Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire – Passing a generational torch

Three years ago, the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife became a passing of the torch as a new generation of Ghostbusters – and Ghostbusters filmmakers – took up the mantle. Now, the story continues as the Ghostbusters return to their old haunts – lower Manhattan – to face their most terrifying (and hilarious) threats yet in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

Dan Aykroyd, who returns to his role as Ray Stantz and executive producer of the franchise, says, “What really impressed me was the way Jason and Gil have continued the story in ways that feels drawn from the DNA we drew up in 1984. Ultimately, these were regular guys – and now, an ordinary family – who joke and tease and push each other, but they also save the world from terrifying spectral menaces and take that seriously. I love that combination on the big screen.”

Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman. © 2024 CTMG, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Taking the helm of a Ghostbusters film is a responsibility that director Gil Kenan does not take lightly. “Ghostbusters sets a very high bar,” he says. “Every film that has come before has some indelible cinematic moments. We are all aiming high to create a film worthy of the Ghostbusters logo, and the spirit that allows the improvisation, the looseness, the sense of play or life in front of the camera, is all part of a collective spirit of trying to capture lighting in a bottle. It’s a Ghostbusters film.”

“Ghostbusters changed my life as a kid – the unique blend of scares and comedy…  I had never experienced anything like it in a movie theater before,” says Kenan. What really got me was the fun of it all, the joy on screen. It was that feeling, a thrill ride through the supernatural world around us, that inspired me in creating the tone of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.  At times funny, at times scary, always fun. And not just for adult fans who like me grew up with the films, but for all audiences, including kids who will be the same age now that I was when I first saw Ghostbusters… Kids who I hope will discover in this film the same thrill of discovery in the world of Ghostbusters that I did in 1984.”

In picking up the reins, it was important for Kenan to take the franchise’s themes and make them his own. “With Afterlife, there were very personal themes to Jason that were being worked through in the screenplay of that film. It was absolutely a film about the passing of a generational torch and seeing whether the characters in that story could look at their heritage and accept their destiny. That is Jason’s story,” says Kenan. For Frozen Empire, he says, as Reitman and Kenan once again co-wrote the film, it seemed natural for Reitman to take producer duties and for Kenan to direct. “For me, as a storyteller, there has always been a question about how to define home – it’s a theme that has been running like a ribbon through all of my work. As focused on this film, it became clear that the animating principle of this story is a family trying to find a way to ground themselves, to have a place they can hold onto, a place to define them as a family. That is a question I can sink my teeth into, and it just started to naturally feel like the story I should direct.”

In Afterlife, Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) – the family of the recently departed Egon Spengler – were unaware of Egon’s history as part of the ragtag group of scientists that twice saved New York and the world from the forces of the dead. Discovering his past, and joined by friends Gary (Paul Rudd), Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), and Podcast (Logan Kim), they embrace his legacy as their future.

“They’re learning to become a family,” says producer Jason Blumenfeld. “They have made the firehouse their home, their workshop, their laboratory.”

And it isn’t easy when the place you live and grow up is also the place where you work. “Part of their tension is the interplay between the life and work, finding the balance,” says Kenan. “The firepoles lead from the bedrooms down to the kitchen, then down to the lockers where they put on their flight suits and strap on their proton packs; the car is on the ground floor. That natural tension between who we are as a family and who we are as Ghostbusters is right at the center of this story.”

And that balance is thrown into chaos when the Ghostbusters receive a direct order form Mayor Walter Peck (remember him?) for Phoebe to stand down. Peck has dreamed for 40 years of shutting down the Ghostbusters, and his latest shot across the bow is the “child labor” of the teenage Phoebe handling a nuclear-powered proton pack.

“Peck has always had it out for the Ghostbusters,” says Mckenna Grace, who reprises her role as Phoebe. “He sees Phoebe as the weak link in the chain, so he decides to pick on her a bit – she’s not allowed to ghost bust because she’s a minor. Whatever that means – she wasn’t too young when she defeated Gozer.”

For Phoebe, it’s especially painful, because in busting ghosts, she finally has found a way to belong. When the film opens, the entire family is together in the Ecto-1, taking down a Sewer Dragon. “Not only do we get to see the whole family working together, but it’s so rad the way they are doing it – it’s super casual,” says Grace. “You can tell they have been doing this a while and this is their jam. Busting ghosts is what they are really good at.” And then, in a moment, it’s taken away.

