|Directed by:||Brad Siberling|
|Written by:||Sherri Stoner, Deanna Oliver|
|Cast:||Bill Pullman, Christina Ricci, Cathy Moriarty, Eric Idle, Ben Stein, Don Novello, Fred Rogers, Terry Murphy, Chauncey Leopardi, Spencer Vrooman, Malachi Pearson, Ernestine Mercer, Doug Bruckner, Joe Nipote, Joe Alaskey|
|Genre:||Comedy, Family, Fantasy|
For all of its flaws, 1995's big screen adaptation of Casper the friendly ghost, actually manages to be a dark fantasy worth watching. Not only does it play all the right chords by casting in vogue and talented child star Christina Ricci as the heroine of the film, but it depicts a Casper the Friendly Ghost who isn't a downer. While the animated shorts almost made you get in to a bathtub with a toaster in both hands, the feature film is life affirming and uplifting in its own ways.
And to give Casper something of depth and plot friction, there's the wise addition of three rude, crude, and disgusting specters who make everyone's lives miserable. The 1995 "Casper" wisely gives an identity to the ghosts that loved to scare while Casper refused to submit to his duties, and in the end, the feature film works very well. Much more than "Richie Rich" ever did. "Casper" is mainly a coming of age film that features Casper as a key to main character Kat to not only growing up but dealing with the concept of her mother's death.
Years after the death of her mother, she and her father James spend their days travelling and trying to uncover the secrets of the paranormal and the after life. Though James passes it off as research to his daughter, secretly he hopes to uncover the secret to connecting with his wife one more time and speak to her. The duo decide to live at Whipstaff Manor in Maine where the mansion has been abandoned by its descendents thanks to its rabid hauntings, in spite of the fact that there is rumored to be a treasure hidden within the bowels of the house.
While there James attempts to uncover the psychiatry of specters, dealing with random pranks and mean spirited play from the trio of uncles, all of whom take every chance to make the father and daughter miserable, while Kat finds a friend in Casper. Thankfully the portrayal of Casper is never cloying or abundant with cutesy dialogue. Casper as a character is lovable, and utterly adorable.
He's a being filled with optimism and love, but has also lived long enough to mutter nuggets of wisdom about death, the after life, and what it means to be alive. And though originally many thought the addition of Casper's uncles Stretch, Stinky, and Fatso to the fray would be a cheap grab for merchandise, the film actually sparks a great and logical argument for their presence. Ghosts are often thought as restless spirits that dwell in their past homes. Casper is a boy who died from a painful illness and died saddened and in terrible conditions, thus his state of misery keeps him perpetually stuck as a ghost.
His uncles were three rotten and awful individuals who were so evil in their past life, they're forever stuck as specters haunting their mansion because their evil prevents them from a peaceful slumber in the after life. For a film made in 1995, "Casper" really does manage to re-invent the formula in many ways that are clever and very welcome. Rather than just animating Casper, he's a very gelatinous translucent being who seems to be stuck between the after life and our life, thus he's always faded but very eye catching.
The trio of evil ghosts are almost always in a tint of green inadvertently creating this sense that they're made from the same essence of Slimer from "Ghostbusters." Christina Ricci is one of the finest child actors of the nineties, thus her role as Kat is empathetic and very heartbreaking, if derivative. Kat's whole journey as the new girl in Maine plagued by bullies is very cliche as the main lure of the story is her relationship and bond with Casper, who offers her clarity in her darkest times.
What keeps "Casper" from being excellent is that though it's touted to children, it tries to pass off a painfully ridiculous deus ex machina involving a machine and magic potion that could transform ghosts in to living beings once more, and never makes a really definitive bit of reasoning for even injecting it in to the story. Save for the final scene where Casper gets one of his biggest wishes, a fleeting and heartbreaking moment but one that really defies the film's logic. Nevertheless, "Casper" is still an entertaining and adorable fantasy film that gives the character of Casper a hint of dignity and respect. It's a shame this was followed up by endless piss poor direct to video sequels.