In the late 80s, early 90s Saturday morning cartoons were a big deal and one trend was shows based on hit movies, even though some of the film weren’t exactly family fare. One of my favorites growing up was Beetlejuice, which followed the adventures of “the ghost with the most” and his best friend, the gothy mortal Lydia. While Beetlejuice was gross and rude, he would do anything for Lydia. Imagine my surprise when I finally saw the film and watched Beetlejuice try to forcibly marry Lydia, and he’s a total creep, and then there’s these other people who aren’t in the show. I would really love to have seen the pitch for this one. Remember that decaying sleazebag Michael Keaton played? I have a feeling kids are going to love him!
Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) are happily married couple who love their home and their lives only to lose it all when they drive their car off their bridge in order to avoid hitting a dog. They return to their home but realize something isn’t right. They quickly piece together that they are dead and they are trapped in their house. Their house is sold to a family, The Deetz, from Manhattan. While dad Charles (Jeffery Jones) is looking forward to the rest and relaxation country living will bring, wife Delia (Catherine O’Hara) plans to make herself at home by redecorating the house to her aesthetic, much to the Maitlands horror. However, they are helpless because only the youngest and spookiest Deetz, Lydia (Wynonna Ryder) can see them when they attempt to scare them out of the house. In an act of desperation, they unleash Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton) who promises to rid the house of the Deetz family but has his own agenda. Eventually the two families find a way to live together peacefully with Bettlejuice far, far away.
This is good example of how much fun Tim Burton can (could) be when he’s working with the right subject matter. I think what makes this work is that you have the normal Maitlands mixed with the bizarre Netherworld and the wacky Deetz family. That balance makes the whole film more special. The afterlife is given so much personality in Burton’s vision, with all the characters in the waiting room exhibiting the cause of their death. The cast is also perfect with Catherine O’Hara getting in touch with her inner villain as the vain Deila, Ryder is the moody girl next door as Lydia, and Michael Keaton named the vile Beetlejuice as his favorite role of all time. He gets to really “go there” with this character, looking as gross as possible, sounding as weird as possible, doing whatever he wants with his body. Keaton’s an actor I always get excited when he shows up in a film. He’s really fun to watch and I’d love to see him have a comeback.
While the cartoon will always have a special place in my heart, Burton’s less kid friendly feature is everything that was magical about the director. Definitely a much watch as we approach Halloween.