Also feeling his way into uncharted territory is teacher-turned-ghostbuster Gary Grooberson, played by Paul Rudd. Having survived being turned into a devil dog alongside Callie, the two are now partners in love and busting. But with two teenagers under the roof of the firehouse, it’s not exactly clear where he stands. “His instinct is to be the kids’ buddy, but sometimes you have to be a parent and lay down the law. This, however, is the issue – he isn’t a parent. He’s only known them for a couple of years. He really treasures and loves them, but it’s all a little undefined, and that is something that weighs on his mind, because he really feels as if this is his home.”

For Coon, returning to the franchise was a welcome opportunity to play a different kind of role. “Thematically, the core of the story is still about family, but it’s not your usual movie mom behavior,” says the star. “Callie is in a really good place in her life. She has a purpose, which she was struggling to find in Afterlife. She’s taken over this family business, and she has a lot of pride in that, and her family is functioning better than it ever has. Not only that, but she’s found in Gary Grooberson an equal and supportive partner who has joined the family business as well. Plus, she gets to pilot the drone trap.”

Meanwhile, Trevor – now 18 years old and an adult, just ask him – is finding his own place in the world, both as part of the family and his own man. “He is trying to be an adult and find his feet in the big city. He’s pretty excited to be away from Oklahoma,” says Wolfhard. But, he continues, Trevor also embraces his role as a Ghostbuster, for better or for worse… when he finds ectoplasm dripping from the ceiling, he heads to the attic of the firehouse to investigate, where he finds a pile of junk food detritus and then an old friend. “Being slimed by Slimer could have been a lot worse,” he says. “There was a cool rig made by the special effects department that shot slime out of my shirt and all over my face. They even put a little mint in it to give it some flavor. It really wasn’t too bad – it was actually pretty fun.”

Also returning are Celeste O’Connor as Lucky and Logan Kim as Podcast. “Lucky has moved to the Big Apple,” says O’Connor. “She has the amazing opportunity to have an internship with the Ghostbusters in New York City as an engineer, so she’s really learning a lot of new technical skills and the inner workings of what it means to be a Ghostbuster.”

Kim says that Podcast’s relationship with Ray Stantz has expanded ever since he found out that the legendary Ghostbuster was the neophyte’s one and only fan. Determined to drag Ray into the modern age, Podcast produces an online show with Stantz, where everyday objects are judged on whether they are haunted… or just ordinary household items to be destroyed by Podcast’s Hammer of Truth. “Their dynamic is fantastic, because they’re very like-minded individuals,” says Kim. “They both believe in the same theories and conspiracies – they’re a good pair.”

In New York, the Ghostbusters encounter new characters who will hold some answers to the new threat facing the city. At the center of the story is Nadeem, an aimless slacker selling off his late grandmother’s old possessions for the scratch to survive. One such object: an old brass orb that he thinks will be right up Ray Stantz’s alley – and indeed, its PKE readings are off the charts. When it turns out that the orb is an ancient jail holding the terrifying demon Garraka.

Garraka’s legendary power is “the death chill” – he literally freezes people in fright. And this is no ordinary frostbite – his supernatural power can ice out every ounce of your body – causing you to shatter in tiny crystals. And not just you — Garraka is a devastating, unrelenting evil, capable of deep-freezing the earth and everyone on it. What’s cooler than being cool, indeed.

To take out the threat, it turns out that only Nadeem has the right stuff… if he can focus on something useful for once in his life. The role is played by Kumail Nanjiani. “What’s great about Nadeem is that he really encompasses what makes Ghostbusters special,” he says. “He’s a slacker. He’s completely discounted by everyone around him. And he’s the only one who can tackle this big, terrifying demon who can scare people to death just by looking at them. That’s what I love – he’s a very grounded, normal character… some might call him a loser, and he doesn’t like it, but can’t deny it. And then suddenly he has to defeat this massive demon.”

Patton Oswalt joins the fun as Dr. Hubert Wartzki, a paranormal librarian confined to the bowels of the New York Public Library. “It’s fun to play a guy who has so much knowledge but has only experienced this stuff in his mind, and now gets a chance to experience it head-on,” he says.

As for whether the comic actor has ever come into contact with a ghost in real life… it’s a touchy subject. “Listen. I’ve never had a paranormal experience, and it drives me crazy,” he says. “I could not be more open to the paranormal, but I’ve never had a ghost encounter, a UFO, cryptid, timeslip, none of that stuff. And people around me have had nothing but paranormal experiences. I would love to encounter something otherworldly. I think I live on a vibration where that just doesn’t happen to me.”

