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The Strange History Of The Beetlejuice Animated Series Explained

Fans have been saying "Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!" for three and a half decades. Hollywood finally listened, and "Beetlejuice 2" is slated for a 2024 release. However, Tim Burton's ghastly horror comedy about the Ghost with the Most took on a different form a year after the original dropped in theaters. The "Beetlejuice" animated series haunted small screens in 1989, filling the void and introducing a whole new audience to the poltergeist prankster from Neitherworld and his pals.

Throughout its four seasons totaling 94 episodes, the show follows the wacky otherworldly adventures of Beetlejuice and Lydia Deetz, both of whom debut in the 1988 film. In this version, though, they are on friendlier terms and Beetlejuice isn't trying to take Lydia as his teenage bride. None of the main cast from the movie returned to voice the characters, so new actors stepped up to make their respective marks on this franchise.

Of course, all good things must come to an end, and the "Beetlejuice" animated series rode off into the afterlife in 1991. That doesn't mean fans have forgotten about it, though, as it's remembered as one of the most underrated cartoons of its era. With that said, let us discover more about the history of this groovy, ghoulish show.

Tim Burton approved the pitch for the show's updated story

When it comes to animated adaptations of popular films, the director of the franchise often receives an executive producer credit on the show, but in most cases, they aren't directly involved in the development. By the time the "Beetlejuice" animated series entered production, it would have been impossible for filmmaker Tim Burton to get heavily invested in it, since directing 1989's "Batman" was keeping him immensely busy at the time.  

However, Burton still had a major say in how the series played out, albeit in an executive producer capacity. Michael Hirsh — a former head of the production company behind the series, Nelvana — revealed to SyFy Wire. At the time, Hirsh assembled a team featuring writers Tedd Anasti and Patsy Cameron and animator Robin Budd. The group tweaked the main idea from the movie — turning Beetlejuice and Lydia into friends for the series and setting them off on all sorts of weird and wonderful adventures — and pitched it to Burton and Warner Bros.

According to Hirsh, Burton gave the greenlight to both the idea and voices, and said they were on the same page for the overall direction of the show.

It was a bigger deal than we might remember

While the "Beetlejuice" animated series might not receive its flowers or be spoken about in the same fond terms as popular late 1980s animated shows such as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" and "Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers," it was a proven success.  The fact it produced almost 100 episodes — more than many animated shows of the time, including "Chip 'n Dale" — only adds to the credence that it was a smash-hit; otherwise, it would have been canned much earlier.

Thanks to this positive reception, the series branched out into other merchandising areas such as video games, where it received a PC game titled "Adventures of Beetlejuice: Skeletons in the Closet" and a Game Boy cartridge called "Beetlejuice: Horrific Hijinx from the Neitherworld!" Thirty years after the series ended, an action figure line was released featuring both Beetlejuice and Lydia, which demonstrates the enduring appeal of the series.

Tara Strong voiced Lydia Deetz (once)

In the animation world, Tara Strong is a bona fide legend. The actor has voiced a wide range of iconic characters from Harley Quinn to Hello Kitty to Bubbles from "The Powerpuff Girls." She almost added another pivotal role to her filmography in the form of Lydia Deetz.

Alyson Court, who ultimately voiced Lydia on "Beetlejuice," explained to SyFy Wire how a twist of fate intervened on her behalf. After having auditioned for the part, Court was invited back for another round of testing. However, she couldn't make it because she was on vacation and zapped with a sunburn. Presumably on a time crunch, Nelvana went ahead without Court and produced a pilot with Strong as Lydia. The production company wasn't happy with the chemistry between Strong and Stephen Ouimette, who voiced Beetlejuice, so the door reopened for Court to take the part and re-record the episode.

While Strong didn't receive the starring role in "Beetlejuice," she did perform on the show, voicing a variety of supporting characters. The actor also shared the animated screen with Beetlejuice years later, as the Ghost with the Most shows up on "Teen Titans Go!" in which Strong voices Raven.

