‘Beetlejuice’ Merchandising Made Michael Keaton Forget What Was Great About the Character

Keaton admitted that he lost his connection to the character after seeing the umpteenth Betelgeuse bong decal
‘Beetlejuice’ Merchandising Made Michael Keaton Forget What Was Great About the Character

If you say “Betelgeuse” three times, he’ll appear. But if you see his face printed on three million polyester T-shirts, you might just forget why you ever wanted to see him in the first place.

To the majority of the entertainment industry, merchandising is an aspirational achievement that only the most popular properties can ever pull off profitably. George Lucas, of course, blew the doors open on turning each and every character from a successful movie into a knick-knack, action figure, trading card or Russian nesting doll. However, for a film franchise to earn even a small fraction of Star Wars merchandising fortune, they need to start with memorable and colorful characters worth turning into overpriced, cheap Chinese-made toys. And, in Tim Burton’s 1988 comedy/horror classic Beetlejuice, the title character proved to be that profitable personality.

Enter Betelgeuse himself — Michael Keaton. As the dark star of Burton's Batman movies, Keaton is no stranger to the world of kitschy, branded merchandise. However, ahead of the September release of the long-awaited Beetlejuice sequel, Beetlejuice Beetlejuice, the titular tormenter told Empire Online that the extended afterlife of his character in the merch market made him lose his connection to the original instincts of the performance. 

It must be like watching your home get turned into a tacky postmodern art installation.

Which chapter of the handbook discusses how to banish the demon who created Funko Pops?

There’s been so much merchandising of it, I had to drop back to where it started,” Keaton told Empire of the character who has been stuck in the afterlife and on laptop stickers for the last 36 years. “I had to go, ‘What was my unusual imagination even thinking about when I was developing (Betelgeuse) in the first place?’ As opposed to seeing a coffee mug or a golf-club cover (adorned with Betelgeuse’s face).”

Much like his crass character in the classic movie, Keaton didn’t hold back when describing the capitalistic second-life of Beetlejuice, calling the material culture surrounding his character “fucking weird.” Keaton admitted, “To be honest with you — I’m being very frank — it was off-putting, to look and go, ‘I don’t want to look like all these little things, fuck that — what was the thing that started this?’”

However, despite Keaton’s many obscene objections to the way his old character has changed into a behemoth brand of plastic bullshit, he insists that Beetlejuice Beetlejuice isn’t a soulless cash-in similar to all the chain wallets bearing Keaton’s supernatural likeness. “I absolutely love this thing," Keaton said of the upcoming sequel, “and I don’t talk like that. I unabashedly love this. It was not easy to pull off, and I think we did it in spades.”

Maybe he should hold off his praise until he sees what kind of novelty popcorn bucket AMC will roll out for the premiere. Don’t be surprised to see Keaton’s face slapped on the side of the Dune 2 worm hole.


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