I thought we'd find something Halloweeny to watch on Netflix, but my wife brought out a selection of kid-friendly DVDs. The three-year-old immediately chose Frozen, and the six-year-old grabbed Casper. My wife put the movies behind her back and had me choose, and we ended up with Casper, which was a good fit for this project, I guess, but not a good fit for such little kids.
Look, you've seen Casper, right? No? All right, then. Casper is an attempt to bring Casper the Friendly Ghost into the '90s. This was before reboots had to be gritty and ironic, so it's more or less sweet and sincere. A chain-smoking, callous, abrasive woman named Carrigan (Cathy Moriarty) inherits a mansion in Maine, and drags her groveling personal assistant, Dibs (Eric Idle) out to view the place. It's a huge, sprawling, Gothic manor with arches and spires and a laboratory in the basement.
It is also haunted by four ghosts: Casper (the friendly one!), Stretch (the stretchy one!), Fatso (the fat one!), and Stinkie (the stinky one!).
Casper is happy to have the house occupied again, but his uncles want the place to themselves. And in spite of the fact that they're basically just cartoon bullies, they resist Carrigan's best attempts to eradicate them, including Father Guido Sarducci and Ray Stantz of the Ghostbusters.
Carrigan calls in the big guns, namely Dr. James Harvey, a "therapist to the dead" played by Bill Pullman. Harvey brings along his daughter, Kat (Christina Ricci), an outsider teen who is having a difficult time with the nomadic nature of her father's job.
This is the setup, anyway. I will not bother describing the bulk of the movie, because 1) it was a huge mainstream success when it came out 19 years ago, which means that you've probably seen it by now, and 2) if you know how movies work, you can or less assume how the movie will play out anyway: Kat gets along with Casper better than she does with her peers, James and Kat eventually win over the three brothers, and Carrigan ends up being the Big Bad of the movie. Formulaic? Maybe. But this is a lighthearted comedy, so who cares?
The kids were not into it. The three-year-old was disappointed that it wasn't a cartoon, and the six-year-old wanted more CGI ghosts.
As for myself, well, I grew up with Casper. I was fourteen when it came out, so I was maybe in the upper range of its target audience, and I didn't make a point of seeing it until we somehow obtained a copy on VHS, because it looked a little too childish to me. Seeing Casper as an adult makes me nostalgic. I liked it a lot, though it doesn't hold up perfectly: there are a lot of pop culture references that would have been completely lost on my older niece, but she's still at an age where actually interpreting all the dialogue seems unnecessary.
Other than now-obscure '90s references, the script by Sherry Stoner and Deanna Oliver is pretty good. Some of the jokes are surprisingly dirty given the film's intended audience, but then again, Sherrie Stoner was a writer and producer on Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs which were also surprisingly dirty ("Goodnight, everybody!"), and hey, those jokes go over kids heads (well, mostly, anyway). There are a lot of bold touches in Casper, and I like that. They must have been pretty confident to bring in Guido Sarducci and Ray Stantz, as doing so in a bad movie would have cheapened all the franchises involved. Instead, the joke plays as well now as it did in 1995, and hey, if kids don't recognize the Fox network's Hard Copy, they at least know Ghostbusters (probably).
Director Brad Silberling does a very nice job overall--like Wishmaster, the special effects are a blend of practical effects and CGI, and it's a good looking movie. The performances are all good. Cathy Moriarty took a bit of flak for being too over the top as Carrigan, but that's what villains are like in children's movies. I have no problem with her.
Anyway, I enjoyed revisiting Casper. It's light, it's funny, and it's got a few good messages sandwiched in between the slapstick, if you like that sort of thing. I'm not sure this really counts as a horror film, but it's thematically appropriate, at least, and it's not as bad as the time I reviewed Garfield's Halloween Adventure.
Here's the trailer.