Garrett New York City is under attack. Not from terrorists or rouge drug dealers but from ghoulish, green apparitions. And what is the Big Apple to do? Who are they gonna call? Why the Ghostbusters of course!

You remember the biggest hit movie of 1984. Even if you don't you will get a third chance to reestablish what I'm talking about during the summer of 1999. If you can't wait that long just log on to the Internet and search for "Ghostbusters" and you will find a plethora of sites devoted to the now classic film and its reincarnation in several more recent projects. Little did the stars of the original, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ivan Reitman and Harold Ramis, know that they were creating an entertainment dynasty. With numerous rebirths from big-screen sequels, comic books, action figures, cartoons and now another feature film, Ghostbusters III on the way for a summer release - the franchise is witnessing new found popularity with a generation of children who were not even born for the original. In its most recent television incarnation, the series has adopted a new quirk. Deciding that the characters were becoming a bit predictable and maybe even boring - the producers of the new cartoon, Extreme Ghostbusters, decided that one of the protagonists would have a disability.

Produced by the same people who brought us The Real Ghostbusters, Extreme Ghostbusters is a nineties adaptation of the ghost fighting concept. In the cartoon the main character, Egon returns, as does the ghoulish Slimer. Joining them are the new faces; Eduardo, Kylie, Garrett, and Roland who are students enrolled in Dr. Egon Spengler's class on paranormal studies. The four original Ghostbusters from the movie teamed up with the Extreme Ghostbusters at the end of the cartoons first season in the episode "Back in the Saddle". We sat down with one of the creators of the new cartoon series and found out that the casting of an animated character with a disability had some interesting results for the show.

Chet Cooper: How did you get involved in animation?

Bob Higgins: I kind of fell into it. When I moved out here I had intended on working in TV but I always pictured myself doing one hour drama type stuff and I worked at Creative Artists as an assistant and one of the clients that we handled was a animation studio called Nalvana and they were looking for a development executive and gave me a call and so I went over there and started doing development for them and the focus of the company was on kids animation so I did that for two and a half years there and had some great success and found that I really enjoyed it and it was something I did well and then Sony—I met Sandra Schwarz who heads up this division and she ended up bringing me over to head up development over here.

CC: How was it that who made the decision to convert Ghostbusters into a cartoon? Is that what they call it cartoons?

BH: Cartoons...animations whatever. It was when they started this division over here, one of the strengths of the studio is that we had pre-sold properties with name value recognition and one of the strongest propertiesthat they control is the Ghostbusters franchise. It had spawned two very successful animated series in the early to mid eighties and they decided then that what they would do is kind of reinvent that and try and reinvigorate the franchise so it was one of the first things that the studio had basically set forth to tackle. So it was really a studio decision.

CC: As they kind of revamped Ghostbusters, how did it come about to bring a character into it that used a wheelchair?

BH: It wasn't something that we set out to do when we first said okay, we didn't sit down and go let's develop this show and let's make sure someone uses a wheelchair. What we were doing was spitballing characters and trying to put together a team and what we had decided to do was rather than putting together a team of this kind of typical, perfect X-Men, superhero type of team, what we wanted to do was really put together a team of misfits in a way, people that you would not neccesarily associate with being super hereos on television. And so we ended up with a kind of slacker type and a kind of square, head in the clouds kind of guy and then we put a girl into the team and then we wanted someone who was really an adrenaline junkie someone who could kind of kick start the team and …. But that character really became kind of the most bland in a way where he was definately the one that had all the "cool" attributes he was the one that really lacked any subtext to his character and one of theproducers that we were working with named Jeff Klein just kind of threw out the idea, "well what if we did something with him like we put him in a wheelchair or something. And it really just kind of clicked. It didn't change anything that we had been talking about because this character could still be an adrenaline junkie, he still could be an extreme sports enthusiast, he could still want to play for the Lakers, but it really broadens him as a character and made him a much more interesting and a much more stronger individual than he would have been if he had been someone who was able-bodied and never really had to overcome anything to get everything her had in life so he's one of these guys that takes what he is given and makes the best of it and really lives up to any potential that he has.

CC: I should probably say congratulations on winning the award from the Los Angeles Commission on Disabilities.

BH: (Laughing). Thank you.

CC: When you gave your speech at the awards, you had mentioned something about the focus group studies that you did. Can you go into that again?

BH: What we wanted to do is once we got back our first episodes, we wanted to test them so that we could make sure that on the later cuz we were doing forty episodes, on the later episodes we could maximize what kids liked about the show. So what we did is we screened it for a group of thirty kids or something like that, girls and boys and different ages and things like that and part of the whole focus group testing is they just kind of watch and they have these little dials and they'll turn them to the right or the left depending on if they like it or not like what's going on. And than after that you kind of have kind of a Q & A session and we just (we don't actually do it, the moderators that are there) ask them questions that we provide to them and it's kind of like "what did you like about the show?", "what did you not like about the show?", "which characters did you like?", "which characters did you not like?", "what was cool?", "what was not cool?", those types of things. And so obviously one of the questions was which characters did you like, which character was your favorite and pretty much across the board, both boys and girls chose Garrett as their favorite character.


Ghostbusters AnimationCC: Garrett being the lead character, who is using a wheelchair.

BH: Correct. And it was surprising because we thought that the girls would identify with the girl character or choose her as their favorite but they didn't. Everyone pretty much chose Garrett and I think it's because he really was the coolest and I think the most identifiable for kids. He was just one of these guys that really had a terrific attitude that I think drew the kids in that were watching to him. I think it's just a very positive type of character and I think that they really liked seeing that. And I think it's one of these things that, he never allows himself to kind of, he doesn't let other people tell him what he can or cannot do because of his disability. He really is one of these people that tries everything and does what he wants to do and I think that is a thing that kids, I think that's how they approach life that they, unless someone tells them that they can't do something, they really think that they can and they really will go all out to do that. So I think that is something they definately related to with the Garrett character is that kind of sense of "I can do this".

CC: One of the things that you mentioned in your talk, you said they were also asked which one would you want to be?

BH: Yes, and they chose Garrett.

CC: And you had mentioned that they wanted that he was the most wanted people, kids wanted to be him but also they had not mentioned the fact that....

BH: Yes, that's true. When they talked about the character they used his name, which you know you make an impression when kids can remember the names of you character. What they never did was refer to him as "the guy in the wheelchair" where with Kylie they would say "the girl". Or with Roland they would say the black guy or the strong guy. With Garrett they never said the guy in the wheelchair, they always said Garrett. And that really shows that he made an impression on the kids. That he kind of went beyond his characteristics to become a full fledged character in their mind and yeah that was when we asked which character aside from which of these characters would you want to be and they all wanted to be Garrett, they all wanted to be the guy that does the crazy things. They all wanted to be the guy that was the leader and they all kind of saw him as the leader of this group. What we didn't do in the show is designate any leader. In fact if there was a leader it was one of the original ghostbusters who was kind of the, Egon who was the character who was responsible for pulling these four characters together these two ghostbusters. The kids really sought Garrett as the leader of the group.

CC: Do you have many challenges with the story writing and making sure that, how do you handle I should say the potential obstacles with accessibility?

BH: We had a guy working on the show as a consultant and I should have thought to get his name for you but he is a handicapped person. Kurt Kilgore?

CC: Boy, does that sould familiar.

BH: He use to be an olympic volleyball player. He was a consultant for us on the show and he read all the script and he made sure that we were presenting the character as accurately as we possibly could.


More stories from Ghostbusters issue:

Horticultural Therapy

Richard Masur Interview

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