Why We’re Not Too Worried About Beetlejuice Beetlejuice

Mike Powers
Why We’re Not Too Worried About Beetlejuice Beetlejuice

Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice introduced the blueprint for cinematic meta agents of chaos into pop culture long before Disney’s Genie from Aladdin or the MCU’s Deadpool and Loki. Without much of a mythology, save for some comparisons to trickster entities of folklore and classic lit like Puck from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Betelgeuse—as his name is spelled in the film’s flashy neon sign—can be anything not beholden to a history.

Michael Keaton’s original summoning of the character introduced Beetlejuice as an unreliable narrator, which is followed in every variant of him we’ve seen in television and on stage; he has powers we don’t quite understand and no one can control outside of saying his name three times before he can stop them. Keaton’s version of the character will seen again in this September’s Beetlejuice Beetlejuice—and though there’s always some trepidation awaiting a long-in-the-making sequel, here’s why we’re too not worried about what to expect from this one.

In the 1988 dark comedy about life as ghosts for the recently departed, Keaton shone as the larger-than-life poltergeist in a performance that helped make Burton’s wacky creation iconic. With stand-up gags and stop-motion buffoonery (some of which might not be so PC nowadays), the villain of his own movie almost stole the show from Winona Ryder’s teen goth dream Lydia and her ghostly found family after nearly getting rid of her living family (who may have deserved it). The film grossed $74,664,632 in North America, garnering its success in theaters and being embraced as a hit family film about death. It also primed Keaton to reunite with Burton for Batman.

Image for article titled Why We're Not Too Worried About Beetlejuice Beetlejuice

Image: WB Entertainment

Beetlejuice’s jump in the line from the films into becoming a cultural staple was propelled by Beetlejuice, the animated series. The cartoon had a more family-friendly, looser interpretation of the plot introduced in the film. It got rid of the Maitlands and the questionable child-bride thread, and instead made Beetlejuice a lovable manic sidekick Lydia rehabilitates into more of an anti-hero. Their spooky cartoon adventures ran from 1989 to 1991 and it became a popular movie-to-show experiment, solidifying Beetlejuice’s place as a spooky pop-culture star.

His inclusion in the real world through his presence at Universal Studios theme parks continued to keep the Ghost with the Most in the zeitgeist through the ‘90s. Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue was my first introduction to the character before watching the film, which came out before I was born. The live theme park stage show was a monster mash of pop-rock music covers performed by the Universal Monsters and hosted by Beetlejuice; it debuted in the ‘90s but had updated iterations throughout the years. It was a genius move by Universal, crafting a formative theme park-experience that made such an impact on monster kids, goths, and normies—reframing Beetlejuice as the crypt keeper for a new generation but for silly spooky nonsense.

Full Final Performance of Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue at Universal Studios Florida

Because… why is he hosting a graveyard jukebox musical? What does it have to do with the movie? Why are the Universal Monsters there? Wait—no, they make sense, why is he (a Warner Bros. property) there? By the time he jumped out of the grave none of those questions mattered; he was back and badder than ever. Beetlejuice has been a Universal Studios character meet and greet staple ever since—even past the closing of his revue back in 2015. Most recently in 2021, Beetlejuice got a Halloween Horror Nights house at Universal Studios Orlando; it proved to be one of the annual event’s most popular attractions and showed that fans were still clamoring for more, even before Beetlejuice Beetlejuice was greenlit.

Beetlejuice house hhn

Image: Universal Studios Products and Experiences

Still another iteration of Beetlejuice came to life shortly before the pandemic. In 2019 a Broadway musical adaptation of the property hit the stage for a stint before returning in 2021 and heading out on a national tour. The show, starring Alex Brightman (who recently was featured as Richard Dreyfuss in the Jaws behind-the-scenes play The Shark is Broken), may appear at first to be merely a musical version of the film—however, if you’ve seen it, you know it’s much more than that. The book for the musical, written by Scott Brown and Anthony King, departs greatly from the film with a more cohesive storyline, centering Lydia’s journey through the grief of losing her mother (while her dad quickly remarries Delia), and the Maitlands’ grief at not being able to live long enough to have a family. Both give the story more to explore at depth—all while retaining the funhouse comedy romp that comes from dealing with death by means of Beetlejuice’s comedic chaos counseling. By the time the second act hits, it feels like such a completely different story from the movie in a good way, and if it happens to stop in your town on tour, don’t miss it.

Beetlejuice musical

Image: Matthew Murphy

Each variant of the Beetlejuice story down to its core is about the character’s freedom to fit into any medium with meta commentary about death—perhaps because since he’s dead, he exists outside reality. His presence makes sense of the unexplainable not by giving answers but by exploring the questions people have about life and death through a movie, cartoon, haunted house, and musical. Beetlejuice’s modus operandi is to not entirely change others, but to be changed by the situations he’s in—all while being his best hedonistic self and at most encouraging the living to live a little through the horrors of humanity. It’s why he and Lydia have become goth legends for the Hot Topic and Spirit Halloween crowds. Beetlejuice isn’t high-brow “cinema,” it’s about a guy who’s the executioner of gallows humor. And that is why we shouldn’t be too worried about Beetlejuice Beetlejuice: it’s not a legacy sequel that has a bar to reach, and I honestly think it might make fun of that concept in the best way. I’m just hoping for another good time, a new reason to laugh and not be afraid of death while seeing that Beetlejuice fella be up to no good again before getting exorcised back to his resting place… we know it’s not final.

Beetlejuice Beetlejuice opens September 6.

Want more io9 news? Check out when to expect the latest Marvel, Star Wars, and Star Trek releases, what’s next for the DC Universe on film and TV, and everything you need to know about the future of Doctor Who.

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