Courtney Vineys – Daemona “Mona” Prune
Andrew Decker – Casey
Aleksander Kocev – Jericho
Amber Ross – Kira
Phantom Investigators followed the exploits of four students of Lugosi Junior High (named for Bela Lugosi) in San Francisco as they took on jobs to deal with the various menacing supernatural entities around the Bay Area. The team themselves, however, were kind of supernatural themselves. Casey (Andrew Decker) was a quiet and shy bookworm who possessed the ability to morph into any form he wanted. Kira (Amber Ross) was a sassy fashionista with a desire to become a professional DJ, and also happened to possess telepathic powers (her original name was Nakisha, but was changed on request to be snappier). Jericho (Aleksander Kocey) loved shredding on his skateboard, which he could do without the aid of his telekinetic abilities. Their leader, Daemona Prune (Courtney Vineys) was the only one who didn’t possess any kind of extra ability; however, what she did have was an attic full of gadgets and artifacts from her late grandmother’s days as one of the original Phantom Investigators. While on the job, Daemona also donned a green coat (initially a lighter shade and adorned with a skull and crossbones) and mask to obscure her identity.
Aiding the P.I.s were Professor Felix Navarro (Richard Cansino), who ran a repair shop and served as a mentor to the PIs, as well upgraded, designed and built all of their hunting/trapping equipment for them; Jinxie (Holman), a bad luck demon who reluctantly provided supernatural insight to the team; and Wad (Holman), a fun-loving Sprite comprised of chewing gum that lived with Daemona and sometimes helped the team out on cases (usually with disastrous results). The primary piece of equipment usually wielded by Daemona was a specter detector, which could identify one of the four types of entity they could be dealing with: Elementals, Demons, Spectres (ghosts and monsters) and Sprites (wraiths, shadows, fairies, pixies, superstitions, folklore and poltergeists). They all originated from another dimension known as the Nether Realm.
The series was created and directed by the married team of Stephen Holman and Josephine Huang of (W)holesome Products, Inc., who had made the industry take notice of them with the successful Life with Loopy series on Nickelodeon’s Kablam! Like that previous series, Phantom Investigators was a serious mixing of media as it was created by using stop-motion animation, puppetry and live-action blended together. Non-supernatural characters were typically done using stop-motion puppet bodies with cardboard heads and animated faces fabricated by Shelley Smith, Aurore Nightingayle, Lisa Davidson, Estelle Rand, Ellen Ridgway, Cynthia M. Star and Holly Tanner Strauss. Demons and Elementals were generally seen as fully-realized puppets operated by Ian Greeb, or as live-action humans with prosthetics and masks. Ghosts were always represented by translucent and glowing live-action humans in period or scenario-specific clothing provided by costume designer Victoria Drake. These encounters would be resolved by finding out the cause of the haunting or as a result of karmic intervention as a consequence for an entity’s activities. Often, a solution to a problem a character was having in their personal lives would be presented as well.
Phantom Investigators debuted on Kids’ WB on May 25, 2002. It was produced with backing by Sony’s Columbia TriStar Domestic Television division and Hardee’s, who released toys based on it in their restaurants (before the show even aired due to a scheduling snafu). Originally, the series was going to be named for Daemona until the network asked for it to be changed, and Daemona would be her on-the-job name while her real name was “Prunella”. Daemona ended up being the most-developed of the characters, with her history and homelife seen and the others’ relegated to behind-the-scenes articles. The series was written by John Hoberg, Kat Likkel, Kevin Murphy, Dan Studney, Pete Goldfinger, Josh Stolberg, Jim Lincoln and Alison Taylor, with Murphy and Studney serving as story editors. They used elements of San Francisco’s rich history to help ground their stories with some semblance of reality, as well as educate their audience on various topics that arose during investigations such as the process behind mummification in “From Egypt with Love”.
At any given time, the production’s studio space at Cluster Avenue Stages in San Francisco was split into 30 mini staging areas where animators would simultaneously film different scenes on their respective sets. Because of the old school methodology employed, the cost per episode was an estimated 30 times more than an ordinary animated series. James Wood Wilson served as art director and set designer, which were built by Todd Lookinland, Qris Fry, Joe Cairo, James K. Paerron, Kimberly Walton and Drew Yerys and dressed by Solomon Burbridge and Nick Mariana. Models were built by Philip Brotherton, Marc Ribaud, Jeff Cross, Terrance Graven, Patrick McMillan, Bill Roth, Andrew Vogt, David Waddle and Sally Waters. JD Reilly composed the series’ music, along with Finetune Music’s Nic tenBroek, Josh Meyers and Brad Segal.
Despite all the love and hard work that went into making the series, Phantom Investigators only ran for 6 weeks before Kids’ WB yanked it from their schedule and replaced it with X-Men: Evolution. Holman would say on a podcast that its cancellation can in spite of it being the top-rated program in its timeslot because it failed to catch on with the demographic the network wanted. Kids’ WB was looking to attract and maintain a strong viewership with young boys. Phantom Inspectors was attracting more and more girls and losing the boys each successive week, disappointing the network (who, ironically, took on the series in an attempt to attract more female viewers). After the cancellation, Sony cut the funding to the show killing any chance of finding a new network to take it on. The remaining episodes eventually aired outside of the United States, first debuting on Teletoon in Canada. To date, the series has not had any kind of official home video or streaming release. Recordings of various qualities have been made available on free streaming sites and YouTube, and two episodes can be viewed on the (W)holesome website.
“Demon Driver” (6/22/02) – The team investigates an old car that was built with possessed parts and turns its driver into a reckless maniac.