Stephen Ouimette did nine callbacks for the lead role

With Michael Keaton not returning to voice Beetlejuice for the animated series, there was a need to find the right person to bring the playful poltergeist to life on the small screen. The actor who received the part was Stephen Ouimette, who was not known by the wider public or within the animation industry at that point. In fact, Ouimette had been mostly doing radio dramas in his home country of Canada.

Speaking to the "Saturday Morning Rewind" podcast, the actor explained how his agent helped him get into radio dramas in the mid '80s. Later on, Nelvana set up shop in Toronto and Ouimette showed up to audition.

"I remember doing nine callbacks for ['Beetlejuice'], and the last couple were like live hook-ups to Los Angeles where I had a bunch of people from there listening and saying, 'Could you change the way you say the?'" he joked. After "Beetlejuice," Ouimette went on to voice Warren Worthington III in "X-Men: The Animated Series." He is also known for being the voice of Pompadour in 1989's "Babar: The Movie."

The nefariousness of Beetlejuice's voice had to be toned down

While Michael Keaton may have been under a ton of makeup while portraying the bio-exorcist, one of the character's most distinct qualities is his raspy voice. Keaton modified his own speaking voice by adding a razor-sharp growling edge to the poltergeist's cadence that struck an immediate chord with the fans.

Stephen Ouimette revealed to the "Saturday Morning Rewind" podcast that he studied Keaton's performance religiously before his audition; however, he was told by the producer to not replicate it exactly. In other words, keep elements of it but tone it down. "For obvious reasons because it was for kids, they didn't want that sort of insidious edge," he said. "We tried to take that out, and it became the character."

While many other cartoon adaptations of films try to get the voice actors to imitate the live-action star's voice to a tee, the "Beetlejuice" animated series stands out because there is a notable distinction in the delivery. It's abundantly clear that it's the same character, but Ouimette is confident enough to add his own spin.

Alyson Court studied Winona Ryder for Lydia Deetz

While the "Beetlejuice" animated series boasts a host of new characters that don't appear in the film, the leads had already been established as audience favorites. This means the voice actors had significant reference points for their parts. Much like her co-star Stephen Ouimette did with Michael Keaton's performance, Alyson Court went back to see how her live-action counterpart Winona Ryder tackled the character in an attempt to learn from her.

Court told SyFy Wire that she was a major fan of the film, and the role of Lydia was a part that she desperately wanted, so she went to extra and dedicated lengths to secure it. "I studied all of Winona Ryder's dialogue, her voice, her speech pattern, everything," said Court.

Court also revealed that she was in high school at the time of her audition and indulging in her own mini foray into the goth experience. The big question is, was she listening to The Cure or The Sisters of Mercy at the time?

Making Lydia the main character was a progressive choice

While the name of the franchise is "Beetlejuice" and the pesky poltergeist takes center stage in all the promotion and marketing materials, the main character of "Beetlejuice" the animated series is arguably Lydia Deetz. She is the protagonist of the story who restores the balance that Beetlejuice threatens to topple at every turn and serves as the audience's eyes as she witnesses all the weirdness.

Much like the movie, the animated series puts Lydia at the heart of the program. She is the intelligent and resourceful half of the duo who is often responsible for getting them out of the trouble that Beetlejuice causes in the first place.

Writing for PopMatters, author Liz Medendorp praised the show for allowing a young girl to shine as the lead and not be played off in a stereotypical way like many young female cartoon characters of the era. "Even though Lydia slips quite easily into another stereotype, that of the 'goth girl,' she showed young viewers that it's okay to like bugs, monsters, and icky things, even if you're a girl," Medendorp wrote. In a way, the show helped to break gender norms in the animated sphere.

The Beetlejuice animated series received rave reviews

In the '80s, it wasn't uncommon to see animated series based on films. From "The Karate Kid" to "Rambo: The Force of Freedom" and "Police Academy: The Animated Series," there was no shortage of cartoons based on blockbusters doing the rounds. However, the general attitude toward these series is that they were watered down from the source material and made strictly for kids. In other words, they were simply cash grabs.