Making his motion picture debut is British comedian James Acaster, playing Lars, a scientist with Winston Zeddemore’s Paranormal Research Center. For the actor, the whole experience was “surreal,” in his words. “Reading the script for the first time, I was ticking things off that I never thought I’d get to do, but suddenly now they’re childhood dreams fulfilled. When you take part in something you’ve watched your whole life, you feel like you’ve just stepped into the TV or the movie screen. It’s weird.”

When Phoebe gets benched, she is in a vulnerable, lonely place – which leads her to open up to a teenage ghost, Melody, who expired in a Washington Square fire decades ago. Now, ghostly flames lick her apparition as she literally burns with desire to complete her unfinished business.

The role is played by “Gossip Girl’s” Emily Alyn Lind. “She’s a witty old soul,” she says. “She likes playing pranks on mortals in the park, but Phoebe is unfazed. They get to talking and realize right away that they’re cut from the same cloth – they’re both outsiders in a lot of ways. I think a lot of people growing up feel like they’re different from other people, so it’s really important when you find your people to hold onto them. Whether Phoebe likes it or not – can you have a friendship between a ghost and a ghostbuster?”

As for the OG Ghostbusters… Winston Zeddemore has become the keeper of the flame as the only living Ghostbuster with a head on his shoulders – having made his fortune, he has kept the firehouse going and started the new Paranormal Research Center. Ray Stantz still has his occult bookshop and has hired Podcast to bring him into the modern age as a YouTube influencer. Janine Melnitz will always have a home in the firehouse. And Peter Venkman… well, who can ever know what he’s up to. We hear that if you want to get in touch with him, you leave a message on an answering machine somewhere…

Bill Murray says that he’s always thrilled to be returning to the Ghostbusters films, not only because he enjoys his role and the comedy, but because reuniting with the people he’s known for decades is so gratifying. “Family, for me, is not what I thought it was when I was eight,” he says. “Now it means a whole different thing. As we’re trying to rid the world of these phantoms that upset us all in our lives, that’s what we’re doing when we play together, when we work together. When you face the thing that frightens you the most, it’s usually a marshmallow man, when you come down to it.”

“What’s really kind of cool is we’re with a new generation,” says Ernie Hudson. “I love that aspect, because the original film was just us – but now it’s a bigger group, 40 years into the future,” says Hudson. (On hearing this: “You are a public relations dream come true,” says Murray.)

All of the characters have to face the fact that they are leading very different lives than they did four decades earlier. “At this point in life, Ray is being financially supported by Winston,” says Aykroyd. “He still has his bookshop, though the rent is paid for by his old friend, and he is really yearning to get back behind the wheel of the Caddy so he can bust some ghosts again, but that’s not in his destiny. He’s kind of wistful and bittersweet about it.”

And Janine Melnitz finds herself busting ghosts for the first time. “She’s such a New Yorker,” says Potts. “It’s so much fun to play her – someone who might be rude to your face or brush by you on the street but when you truly need help, they are Totally THERE! So of course, she suits up to bust some ghosts. New York needs her.”

An Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker, GIL KENAN (Director / Co-Writer / Executive Producer) has directed Monster House, City of Ember, Poltergeist, and A Boy Called Christmas. For Monster House, Kenan was nominated for an Academy Award® and Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature. Kenan co-wrote and executive produced the hit film Ghostbusters: Afterlife with Jason Reitman, with whom he has a first look producing deal at Sony Pictures.

Jason Reitman (Co-Writer / Producer) is an Academy Award®-nominated filmmaker. He made his feature film debut with the 2006 Sundance hit Thank You for Smoking. He notably earned Academy Award® nominations for directing Juno and Up in the Air, the latter of which earned Reitman a Golden Globe Award, WGA Award and BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay. His other films include Ghostbusters: Afterlife, Young Adult, Labor Day, Men, Women and Children, Tully – his third collaboration with Diablo Cody and second with Charlize Theron – and The Front Runner. Upcoming, Reitman is gearing up to start production on the highly anticipated SNL 1975, portraying the opening night of the landmark variety show. Reitman produced four seasons of the Hulu comedy series “Casual” through his Right of Way Films. He also executive produced the Academy Award®-winning film Whiplash and the Jean-Marc Vallee-directed Demolition through the production company; he also served as a producer on the cult hit Jennifer’s Body. Recently, Reitman made headlines as the leader of a coalition of over 35 filmmakers acquiring and preserving the historic Village Theater in Westwood.