played Beetlejuice. Beetlejuice was also retconned in that he had an almost limitless supply of super powers which allowed him to do pretty much anything, including breaking the fourth wall quite often.

Although Lydia was a lot more light hearted and heroic, she was still a Goth down to her core, and the series thankfully never shed her original concept for the sake of the target audience—save for making her a bit younger. While the whole tonal change might have been a big shift from Burton’s original intentions for his character, “Beetlejuice” worked very well. It not only carried Burton’s vision for this weird world, but also felt very much like a product of Burton’s mind.

The series also expanded on Beetlejuice’s universe by introducing more villains, many more monsters (along with the dreaded sandworms), and more rivals to the pair of protagonists. There was the skeleton best friend Jacques LaLean (a spoof of Jack LaLaine) who had the tendency to go to pieces; Beetlejuice’s neighbor The Monster Across the Street, a hairy, Cowboy-like monster with a vicious dog named Poopsie; Beetlejuice’s enemies Fuzzo and Scuzzo the Clown; Ginger the tap dancing Spider; and Barry MeNot.

Barry MeNot was a computer animated spokesman for NTV (Netherworld Television) who pitched weird products for Beetlejuice and the audience; he was intended mainly as a fun series of side gags. There is also a recurring appearance from the small headed ghost from the movie, now named I.M. Smallhead. Most Burtonesque of them all is Prince Vince, the ruler of Netherworld who is an obvious callback to Burton’s short film “Vincent.”

The series altogether aired for four seasons with ninety four episodes total, and over a hundred segments. It was so popular, in fact, that it set a precedent. The high demand prompted the ABC Network to sell episodes of the series to FOX, resulting in the show running on competing networks for many years. All things told, along with the four seasons, there was a mountain of merchandise for “Beetlejuice” including an action figure line, video games, books, sticker albums, the whole nine yards. Even after the series ended, it flourished in syndication.

The animated series indicated that “Beetlejuice” wasn’t just a one off Tim Burton success and helped to support the fans’ demands for a sequel for many, many years. On its own it’s still a wonderful animated series that clicks beautifully into the Tim Burton universe, and might even work as pitch perfect gateway horror for kids of today.

Is It Available? After years of being out of print, the series was eventually re-released by Shout! Factory in 2013 on DVD. It’s still available, but the series is not streaming at the moment.

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