The "Beetlejuice" animated series countered this perception, with critics praising its originality and ability to stand on its own two feet. Entertainment Weekly gave the show a glowing review, comparing it to the legendary Warner Bros. toons from the past and stating, "Filled with sight gags, puns, and imaginative naughtiness, 'Beetlejuice' is richer entertainment than you'd expect on Saturday morning."

Unlike some cartoons that age like a loaf of garlic bread in the closet, "Beetlejuice" also still holds up, with modern-day journalists commending it for being one of the best Saturday morning cartoons of the time and bringing Tim Burton's unique and quirky aesthetic to the TV world.

NCTV called it the worst cartoon ever

Two things dominated the late '80s: hair metal and groups that protested entertainment. It was the height of the satanic panic, so the "Beetlejuice" animated series — which is essentially about an undead entity and a plethora of magical monsters — made an obvious target for censorious crosshairs.

As Cartoon Research's "Animated Anecdotes" uncovered, the show about the Ghost with the Most caught the attention of the National Coalition on Television Violence in 1991. The NCTV claimed that Fox featured an ungodly amount of animated brutality, and believed Beetlejuice was basically the John Wick of all the cartoons at the time.

"Our major objection is Beetlejuice's attitude toward violence," said the NCTV's then-director of monitoring Brian Sullivan. "He is extremely mean for a main character. It's the worst cartoon ever!" Sullivan's comments about it being "the worst cartoon ever" were never objectively quantified.

The show received a Daytime Emmy

"Rain Man" and "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" dominated the 61st Academy Awards in 1989 with four Oscars each, but Tim Burton fans punched the air in glee after "Beetlejuice" secured the best makeup trophy. Well, the animated show wasn't about to let big brother take all the accolades and kisses, as it also picked up plaudits after its Season 1.

In 1990, "Beetlejuice" shared a Daytime Emmy for outstanding animated program with "The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh." Not only was it unusual for a cartoon based on a horror movie to be honored in such a significant way, but more importantly, it managed to go toe-to-toe with Disney's honey-obsessed Pooh Bear and his animal gang from the Hundred Acre Wood and come out with a prize for their troubles.

Seriously, who has ever heard of anyone challenging that cheerful and chuckling bear and living to tell the tale?! "Winnie the Pooh: Blood and Honey" shows he has a nasty streak in him.

The show bought a teenager's idea

Most fans have story ideas for their favorite shows. Some people will write fan fiction to scratch this particular itch, while others will complain to Film Twitter about why their concept is better than what's currently on. However, there are few people who will actually try to figure out how to pitch their idea to the right people.

In 1991, 14-year-old Sharon Chamberland showed everyone how it's done. As per the Bangor Daily News, the teenager was a fan of "Beetlejuice" and had an idea for the animated series. Her first attempt to contact Nelvana was unsuccessful, but she found the details for Geffen Pictures, which had been involved in the making of the 1988 movie, and sent out a proposal. Geffen forwarded Chamberland's concept to Nelvana.

The production company got back to Chamberland and bought her story idea for Lydia Deetz to form a band called the Brides of Frankenstein, as well as new designs for the character. In exchange for her work, she received a special letter from director Robin Budd and $250. Chamberland's idea was slightly tweaked for the series, but "Brides of Funkenstein" aired as Episode 9 of Season 3.

Alyson Court would return for a Beetlejuice revival

Never underestimate the power and allure of nostalgia. Fans love what they love, and if they clamor for it loud and hard enough, they have the ability to twist decision makers' arms and get revivals greenlit. Look at the return of "X-Men: The Animated Series" after nearly three decades as a prime example of persistence paying off in the long run.

"Beetlejuice" fans are equally resourceful, as they finally managed to convince the studio, filmmakers, and director to return for a sequel when it seemed like a reboot would be far more likely. But what about a continuation or update of the animated series? Could that also be on the horizon?

While nothing has been suggested or rumored about the "Beetlejuice" animated series making a comeback to the screens, Alyson Court is one cast member who has already said that in the event it does happen, she would be happy to return. "You better believe it!" she told SyFy Wire. "There's definitely still some Lydia Deetz in me." Maybe it's time for Tim Burton and his collaborators to ring up the rest of the cast, too.